The Genius of Ephemerality


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Fragment 165, word count: 595.

There is a longstanding pattern in the Western intellectual tradition of artificially separating a cognitive-rational aspect of a person’s engagement with experiences from the active play-out of emotional drama which is a person’s life in the world (and the definitive existence of ideality). As well as dealing with the precarious situation of living on the surface of planet Earth, what mainly shapes the drama for everyone is seeking out other sensitive beings to nurture and care for, constructing profound and enduring relationships with them. In this way ideality (always I-deality) is primarily empathy. Learning facts about things and solving problems are strictly incidental to the conceived imperatives of empathy. On the basis of the separation of cognition from empathic and dramatic agency, an edifice of conceptions has been built distinguishing data, facts and truths, from the emotional drama of “subjectivity” (often denigrated as inherently biased and limited by specific embodiment). However, it is always someone’s emotional drama which confers identified existence on anything.

We carry on living on the basis of a practical certainty that there is an actuality, some of which we eat and breathe and make clothes from. Actuality is what it is and persists in its nature quite independently of how it is conceived by us multitude of individually embodied ideality living with it. Yet it does permit a variety of ways of being conceived, and our ways of conceiving it express how things matter to us in the active play-out of drama which is life in the world.

The genius of ideality is creative ephemerality, turning ephemerality from imminent oblivion to an endurance of never-ending newness made possible by purposefully plunging and probing through time, conceiving freedom in a strictly non-actual but variably probable and possible future. The questioning push directing ideality’s gaze at the world is a self-directed re-orientation in flight: with a specifically directional bearing but also questioning, always incomplete. What is crucial to subjectivity is semi-reliable markers for orientation, to make agency,  operating into an open future, possible. We orient ourselves with ideas about actuality and other personalities, interpretations of experience, concepts created in the context of the teleological need for an open-ended and socially interconnected future-ward arc of living. Ideas are constructive acts of a consciousness living a life in the world, acts of gazing, creative acts of a knowing and learning at the questing point of an arc of purpose. Ideas are openings of newness, created outside actuality, interventions of an instance of a supra-actuality, non-being, which is the existence of living consciousness.

Individual subjectivity has to conceptualize and re-conceptualize the structures of the world, and to intervene in forming and altering those structures by exploiting the instability of actuality experienced as the passage of time. Having the power to do that is the genius of ideality. Knowledge is precisely a state of subjectivity in relation to the world in which a subject lives and orients itself. Nothing can be knowledge except in someone’s knowing, and only a particular subject/ person can know anything. Knowledge is first and always someone’s ideas. The conceptions of reality created by subjective ideality, and their cultural expressions, are tentative and mutable under the force of new experience, deliberation, and creativity. There is no absolute world-order (as in Plato) given (as data) to be known without the constructive activity of subjective ideality. Learning is a change of directionality of intent, expectation, and aspiration, of orientation, rather than a collecting and recollecting of images or word strings.


“ … Here is such a definition of truth: An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.” Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, An Existential Contribution, Volume I: Text with Introduction and Notes, written by Soren Kierkegaard, Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey (1992). ISBN 0-691-02081-7. (p. 203)

“Feeling is a kind of knowing; it is only through our feelings that we know that we have been insulted, that we love someone, that danger lies ahead or that it is uncertain what next step we ought to take.” How to Be an Epicurean, The Ancient Art of Living Well, written by Catherine Wilson, Published by Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. (2019). ISBN: 978-1-5416-7263-5. (p. 269)

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.

Self-Thinking Idea


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Fragment 164, word count: 553.

In the tradition of humanity’s search for understanding there are two general directions of questioning: the public world of actuality, and the individually private experience of I-deality. The predominant orientation of classical Indian philosophy, Vedanta*, for example, was a questioning of the experiencing subject, the self, I-deality. Much more development and mastery has been achieved overall in the direction of material actuality.

Vedanta is an Idealism

Classical Indian philosophy pondered the elusive existence of the self engaged in experience. The concept “Brahman” is closely equivalent to the concept “ideality”. Very similar mistakes about ideality were made in both ancient Greek and Indian conceptions. The ancients seemed to move immediately from immateriality to indestructibility, perfect permanence, specifically contrasting ideality with actuality by conceiving ideality as eternal, fundamentally unchanging and, as such, the ultimate source of quasi-illusory ephemeral things such as objects and phenomena.

The reason there was only murky and questionable development from the classical turn inward is the typical mistake of equating immateriality with eternal endurance, and, based on that, the promotion of turning inward as an escape from ephemeral emotions inherent in dramatic efforts for pleasurable habitation in the world. The cultural context which influenced this conceptualization of ideality was a (mistaken) tradition of fatalism, an assumption that the social and political hierarchy was a permanent and unalterable part of life, part of an ugliness to actuality that motivates a search for ultimate escape. On that assumption there is no point in examining ideality for implications for political agency.

Idealism is any conception of reality which includes ideality as fundamental and special. Only ideality (spirituality, intelligence, humanity/ personality) strives toward a specific not-yet or non-actuality, and that is the essence of creativity and so of freedom, stunningly beyond the insensitive lumps and structures of objective actuality, and, as such, a clear transcendence of nature. Ideality is points and arcs of freedom. Ideality creates freedom by conceiving a future which is not completely predetermined, a future with some predictability along with various possibilities, probabilities, and impossibilities. Novelty and originality are possible because ideality is not limited to any predetermined nature or future. The fundamental quality of I-deality is time, a dramatic temporal flight to futurity as an opening. The questioning push directing a gaze upon the world is an ever developing orientation in flight: directionality, bearing, questioning, self-directed re-orientation, always incomplete.

The most striking historical contrast to cultural communities embracing unalterable permanence in their social hierarchy of wealth and power is the formative spirit of European protestantism, a spirit in accord with a kind of idealism that creates a novel future.

As soon as individual persons universally are recognized as the only supra-actual forces creating novelty out of the drama of what matters to them, then the political situation stands in a new light. Politics is no longer about arranging a proper hierarchy among different kinds and qualities of people (as in Plato, for example), some fulfilled by leading and others fulfilled by being led. Instead, rights and dignity derive from human existence as living ideality in which an orientation and bearing of questioning is central. Individuals create the greatest benefits when they are enabled to take a substantial measure of participation and control in conceiving the ongoing evolution of their society and culture.


* Classical Indian Philosophy, Volume 5 of: A History of Philosophy Without any Gaps, written by Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri, published by Oxford University Press (2020), ISBN 978-0-19-885176-9. (See Chapter 19, pp. 129-134.)

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.

A Western Project


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Fragment 163, word count: 750.

What muted the traditional cultures of vicious racism and patriarchal misogyny for a time in the U.S.A. and much of Europe was the prestige and promise of intellectual culture. This was a legacy from world history, just as the racism and misogyny were, but there were special contributions from European history that establish it still as the exception in the history of the progress of ideas. The American colonies always had to compete against the senior societies in Europe which were eager to emphasize their vast superiority and authority. However, the continent that the colonizers had stolen was fertile, a treasure trove of resources, so with slave labour the colonies became rich and able to emulate and compete for leadership in the cultural achievements of the senior societies. The mutating of rigid European class culture on the new ground of the colonies, along with political institutions conceived in the intellectual fervour for social liberation underlying the great revolution in France 1789-99, helped enable a greater range of personal expression and commercial venturing in the USA. Universities in the USA advanced scholarly culture in all areas, especially engineering (drawing comparison to the Roman development of the cultural legacy from ancient Greece). By 1939 on the eve of World War II the American view of Europe can be seen in the classic movie from that year, The Wizard of Oz. Europe was Munchkin-land inhabited by little people in Medieval costumes, incapable of freeing themselves from the domination of fairy-tale witches and wizards. The child Dorothy in her healthy American innocence towers over the Munchkins, bound as they are by hereditary hierarchies and traditional folkways.

After World War II, somewhat democratic institutions provided a basis for European countries toward the Atlantic coast, and the USA, to claim moral superiority. This began after WW I during which occurred the Communist Revolution in Russia and the rise of National Socialism in Germany during the 1920’s and 30’s. The claim to moral authority of the west rested on the contrast with fascist dictatorships and authoritarian communist regimes in the east. However, it wasn’t just political institutions that made European culture remarkable. It was the depth and complexity of intellectual culture which, of course, included science, and science became so ascendant that it is easy to assume that science was the main feature, but it wasn’t. Deeper than science was a sense of a western project of social and cultural progress expressing a spirit of personal autonomy, a cultural movement that had blossomed profoundly in the Enlightenment as well as in earlier manifestations such as the protestant reformation, and constituted the decisive contrast with authoritarian societies. As well as conceiving dramatic upgrades in the dignity of human nature, the spirit of science and the spirit of protestantism were both rejections of authority even when it claimed to express divine sovereignty. Science had to reject the very forceful authority of the Church in describing nature, astronomy, for example, and protestantism (justification by faith) confronted both religious and political authorities in claiming personal autonomy in the teeth of decrees made by high officials and councils of the Church. In public debate with Church authorities, Martin Luther was continually confronted with the question of how his individual wisdom could match the accumulated store from the whole history of the Church. Luther could well have quoted Socrates: “I know only that I know nothing.” It is a claim of the inherent dignity and power of individual innocence from mere existence as personality/ humanity. In this conception, inseparable from the culture of thinking philosophically, the individual person is an autonomous point and arc of creative agency with inherent power to re-conceptualize experience, and, as such, inherently greater than the cultural imprint of any collective identity, any human hive mind. This claim applies universally. The intellectual, scribal, culture of Europe, with the tradition of philosophy at the core, pioneered this experience of enlargement of the individual self in sharp contrast to other cultural conceptions, such as that of feudal Christendom. This is the inner attraction and variably successful accomplishment of liberal education in the western tradition. However, hive minds of vicious imperialist racism and patriarchal misogyny from feudal Christendom have not gone away, and remain active in many ways to subvert the project of universal autonomy. They are springs of anti-intellectualism and their resurgent influence has discredited the moral authority once claimed by western institutions. Considering history, though, the past is not the future.

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.

Existence Matters, Being Doesn’t


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Fragment 162, word count: 340.

Humanity/ personality is a gaze into nature from a time-bound drama in which some things matter more than others. Without the gaze of a personality, nature has no drama and nothing about it matters. The gaze is a questioning of what’s there to encounter, a living point in an arc of intended intervention, knowing, anticipating, aspiring, discovering, and learning. The seeking gaze is a bearing onward in an ever changing poise of orientation that defines a monad of agency conducting the personal drama of a person’s life. Not only is the gaze of consciousness a gaze into nature from a particularly embodied drama, but it is an act of the drama, a move forward in and by the drama, a creative act that is an essential piece of the drama. The gaze is the drama in the act of building and playing out, of extending itself by going on living in the world. An individual’s momentarily located orientation and bearing is inseparable from the emotional stakes of the larger dramatic idea of this embodied life. The direction and sensitivity of the gaze, the specifics of its questioning, are the application of a curated sensibility, a many layered orientation, a sum-up of all previous engagements, lessons learned, and vectors undertaken, the whole of a personal no-longer. All the context that makes sense of anything is in the questioning of the gaze, the sensibility expressed. The orientation and bearing of an individual’s questioning is reconfigured by everything learned, by every recognition and discovery. What personality has instead of an essence is a learning arc, a personal fountain of curiosity and intent expressed in a questioning engagement and in the creation of an ever changing path through a temporally unstable actuality. The scientific conceptual system leaches all drama from existence, and so leaches out reasons, meanings, creation, and ideas in general, and so presents a limited impression of reality. The only kind of conceptual framework that can comprehend the drama of what matters is an existential idealism.

Embedded links:

Fragment 11, November 10, 2011, Nature: Ground and Sky (word count: 2,752)

Fragment 124, February 19, 2018, The World that Doesn’t Matter (word count: 750)

Fragment 160, February 8, 2020, Existentialism is an Idealism (word count: 728)

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.


Identity and Idealism


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Fragment 161, word count: 653.

In terms of culturally mainstream frameworks of explanation, an exit from dystopia depends on finding a way past the grossly contradictory bifurcation currently embracing at the same time creationist monotheism and scientific materialism, monolithic science alongside myths of angels and demons, as conceptual frameworks for understanding the world and the ongoing improvisation of lives in the world. (Fragment 145: Desperately Seeking Reality.) There is strident institutional support for this historically embedded contradiction, even in the most educationally advanced societies. A religious orientation toward a commanding height blends seamlessly into a hive-mind political-state and into reverence for its war-ready collective drama. Any questioning of that inspires panic for social pragmatists. At the same time, science is the darling of capital accumulators, weapons developers, and advertising media device multipliers. Not a single person in higher boxes of organization charts is looking for a way beyond this cultural contradiction, not since the conservative backlash against the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, movements which disputed the religious-political side of the contradiction based mainly (and regrettably) on an assertion of scientific materialism. It isn’t just that both scientific materialism and creationist monotheism disparage humanity/ personality (the first by conceiving only dead mechanism about which nothing matters in itself, and the second by conceiving human personality as a weak imperfect image of a disembodied original), but also that both are comprehensive systems of explanation that essentially contradict each other and yet have arranged for peaceful co-existence because each solves a fatal deficiency in the other. They tolerate and support each other because neither one is viable alone.

Both of these schools of explanation are dystopian by constructing hive minds on a nucleus of denigrated personality/ humanity. This is easy to see in the case of creationist monotheism with its counterintuitive concepts of sin and the self-denying path to salvation. Romanticism, fables strategically decontextualized from crucial givens of living reality, happily embraces the drama of mysterious ordeals and glorious rewards, and especially thrills on hidden higher powers, so all religion is inherently romantic. On the other side of the coin, the materialist insistence on strict exteriority expresses a distinctly romantic asceticism. Since the core of materialist ideology is a denigrating denial of subjective ideality, of the condition for there being anything that matters, it is incapable of sensing its own emotional underpinning in a Calvinist-inspired romance, asceticism as a heroically purifying gesture. That thread of self-denying asceticism binds scientific materialism to creationist monotheism with a force like a molecular bond, and pre-determines that the gravitas of science, faced with the hive-mind political-state demanding reverence for war, will pragmatically interpret the state as nature’s food chain manifested in human sociability. Science has declared the dystopia inevitable and made it far more lethal instead of questing for a way beyond it.

The only way to end war is to disband the collective identities that commit to and execute wars. That is not something that will be proposed or initiated by any government or corporation or any other collective entity which earnestly works at creating itself as a collective identity. This is something that can only be accomplished by individuals recognizing themselves as such through philosophical thinking. In our hive-minded dystopia, individualizing idealism is indispensable. Since creative novelty emerges from the particular drama that is the interiority of an individual’s living in the world, the modern idealism exploring this, described in Fragment 160 is a framework of orientation that enables individuals to separate viably from hive-minds. This idealism (call it Existential Idealism) leaps past the metaphysical denigration of what has been called human nature. It recognizes human existence/ personality as a transcendence of nature, if nature is conceived as it is in scientific materialism, and instead recognizes personality as an active supra-actuality in such a way that political rights derive entirely from that transcendent existence, existence as living ideality.

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.

Existentialism is an Idealism


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Fragment 160, word count: 728.

Existentialism is an expression of modern idealism as sketched in Fragment 158, The Arc of the Monad. This will be clear from a quick review of the main points of modern idealism worked out mainly in Germany in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. It features the claim that the ideality of experience is fundamental in human reality, so that the existence of certain special characteristics of ideality is undeniable. Central to those special characteristics is that ideality is always personality, all forms of ideality occur together in clusters that have the dramatic structure of a living personal “I”, subject of a personal drama which is an individual’s embodied life in the world. The existence of ideas is the existence of ordinary thinking agents. The only reality we can possibly experience is completely structured as and by ideas constituting the interiority of personal experience (Leibniz, Fichte). Ideality is willful becoming, always questioning, learning, and creating, the exact opposite of being. What this amounts to is that personality is not a thing of nature, but, as point and arc of spontaneous creation (Sartre’s existence without essence), it stands outside nature and transcends nature. The supra-actual creative power of ideality is not in Platonic heaven or in gods and demons, but in ordinary personalities. How things matter in the world does not depend on eternal ideas in the mind of a deity nor in a Platonic heaven where ideas are master molds for material beings. It depends only and entirely on the occurrence of ideas in the living of individually embodied persons. Individuals cannot claim to be creative masters of nature at large, but each person creates a personal orientation and future-directed bearing, a life of possibilities, impossibilities, and probabilities in an interiority of non-actuality, which is then actually imposed on brute nature with variable success, and shared by building interconnections with other ordinary persons.

Existentialism inhabits experience as lived by a fully elaborated personality, what Fichte called an “I”. Heidegger’s dasein is a phenomenology of the interiority of an “I”, the monad from Leibniz/ Kant/ Fichte. The focus on freedom, decision, (Kierkegaard, Sartre) at the level of the living individual expresses the central theme of modern idealism that ideality is a transcendence, a transcendence with the drama of life-being-created moment by moment between misery and ecstasy, that is, with caring, at its core. Existentialists expanded on the drama of the life of the “I”, the everydayness of being in the world, but also the profound drama of freedom: dread, anxiety, sense of absurdity, despair, fear and trembling, and ecstasy (Nietzsche). This is a portrait of the interiority of the life of the “I” contributing to modern idealism. Modern idealism provides the conceptual cluster that encompasses freedom by conceiving personality/ humanity as ideality, something not of nature. The established conceptual cluster for nature, from scientific materialism, is antithetical to freedom, a failure of science that is crucially detrimental for politics. Existentialism and phenomenology (a technique of de-culturing) lie in the developmental arc of essentially Protestant idealism, notwithstanding that Edmund Husserl was Jewish and Franz Brentano, Heidegger, and Sartre were variably Catholic.

Nobody was Ready for Modern Idealism

As a distinctly European cultural development, modern idealism (including existentialism) was feared and loather by bearers of the ascendent culture of the USA after World War II, an ideology of national exceptionalism grown from a fresh cultural memory of cowboy-style frontier freedom and colonization, expressed now in patriotic militarism in support of the capitalist assertion of the divine rights of property. Already in the nineteenth century, with the world-shaking adventurism of Napoleon following the upheavals of the French Revolution (1789-99), combined with fervour for the explaining power of empirical observation, it pleased people to generalize from their historical moment to the idea that it is exceptional great men such as Napoleon, romantic heroes above all laws, who create history, art, culture, and civilization (eventually), with regrettable but unavoidable death, destruction, and romantic mayhem along the way. Such people had to be admired, it was thought by the cognoscenti, and given a chance to work their will. This romanticism became fundamental to the American myth-system. Such a cultural environment was lethally inhospitable to modern idealism focused as it was on the unexceptional universal individual, and so the idealism was academically marginalized and left unnamed.

Embedded Links in order of appearance:

Fragment 158, January 9, 2020, The Arc of the Monad (word count: 803)

Fragment 124, February 19, 2018, The World that Doesn’t Matter (word count: 750)

Fragment 153, September 28, 2019, De-Culturing (word count: 458)

Fragment 123, February 8, 2018, Brentano’s Gift (word count: 999)

Fragment 143, March 21, 2019, Frontier Freedom (word count: 447)

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.

Dystopia, Metaphysics, and Modern Idealism


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Fragment 159, word count: 1,010.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” (Karl Marx)

What makes a dystopia is a cultural regime, structured as a human hive-mind, which fails to recognize the creative transcendence of individual ideality. It is hive-minds that make war. A crucial feature of dystopia is that it hides and denies that it is dystopia. It campaigns, mainly successfully, to have everyone accept that, although imperfect and beset with intractable problems, it is the best of all possible worlds. Every personality is strongly influenced by social controls, the ambient society as authority, from a very early age. That makes dystopia a problem of perception, knowledge, and reality: a philosophical problem. Philosophy has a history of seeking to understand how collective illusions and delusions can separate ordinary consciousness from knowledge of the elemental structure of reality. Dystopia conceals itself with just such illusions, making it the philosophical problem.

Institutions of military-backed states survive by keeping as many as possible dependent, and the crucial dimension of hive-mind dependence is (drumroll) metaphysics. For example, if you accept anything like the Freudian conception of human nature then you loath and fear your own individuality and feel allegiance to externally imposed authority symbols against yourself, siding with the normalized practices of ambient society no matter how bizarre. There is a strong tendency to normalize whatever bizarre power inequalities happen to exist. Although Freud presented his work as scientific, the overall model of personality he offered followed a pre-existing and pre-scientific set of speculations and superstitions with contributions from Plato, Augustine, and Hobbes. The Freudian model of human nature places inherent personality (id: biologically generated drives with a tinge of the demonic) in urgent need of social control by an internalization of authority symbols (superego); recall philosopher kings, divinely established religious authority, and a social contract for absolute sovereignty. That conception of human nature is a longstanding piece of metaphysics which misidentifies what is fundamental to humanity or personality by conceiving it as something of nature: a determinate set of attributes, fixed, unalterable, and universal. That bit of metaphysics, a conception of individual personality as a bit of nature tilting demonic, serves to legitimize patriarchal power and control. Freud’s model dovetails with social contract theory, upholding the ancient and traditional view that human beings can’t thrive without strict social control. What’s wrong with that is that personality is not a thing of nature, but, as existence without essence (thank you Sartre) transcends nature.

Instead of defining metaphysics as commentary on ‘being’ (strictly impossible to define *) it is more effectively understood as commentary on the occurrence of ideas, of ideality. Being is defined as universal and eternal, which, by fiat, makes ideas as ordinarily experienced inadmissible. Ideality doesn’t have being. The fact that you are conscious as you read this is proof in a general way of the truth of idealism, the most obvious thing there could be. Consciousness is ideas. The only reality we can possibly experience is completely structured as and by ideas constituting the interiority of personal experience (thank you Fichte and Leibniz). Nature is adequately comprehended by physics, since there is no intrinsic drama to brute actuality, no structure of what matters to make sense of or explain. Ideality is the only home of drama, of things that matter, of purposes and reasons. Neither physics nor biology is helpful in understanding ideality. The question of human nature brings us into metaphysics immediately because any individual person exists as ideality, and ideality is necessarily the stuff of metaphysics. In the modern idealism worked out in the wake of the Protestant Reformation it is recognized that ideality is always personality, all forms of ideality occur together in clusters that have the dramatic structure of a living personal “I”, subject of a personal drama which is an individual’s embodied life in the world. The existence of ideas is the existence of thinkers. This idealism retains a sense of the transcendent creative freedom of ideality (personality transcends nature) but relocates it from a patriarchal Christian deity to ordinary individual human personalities. The supra-actual creative power (again transcendence) is removed from Platonic heaven or gods and demons to ordinary personalities. After all, how things matter in the world does not depend on ideas in the mind of some deity nor in a Platonic heaven where ideas are master molds for material beings. It depends only and entirely on the occurrence of ideas in the living of individually embodied persons. We know ideas from personal caring and our engagement with others who express caring. Living personality is known by a creatively expressive voice and purposive activity. Personalities produce coherent utterances and acts which express ideation: caring, sensitivity, knowledge, and the preconception of intentions, the drama of inventing, moment by moment, a particular life in the world. Ideas are openings of newness, created outside actuality, interventions of an instance of supra-actuality, non-being, which is a living consciousness. Ideality is willful becoming by always questioning, learning, and creating, the exact opposite of being. Individuals cannot claim to be creative masters of nature, but each person creates a time-system (a life) of possibilities and probabilities in a universe of interiority, a personal orientation within non-actuality, which is then actually imposed on brute nature with variable success, and shared by building interconnections with other ordinary persons.

Dystopia hides behind false conceptions of fundamental reality, distorting every individual’s self-conception so the old systems of top-down human-on-human macro-parasitism can be maintained and wars can be fought. Every individual is still a fountain of original re-conceptions of a future, of self-creation, with an inherent capacity to be free of hive-mind influences, starting with hive-mind patriarchal metaphysics. That is a bit of cultural conditioning that can be controlled at the level of every individual. Any aspiration for cultural, social, and political change must be founded on an appreciation of creativity, recognition that reality is mutable because ideas make up so much of the structure of reality. To change the world, it is first necessary to go beyond the colonization of patriarchal metaphysics.


  • Medieval Philosophy, Volume 4 of: A History of Philosophy Without any Gaps, written by Peter Adamson, published by Oxford University Press (2019), ISBN 978-0-19-884240-8. (Chapter 25: It’s All Good – The Transcendentals, especially pp.179-80.)

Doubting dystopia? Think about these articles in other publications.

Internal links:

Fragment 106, May 10, 2017, Social Contract as Hive Mind (1) (word count: 520)

Fragment 158, January 9, 2020, The Arc of the Monad (word count: 803)

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.


The Arc of the Monad


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Fragment 158, word count: 803.

This is the story of a crucial modern rethinking of human nature. The monad is a conception of the organization of ordinary human consciousness presented by Leibniz in 1714. There is no hardware in Leibniz’ vision of the world formed of monads, only individual instances of ordinary consciousness having coherent experiences composed of images and other impressions of a world that does not exist in any other way. In this conception, the world is the setting of some vast number of these subjects having experiences. This world of monads is entirely a world of ideas, a strictly idealist world. In Leibniz’ vision the monads, even though not anchored to a concrete material world, were not self sufficient because the entire content of their consciousness was supplied by an omnipotent deity who had pre-determined everything, every event and change in exact detail, at the moment of creation. Although the monads are “windowless” with no personal agency in constructing knowledge of anything, experiences are coordinated among the monads by the deity to simulate a coherent unity of shared surroundings, in which they seem to engage with one another. Later in the century (1781), Kant’s idealism was a development and modification of this legacy from Leibniz. It focused on understanding instances of ordinary consciousness, but introduced two structural changes. Kant removed the deity as the single supplier of experiences and added hardware in the form of the external “thing in itself”, a surrounding objective world which was not reducible to ideas. Kant’s monads had something like windows onto the external hardware, but their transparency was far from perfect. The “thing in itself” could never be known directly, but Kant was convinced that it must exist as an influence on, and partial source of, the coherent impressions and images that are the content of experience. Following Kant closely (1795), Fichte also engaged with this legacy of ordinary consciousness idealism. His innovation was to remove Kant’s “thing in itself”, the hardware, from the conception of reality, and he didn’t bring back the deity. So, by the end of the eighteenth century with Fichte, the deity was gone along with the hardware (the thing in itself) leaving only truly self-subsisting monadic subjectivities each structured as a distinct “I”. In Fichte’s work these subjectivities are independent sources of suppositions. Each “I” posits, creating the ideas of itself and its entire world from its own interiority. Fichte’s vision effectively eliminates the fundamental distinction in Christendom and creationist monotheism generally between human and divine personality. This is not a declaration of the death of God, but instead a reconceptualization of the place of creative transcendence in human experience.

These are conceptions of idealism in which ideality is always personality, in which all forms of ideality occur together in the living experience of some personality, structured as an elaborate “I”, the subject of a personal drama which is an individual’s life in the world. In the case of Leibniz, one of those personalities was unique by being divine. This idealism (conception of ideality) is special in the history of philosophy as a sharp contrast to more familiar kinds such as Platonic or Hegelian idealism in which the primary ideas are remote, impersonal, and cosmically scaled drivers of nature and history. Monadic idealism is much more compatible with the spirit of science than is creationist monotheism which includes disembodied angels and demons, and it makes sense of the claim that human nature is inclined and competent to conceive questions that enable discoveries and scientific knowledge, which mechanistic science itself fails to explain. (It isn’t enough to stipulate that knowledge comes from experience without accounting for questions.) Monadic idealism did not permanently imprint popular or intellectual culture because it is politically problematic: it does not denigrate human nature sufficiently to support existing political and other hierarchical institutions of social control. Any aspiration for cultural, social, and political change must be founded on idealism of some non-Platonic and non-Hegelian kind, and so such idealism will be feared and loathed by forces of conservatism.

This developmental arc of the conception of monadic ideality marks out the tendency of post-reformation Lutheran-stream Protestant idealism to retain a sense of transcendence (the creative freedom of ideality) but increasingly to relocate the occurrence of transcendence from a remote central deity to ordinary individual human personalities. The influence of Martin Luther (1483-1546) is behind the whole stream, with his conception of spiritually capable and independent individuals like himself, Bible readers, doubters and questioners, takers of mental leaps. The monadic idealism that emerged from Luther’s influence plays a crucial part in the spirit of protestantism that decisively shaped Euro-American Enlightenment along with the spirit of science, each protesting against authority. Modern people expect to be treated as Kant/Fichte-style monads without grasping the concept.

Note: The following philosophers were brought up in Lutheran households and communities: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), Max Stirner (1806-56), Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).

Copyright © 2020 Sandy MacDonald.

Philosophy in the Dystopian Context


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Fragment 157, word count: 552.

The pivotal dystopian feature of existing hive-mind-structured cultures is their denigrating concept of human nature. Hive minds are founded on an idea of human nature very far from creative free-agency at the level of the embodied individual; for example, on a conception such as Freud’s (in the tradition of Hobbes and Augustine): a human nature that is lethally dangerous (id) if not repressed by social control (superego). However, human psychology is so pervaded by social control that it is impossible to make reliable generalizations about human nature from either psychological phenomena or the history of human behaviour.

If acts of philosophical thinking are to be unprejudiced re-conceptualizations of the drama of existence, of existence structured in terms of caring, existence as experienced (something that matters), then de-culturing is the single crucial operation of philosophical action, not merely an incidental, occasional, or optional beginning. It is what is required for acquaintance with simple existence as ideality, as creative free-agency at the level of embodiment: a specifically oriented bearing into futurity, the point of view of a knowing, learning, and purposive gaze. Here is living human nature: to occupy, to dwell in, the reach or bearing beyond now and beyond no-longer, into an empty not-yet still to be created, the transcendent moment of ideality.

Any idealism asserts the existence of some supra-actual transcendence, creative fountain of surprises. Such transcendence has overwhelmingly been conceived, as in Plato’s idealism, as separate from the individual person, operating in some manner that is remote from embodied living. The tendency of Lutheran-stream Protestant idealism is to retain a sense of transcendence (the creative freedom of ideality) but increasingly to relocate the occurrence of transcendence from a remote central deity to individual human personalities. We see this worked out through a series of post-reformation Lutheran philosophers: Leibniz, Kant, Fichte.

The context of philosophical thinking is an age-old historical drama structured around the dystopian culture of patriarchal dominance, expressing the idea of deity by imposing the will of the strongest (imperialist exceptionalism) and culturing hive minds for compliance. Various intuitions of free-agent idealism, in which the individual, as a fountain of creativity and freedom, is conceived and treated as inherently greater than the cultured conceptions of any hive mind, have regularly found the courage to resist assertions that rights are the exceptional property of the strongest. A striking example of one articulation of that contrary intuition is expressed in Kant’s idea of universal maxims, formalizations of simple empathy. As anyone is capable of forming these maxims, everyone’s fundamental duty is universal empathy, recognizing all sentient beings as ends, bearers of rights from their transcendent manner of existence.

The idea of a divine plan and a supernatural planner who irresistibly determines everything has been crucial in legitimizing the lethal power of patriarchal sovereignty. The idea of totalitarian natural law has been used to the same effect. The tendency of scientific materialism is to eliminate transcendence, leaving a desolation of utter predictability: the future will be the same as the past. However, the supra-actuality of creative ideality at the level of the embodied individual completely negates those assumptions. Not-yet is empty and undetermined, to be created out of the transcendent moment of ideality in vast multitudes of individuals.

Copyright © 2019 Sandy MacDonald.

Dreaming Boys


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Fragment 156, word count: 179.

The idea of an emotionless super-intelligence has fascinated certain male culture pods throughout history. Rationalist philosophers and theologians from all three Abrahamic religious cultures, for example, developed in medieval and early modern times conceptions of God as an emotionless super-intelligence, the ultimate rationality, who must be trusted to conduct the world infallibly, unhampered by the limitations and weaknesses of human judgments. Since the acts and pronouncements of that intelligence are based on complete omniscience, utterly beyond human abilities, the resulting voice and hand of God are beyond the constraints of ethics and morality as conceived by humans. It is now computer engineers and mathematicians, urged on by investors, corporate executives, strategic and military planners, and authoritarian politicians who dream of an emotionless super-intelligence whose access to vast oceans of data make it completely unimpeachable by ethics and morality in providing them with unlimited power and wealth. The dreaming boys strive to fashion a mightier person than the girls make in the usual way, but the dream of a master has become the dream of a slave.

Copyright © 2019 Sandy MacDonald.