Novel Coronavirus – a new Locus Cognitus of Philosophy

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Introduction

We cannot philosophize by bracketing coronavirus in the wake of great distress it has inflicted on humanity. Philosophers have imperative to make the novel virus the new locus classicus for doing philosophy. The new locus cognitus of philosophy can indeed generate responsible, relevant and emancipative responses to the global pandemic and the havoc that it has inflicted on humanity. We raise this all important issue in this study and attempt to seek the dharma of philosophy in the wake of the lethal virus. This study is divided into three parts. The first part tries to broadly understand the impact as well as human response to the global pandemic. We stay largely within the boundaries of philosophy and do not take other important responses that are medical or scientific in this context. The second part of this study attempts to discover the dharma of philosophy in the light of global pandemic. The third part of the study tries to deepen the new dharma of philosophy  and strives to suggest that  the new mission of philosophy is to produce a hermeneutics of love that will in turn produce civilizations of love.

I

Global Pandemic and Our World

The global pandemic has brought about a tremendous change in our ways of being-human-in-the-world. We are not fully aware of this transformation. It is important to understand what the virus is doing to us and what we do to respond to it.

Death of Isolationist totalizing Thinking

The atomist view of the individual and society has been put to death by covid-19. It has done away isolationist thinking[1] of complete and independent self and has manifested the broken-ness , finitude and dependence of humanity. Coronavirus has opened a new locus cognitus to philosophy. It has entered the hermeneutical circle of our understanding and has opened a critical self-understanding of our common humanity. It is disrupting our ultra individualist interpretation of being humans-in-the-world. The specters of the virus[2] are everywhere and are challenging us to withdraw into isolated life by social distancing yet paradoxically it manifests our dependence on each other and our utter fragility as humans-in-the-world.[3]  It may not be forcing a return to traditional communitarianisms[4] but  may summon us to new ways of being people in the world.  Our arrogance is steadily dying and kind of despair in the battle against the lethal virus is steadily rising.  To come to terms with our predicament, we have to come to understand how the corona-lens of understanding our being-in-the-world is influencing us and summoning us into new people.[5]

Intepellation of the novel Virus

The novel virus is calling us into being. It says ‘hey you!’   This addressability[6] of humanity is profoundly important to understand what it is doing to our being-in-the-world.  It is indeed standing between our life and death. The fact that we do not have medical ways of combating it has multiplied its specters in our society and produced great fear. It has marked the way we see ourselves and others. Every human is placed in a precarious condition of being both  a victim and a vector of the lethal infection produced by the virus and is influencing the way we treat ourselves and others.  Fear of the virus seems to have got the worst out of us and we have lost all compassion to the point of forgetting our common humanity. We all have natural fear of death and when the source of death becomes certain as well hidden it brings in a factor of uncertain certainty and therefore, it becomes complex. This is why something new has happened to us. The proximity and distance of the virus has disrupted our social boundaries and we are left confused, afraid and self-deluded. This is why it is important to discern and understand how coronavirus is actively mediating life for us. We need this reflection because our responses to our condition of great distress are often immediate and inadvertent.

The Specter of Virus mediating Life

The paradox is that the virus is both immediately present as well as absent. Its presence has to discerned through special medical tests. But we have been fighting it by blindly firing into the bush believing that the game is in it. We have no other option. We follow what may be called precautionary principle.[7]   But this fight has brought about a sense of immediacy of the virus and every other person and place than began to look to be a potential carrier of virus. Thus, it is beyond doubt that the specter of virus mediates our life and being-in-the-world.  Our seeing and being-in-the-world is stained by the bias of virus.  Life is never bias free.[8]  We need lenses or prejudices to understand the world. Becoming aware of these pre-understandings that we bring to bear upon events, persons, places, things, etc., can indeed assist us to free ourselves from the enslavements to some of them that produce toxicity in us. We may already understand how the specter of the virus has produced a guiding lens that pours toxicity out of us. The virus has called us into being and we have submitted to its address and have become transformed people. This is why it is important to make the virus the locus cognitus of philosophy today.  The virus does mirror the way we have changed for worse. Perhaps, it is time to seek new ways of being-humans-in-the-world rediscovering our common humanity.

Our Responses to the Specter of Virus 

We may begin this critical reflection by discerning how we project our self into the stream of life that we see as tainted by the lethal virus. It may reveal to us that in the interest of self protection we have become inhuman and behaved monstrously with others.  A critical distance[9] opened by our reflection can manifest how we have responded to the summons of the virus. It has called unto us and said ‘hey you!’ Moved by fear of death, we have become new people. Pandemic is a time to understand how fear of death mediates life. Before the pandemic, fear of death was minimal. Today it is not the same.  It is only through critical distanciation that marks the distance to let us see how we project ourselves into the stream of life that we might be able to bite the bullet that challenges us to open our eyes and arrive at a  life transforming critical awareness. This life transforming awareness will not allow the virus to cripple the humanity within us.  It will enable us to rediscover our common humanity and will produce new ways of being-human-in-the-world. These new ways has the power of transforming us into new people who will care for one self as well as that of others. For the moment, we are locked into ‘self care alone’ induced by the fear of virus. It can change.  We can initiate this change where the self care includes care of the other.  Indeed, the truth is we can only save us from the virus by saving each other. This means the rich and the powerful can save themselves only by saving the poor. The faster we realize this truth, better will be our response to the global pandemic.

II

The Dharma of Philosophy and the Novel Virus

The lethal virus challenges us to shift the dharma of philosophy. Letting the novel virus become the locus classicus of philosophizing has the power to open us to the new dharma of philosophy.

Making the Virus locus Cognitus to Philosophy

Philosophy as love of wisdom has a tremendous task in the wake of novel cornonavirus. Does  philosophy have to change to respond to the disruptive virus? What could be our real philosophic concerns when we let the virus become the locus cognitus of philosophizing?    Our predicament in the face of global pandemic is underlining in bold letters our radical thrownness in the world.[10] The virus has entered our facticity or given-ness[11] and we cannot escape its specters. We are completely immersed into it and there is no turning back.  It now belongs to the way we live as humans-in-the-world. Paradoxically, it plays an enabling role like our thrownness in the world. It offers us new possibilities of thinking, being and philosophizing. In Kantian terms it has become a condition of possibilities.[12]  This is why Philosophy has opportunities to take leaps[13] into new modes of thinking and philosophizing. We can indeed transform the curse of the global pandemic into a blessing. The new and creative ways of thinking and being will arrive only on the wings of prejudice introduced by the lethal virus. We have to follow the hermeneutical circle to arrive at our new destinations of thinking and being-in-the-world.  In some way the virus has begun to belong to us as we are already soaked into the prejudice or presuppositions introduced by it.  The road ahead is open and plural.   We do not have to be haunted by a disturbing question: will it produce anarchy of thought? The virus has disrupted our being and thinking. It is the task of philosophy to try and bring an integration of our being-in-the-world.

Moving towards Examined Life

The presuppositions of the virus have both opened and closed our horizons of thought and being. This is why a critical awareness of the modes in which it mediates life to us is of great importance.  We cannot be fully conscious of as well as completely free from our prejudices.  Our attempt to reach a critical distance and awareness of the workings of our prejudice is always a work in progress. We are fully immersed in life and can never fully stand back from it and view it as whole. Total distantiation is not possible for us.  We cannot rich this zero point or God’s eye to view our life as a whole.  This human finitude has to be factored in as we take up the task of philosophizing in the wake of the lethal virus. Our efforts in this direction can of course broaden our horizons of thinking and being-in-the-world. But the Socratic direction to examine life[14] has to continue. Hence, we may do well to listen to the call of the global pandemic as philosophers.  We are addressed by it. We have a task to respond.  The pandemic has introduced enough otherness in our world to put us and our world into question. Our response to it would be based on the traditions that formed and shaped us. We have to let the hermeneutical circle run its course to bring about creative, responsible and relevant responses to the call of global pandemic.  This task of tracing our philosophic responses is urgent otherwise we may have to face the possibility of  being prisoners of the caves of modes of thinking and being introduced by the novel virus. We cannot Oedipalize and surrender to these modes of thinking and being. We have the Socratic task of leading humans to a re-examination of life.[15] The mission of a philosopher is prophetic. It has the noble task to let the anti-Oedipus stand up so that we can embrace emancipative ways of being human-in-our-world.

Towards a Leap of Openness

The corona moment of humanity forcefully draws our attention to the fact that there is no Alpha point to Philosophizing. Like Rene Descartes and his fellow modern thinkers, we do not have to seek for a pure starting point to philosophize. Nor there is an Omega point to Philosophy. We do not have to seek a final closure of for all Philosophizing like G. W. Hegel. We are finite and we do not have God’s eye view of meaning and life. We have to come to terms with the absolute barrier that separate us from the divine. This is the message that comes loud and clear from the global pandemic. We challenged to stop playing God. The global pandemic calls us to a leap of openness and embrace humility before the mystery of life. It is a challenge to become critically and creatively productive. Therefore, the time and place to philosophize is where we find ourselves. Our philosophizing does not need the Omega point because it is always an unfinished event. We cannot arbitrarily fix goals for philosophizing. There cannot be boundaries to it.   The open philosophizing that we have to undertake is not turning of the hermeneutical circle to stage a narcissistic return to our home sweet home. It is prophetic and brave to remain in the new horizons opened by the virus. It is a challenge to let the novel and creative become our new home of thought.  Being comfortable with radical indeterminacy or uncertainty certainty introduced by the lethal virus is the way forward to philosophy.  Therefore, we are challenged to philosophize on the open road without compulsive necessity to build a system of final closures.

Towards New ways of being People

Letting the novel virus become the site of philosophizing can bring synergy into our philosophizing. It is the challenge to let our rootedness open to the novel and the critical so that a new  livable sensus communis[16] is forged. We have tried to  indicate that this  liveable sensus communis is in our common humanity. Our philosophizing therefore has the challenge to call new ways of being people into being. Hence, our readiness to respond to the call addressed to us by the novel virus is important and urgent.  We have the imperative to perform in the theatre of philosophy and generate new, critical and emancipative ideas.  It is by fusion of our horizon with the new horizon inaugurated by the global pandemic that we can authentically philosophize. Letting the moving hermeneutical circle bring about the fusion of horizons, we can philosophize to make a difference to our world. Perhaps, given the uncertainty certainty  that we are faced with, we are even challenge to revisit our understanding of wisdom. Our theoretical nuances of wisdom (Nous, Episteme, Sophia) have to be displaced by practical wisdom (Phronesis).[17] The challenge is to let the forgotten practical wisdom energize our philosophizing.  This means we have to bring about a fusion of horizons of the theoretical and practical shades of wisdom. Thus, we have the imperative to move from one dimensional love to an integral vision and love of wisdom that opens us the wisdom of love.

III

Living the New Dharma of Philosophy

There is no doubt that the novel virus has brought about a transformation of the dharma of philosophy. The new dharma of philosophy is to philosophize in the horizons of hermeneutics of love.

 Interrelating the Theoretical and the Practical

Aristotle gave great importance to practical wisdom (Phronesis). He seemed to have kept the theoretical and the practical wisdom in separate realm as he stood for the irreducibility of practical wisdom to its theoretical ally.[18]  In the context of the present predicament that faces us with uncertain certainty, we do not seem to have the luxury to separate the theoretical and the practical realms. While asserting their autonomy, our philosophizing has the dharma to manifest that they belong together.  This means that there is a hermeneutical circle between the two. The two are certainly autonomous but inter-related.  We have the challenge to open the hermeneutical space between the two. One way of opening the hermeneutical circle is to show how philosophy as love of wisdom is challenged to become wisdom of love (agape).  Aristotle does keep them related while he separates the working realm of the two. He places the theoretical wisdom in the realm of the universal and confines the practical to the contingent locales of deliberations.[19] Thus, practical wisdom becomes prudence that enables a person to apply the universal knowledge in the contingent locales.  This means practical wisdom deals with the applicative and is performative in orientation. This is why our focus has to shift from philosophy to philosophizing. Of course no one can philosophize without philosophy. But the fact that we are turning to philosophizing or doing philosophy, we are already turning towards the realm of practical wisdom.

Taking the Via Creativa and Via Transformativa

We might come to view philosophizing as an ongoing hermeneutical conversation. To philosophize then means to respond to the interpellation of the context that offers us resources and questions to critically think and (un)think.   This is exactly the challenge of the novel virus.  We are challenged to think and (un)think human predicament in a world afflicted by the corona virus.  The face of a dying human infected by Covid-19 speaks loudly. It shouts in midst of silence and fear of death and calls us to responsible philosophising(s).[20]   We can trace in it the dharma of philosophy today. Maybe we have reached a new aufhebung[21] of philosophy. It is sublation that will take philosophizing to several new levels. Such a sublation might lead philosophizing on to  via creativa that can put  our societies on to via transformativa. Embracing of this creative and critical margas of philosophizing(s) is the response to imperative of the voices from the margin.  Such responses have the power of making our philosophizing(s) acts of love generating wisdom of love for our societies and transforming us philosophers into persons of virtue. Philosophizing then is a consequence of response to the imperative of love. This means dharma of philosophy has to have its roots in the hermeneutics of love.

Seeking the Wisdom of Love

The imperative of love draws us to make the lethal virus and the devastated condition of humanity the locus cognitus of philosophy. Doing philosophy as a way of seeking the wisdom of love, demands the use of hermeneutics of suspicion.  Kantian disinterested act is profoundly interested in its disinterest. There is not disinterested way of doing philosophy. This is why the challenge is to transform doing philosophy into a work of love. Maybe be the dharma of philosophy is to become love seeking wisdom of love. Maybe it is imperative of being an Indian Christian Philosopher today. The practice of this dharma can make us virtuous persons. This arête or virtue is kenosis or self-giving love. This means practice of philosophy becomes a practice of the hermeneutics of love. Hermeneutics of love invites us to appropriate what Aristotle calls magnanimity (megalopsychia or great souledness) with a dash of humility.[22] This means our hermeneutics of love adds discernment to the hermeneutics of suspicion.[23] Hermeneutic of love is basically a hermeneutics of trust but it is not a blind trust. It is critical, reflective and philosophical. Therefore, it requires hermeneutics of suspicion. But hermeneutics of suspicion cannot be totalised. It has to be employed critically and responsibly. This is why we need critical discernment to live our drama of love with hope

Embracing the Hermeneutics of Love

The hermeneutics of trust is also a hermeneutics of hope.  This hope is not waiting for a home coming festival. It is kenotic and self emptying. It is ready and willing to live with uncertain certainty in our world. We cannot lead the alienation of philosophy from our living human conditions. Our philosophizing is challenged to become a free gifting of ourselves.  It cannot be an egology.[24]  At best, it has to become a hermeneutics of empathy that enable us to dissolve in the object of love. Doing philosophy or philosophizing is kenotic as it challenges us to lose ourselves in the object of contemplation.  This self dying attention to the object of contemplation is way of doing philosophy led by the horizons of agapeistic love. This self dying attention has to complete the hermeneutical circle. It has to pour itself to death into the generation of ideas and philosophies that will call people to emancipative and loving ways of being-human-in-the-world.  This is why we have to abandon Cartesian ‘I-for-myself’ hermeneutics that alienates us from God and the created world. Indeed Cartesian hermeneutics leads to self alienation and is a form of egology. We have to take up the hermeneutics of myself-as-another.[25]  Thus, having empathized with the other, we can be ready to undergo a further level of kenosis that lives as one-for-another. This I-for-another is not to be understood in the being-with (mitsein) sense of Heidegger[26]  but has to be taken in the sense that one takes up  responsibility for the other .  This life for the other is close to the hermeneutics of one-for-the-other in Levinasian sense.[27]  This is why my humble suggestion is that ACPI has to embrace the  new dharma of philosophizing to bring about a hermeneutics of love. Embracing of this dharma of philosophy will certainly help the coming of the civilization of love in our country. Accepting this dharma we may transform ACPI into a dharamaram ( garden of virtues) that will radiate love and think and (un)think ways of love and hate that disturb the peace, happiness, and wellbeing of all Indians, particularly the poor and the excluded.

 Conclusion

The dharma of philosophizing has to lead to the generation of civilizations of love.  We can imagine the civilization of love with help of Buddhist notion of boundless sublime state (appamanna). Such a boundless sublime state of affairs is a dharmaram of vidya, deepa  that can give us jyoti of jnana and karuna. Perhaps we will have to pay heed to the Buddhists who teaches that true boundless  sublime states abounds in love ( metta), compassion ( Karuna) , sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekka)[28] so that our philosophizing (s) become an act of love.

 

[1] Isolationist thinking is subject centred reason. This kind of reason has reached a dead end.  See Richard Rorty , Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 62.

[2] The specter of virus is notion  inspired by the Derrida’s  book , Specters of Marx and the State of  Debt and the Work of Morning and the New International. See Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx and the State of  Debt and the Work of Morning and the New International(New York: Routledge, 2006).

[3] This attention to human finitude  link us to the das ding of Martin Heidegger . See Martin Heidegger, ‘Das Ding’ in Vortrage und Aufsatze ( Pfullingen: Neske 1954),171.

[4]See  Kenneth L. Grasso, Gerard V. Bradley and Robert P. Hunt,  (Eds.), Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and Moral Foundation  of Democracy  ( Maryland: Rowman and Little Field, 1995), 4-5.

[5] Deleuze and Gauttari  teach that ideas, art and philosophy can summon new peoples into being. See Setephen Zepke, ‘ Anita Fricek :Contemporary Painting as Institutional Critique’ in Stephen Zepke and Simon O’Sullivan, (Eds.),  Deleuze and Contemporary Art (Edinburg: Edinburg University Press, 2010),  63.

[6] Our addressability take inspiration from the work of thinkers like Emmanuel Levinas  as well as Luis Altusser.

[7]  See Timothy  O’Riordan  and James Cameron, (Ed.), Interpreting the Precautionary Principle ( New York: Earthscan, 2009).

[8] We are never detached  neutral observers of the drama of life unfolding around us. We are immersed into it in different degrees. The Philosophical Hermeneutics of  H. G. Gadamer  clearly drives it homes. See  Soren Juul,  Solidarity in Individualized Society: Recognition, Justice and Good Judgement (New York : Routledge, 2013),26.

[9] Distancing is a kind of bracketing of Edmund Husserl.   Paul Ricoeur opens it that which is put in the bracket to a detached dispassionate scrutiny to the degree possible. See Leslie MacAvoy ‘Distanciation and Epoche the influence of Husserl on Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics’, in Scott Davidson and Marc-Antoine Vallee , (Eds.), Hermeneutics and Phenomenology in Paul Ricoeur: Between Text and Phenomena (AG Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2016),  15.

[10]  See Daniel O. Dhalstrom, The Heidegger Dictionary (London: Bloomsbury 2013), 212.

[11] Ibid., 71-72.

[12]  See Arthur W. Collins, Possible Experience: Understanding Kant Critique of Pure Reason ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

[13] Soren Kierkegaard indicates that there are two types of leaps: dialectical leaps and pathos-filled leaps. He lays his emphases on the later. Given our precarious condition, we seem to be driven towards pathos –filled leaps. See Alastair Hannay, ‘Equality and Association’, in Daniel W. Conway, Soren Kierkegaard: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers (New York: Routledge, 2002), 134.

[14] David m. Johnson, Socrates in Athens ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 71-74.

[15] Ibid.

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_sense accused on 28/09/2020 or John D. Schaeffer, Sensus Communis : Vico, Rhetoric and Limits of Relativism ( London: Duke University Press, 1990), 1-3.

[17] Joseph Dune, Back to the Rough Ground: Practical Judgement and the Lure of Technique ( Indiana :University of Notre Dame Press, 1997).

[18] Davide  Nicolini , Practice Theory , Work and Organization: An Introduction  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 27

[19] Sarah Broadie , Ethics with Aristotle ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 212.

[20] We might be reminded of Levinasian phenomenology of the Face.

[21] Aufhebubg  is a Hegelian term. Here we appropriate it bring about productive leaps that philosophy can reach in the wake of the novel virus.

[22]Metropolitan Hilary Dorostolski , Humility and Pride (Bloomington: iUniverse LLC, 2010), 10

[23] Alison Scott-Baumann, Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion ( London: Continuum International, 2009), 59-77.

[24]  Our philosophizing cannot be a form of egoism. See Theodore de Boer, ‘ An Ethical Transcendental Philosophy’,   in  Richard A Cohen, (Ed.),  Face to Face with Levinas (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 83-84.

[25] Paul Ricoeur manifest the self at its core is made of otherness.  There is away a dialectic of the self and the other  than the self.  This is what makes us original.  See Paul Ricoeur, One Self as Another ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

[26] See Daniel O. Dhalstrom, The Heidegger Dictionary, 37-39.

[27] Benjamin  C. Hutchen, Levinas: A guide for the Perplexed (New York: Continuum, 2004).

[28] See Nayanopika  Thera,  ‘The four sublime states : contemplation on love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity’,  https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html accessed on 28/09/2020.

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