Archive for Philosophy

Berlin Tourism

In the last week of my visit to Berlin I was able to do some great visits to interesting places.

On Monday I caught the train south from Berlin to the city of Dresden.  Known as ‘Florence on the Elbe’, Dresden was renowned for its beauty, but was completely destroyed by aerial bombing in 1945.  This tragedy was captured by Kurt Vonnegut in his famous tragicomedy novel Slaughterhouse Five, based partly on his time as an American prisoner of war in the city.  I wandered around the rebuilt old city, including a visit to the Green Vault, a museum full of expensive trinkets set up by the king, with large elaborate pieces of amber and ivory and jewels and various baroquoco pieces of kitch.  I actually found this museum somewhat revolting, putting on display the arrogance of the rulers who saw their collecting hobby as more important than work on government.  Seeing this opulence helps to understand why communism became such a popular mass movement of revolt.

On Tuesday I walked three kilometres from my hostel in Kreuzberg to the Pergamon Museum, where the heyday of German archaeology from a century ago and older is on display.  The Germans went to Turkey and Iraq where they excavated large ruins and took them back to Berlin to display.  This includes the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, which I saw, and the Pergamon Altar, which has been removed from display for a decade until 2025.  Reading about the altar I was interested to see its marble frieze depicts the Greek myth of the battle between Giants and Gods, which I had studied in my Masters thesis in philosophy.  Here is my summary of what Plato had to say about this myth, a short story that encapsulates much of the controversy surrounding philosophy as an intellectual discipline.

In the Sophist, Plato compares the effort to make sense of the world to a battle between giants and Gods, in which the difficulties of philosophy are discussed in terms of the quarrel between materialism and idealism. The giants “define reality as the same thing as body, and as soon as one of the opposite party asserts that anything without a body is real, they are utterly contemptuous and will not listen to another word”, while on the other side the Gods “are very wary in defending their position somewhere in the heights of the unseen, maintaining with all their force that true reality consists in certain intelligible and bodiless Ideas” (246b). What the giants “allege to be true reality, the Gods do not call real being, but a sort of moving process of becoming” (246c).

Plato believed that both these ways of thought had something important to offer, but he attacked the materialists for being violent and uncivilised (246d) and for thinking that “whatever they cannot squeeze between their hands is just nothing at all” (247c). He says, “it is quite enough for our purposes if they consent to admit that even a small part of reality is bodiless”, arguing that this must be admitted in the case of qualities of the soul like “justice and wisdom or any other sort of goodness or badness” (247b).

On Wednesday I caught the train to Potsdam, former home of the Prussian Kings, just outside Berlin.  With Berlin at the peak of its summer beauty, Potsdam was packed with tourists.  I wandered fairly randomly by tram to the palace of Sans Souci, ‘without care’, where King Frederick the Great spent his summers.   It includes a rather ironic lithograph portrait of the king by Andy Warhol.  Once again this palace has an extraordinary opulence.  Then I wandered through the large palace grounds and ended up at a Bach organ concert at the church of Christ Lord of the Universe before strolling back to the tram and train.  Potsdam was where Stalin, Truman and Churchill/Atlee agreed the post-war division of Europe.

Thursday, my last day in Berlin, turned out to be a highlight.  Starting at the post office to send a couple of postcards, I then went to Checkpoint Charlie, the former American controlled crossing point into East Berlin.  I visited the museum which provides a comprehensive history, with several cars and small aircraft that were used to smuggle people out of the captive nation.  The contrast between today’s integrated Berlin and the bleak history of its division is quite stark, giving pause for thought about the ongoing political barriers maintained by walls in other countries such as Korea and Palestine. 

Then I went to the Jewish Museum, which totally spooked me out.  You go underground to this crazy architecture of long sloping corridors, then up steps to the museum which explains the whole historical tragedy of the Jewish presence and genocide in Germany.  Ashkenazi was the name for all the Jews north of the Alps.  They mainly lived in Germany where Yiddish developed, until most were expelled to eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages.  The most creepy thing was all these photos of the Nazi Holocaust, such as signs in towns saying Jews Not Welcome, a massive list of the steadily growing restrictions on Jews after 1933, and then a big set of photos of the expulsion of the Jews from a small town, purportedly for resettlement but actually for extermination.

Finally, the actual cultural highlight of my whole visit was the Berggruen Museum of Modern Art.  Heinz Berggruen was born in Berlin in 1914 and fled to America in 1936. Returning to Europe after the war he amassed a collection of art by Picasso, Klee, Matisse, Cezanne, Miro, etc now valued in the billions, which he subsequently sold for a tenth its value to the German nation as a gesture of reconciliation.  There was hardly anyone there when I visited, and the paintings are on magnificent display, so I took the opportunity to photograph most of them, and will gradually add more at my Facebook page.

Comments off

Commentary on Carl Jung’s Answer to Job

The Canberra Jung Society has uploaded the draft essay I used for my talk on Jung’s book Answer To Job on 6 July, as well as recordings of the talk and of the question and answer session.

The link above is to the Society’s home page. Direct link to the talk is here. I will revise this paper for publication in the Canberra Jung Society Journal.

Here is the diagram mentioned in the essay, providing an astronomical framework for mythology.
Orbital Drivers of Mythology and Cultural Evolution

Comments off

The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology

My Master of Arts Honours thesis in philosophy, completed in 1991 at Macquarie University, with degree awarded in 1992, is at this link.

I have edited the PDF document into a single file, correcting some typographical errors and formatting problems that happened when I typed it nearly three decades ago. I decided after I completed the degree that philosophy is a topic that requires life experience to conduct properly, so I did not want at that time to become an academic philosopher, and instead have worked since then in international development. Since leaving paid employment last year, I have had time to focus on my original interests, including reviewing my thesis. There is nothing in it that I would want to change. There are many ideas in it, looking at how ethics can be grounded in a coherent philosophical perspective, that have shaped my attitudes and beliefs, but that seem to be quite difficult to discuss against prevailing views. I would warmly welcome any questions or comments.
The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology: Robert Tulip Masters of Arts Honours Thesis 1991

Comments off