Celebrating Aristotle in Autumn

tumblr_kylxqyKU511qay2luSo recently I read and reviewed A.J. Jacobs’ book The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World and I kind of mentioned that I would like to do something similar sometime – and then I promptly forgot about it.
But then Rick from Another Book Blog wrote and said, among other things, that he wanted to steal my idea to read all of Fredrick Coppleston’s History of Philosophy for 2014 and after a couple of comments back and forth as well as several twitter messages, somehow we agreed to start reading all of Coppleston. I’m really not sure quite how I got myself into this and how it’s going to play out but here we are. On October 1st, we begin. Slowly working our way through the entire history of philosophy. Or most of it, at least.
Frederick Charles Copleston begins his history of philosophy with the Pre-Socratics and ends with Existentialism. 11 volumes of philosophy, covering most of Western philosophy. Even though Copleston is a Roman Catholic and never hides this, this is supposed to be a very good history of philosophy which treats every theory fairly and shows how every theory and philosopher connect with what came before and after.
And yeah, I know the title of this post was a bit of a lie but it has a certain ring to it, hasn’t it. And then we don’t care that we’re not starting with Aristotle – or that this is not just an autumn thing. And maybe it will turn out to be anything but a celebration. Really, nothing in the title fits but well, that’s how it goes sometimes. Titles can be misleading…
Anyways, if you want to join us, that will be totally cool. We’re going to attempt to read a volume every other month – but how that goes and how often I’m going to write about this (insane) project, I have no idea. Rick and I agreed that this is a project that demands a lot of support – so if you want to read along, that’s great and if you want to just watch us struggle and snicker a bit, that’s totally cool too. I’m not going to put a Mr Linky here because this really isn’t a read along that many people are foolish enough to attempt to so just holler if you want to play with us!
(Oh, this post may sound like I really don’t want to do this and that’s only partly true. You see, ever since I started to study philosophy in 1996, Coppleston has been kind of a holy grail and I just find it so so intimidating! But I’m slowly getting ready to do this – and looking forward to get the party started! Or the slow descent into philosophical madness … or solipsism, whichever comes first.)
And if you want to read what Rick thinks of it all, you can find his post here. Be warned though, his post contains dragon-humping. Oh and he thinks it’s only 9 volumes – imagine how disappointed he will be when he reach the end of volume 9 and realizes that he’s still missing an entire book about Russian Philosophy and one about Logical Positivism and Existentialism!! (Sorry, Rick!)
Oh, and I just had to share this quote from Rick’s post because it’s wonderful and funny and for the first time ever, I am now pondering whether I’m Frodo or Sam…: ‘Christina and I hope to tackle one of Copleston’s volumes every two months, starting in October. If all goes as planned, we will be finishing this little quest in March of 2015 (which sounds insane, now that I write it). It’ll take a whole lot of guts and even more luck, but I’m optimistic. We’ll be the philosophic descendants of Frodo and Sam. Or it’ll crash and burn rather quickly and Sauron will take over the Earth. Those are the stakes.’

I collect, therefore I am

I wrote my Master Thesis on collecting a couple of years ago and I’m still very interested in the collecting drive – why do we collect and what do we gain from it? I guess most of us heavy readers collect books to some extent but it’s worth considering whether collecting books that you actually intend to read, serves the same purpose as collecting precious first editions – or romance paperbacks. On of my arguments is that it doesn’t matter what you collect, the urge to collect is the same no matter what it’s subject is.

Title: ‘I collect, therefore I am’. The collection as an example of the human relation to the material reality

This thesis is an investigation into the role material culture plays in our life, or more precisely, the way things influence us, especially with regard to the things that are part of collections.

I begin by examining what a collection is as well as what a collector is and discuss various ways collecting has been defined after which I define a collection as:

A collection consists of a group of carefully and intentionally chosen things, often by separating them from the context that normally gives them their use value and meaning. These things always have certain relations that are closely controlled by the collector. The collector gets a positive feeling by each new thing added to the collection and by spending time on the collection, whether by taking care of it, searching for more knowledge about it or by simply contemplating the things.

Having settled on this preliminary definition I took a closer look at how human beings and things influence each other, and how things affect the way we look at ourselves. Theories that focused on things being alive to some extent and what it means to choose a thing and select it for a collection or a museum was then investigated. John Locke’s arguments concerning the primary and secondary qualities in things along with a third set of qualities is presented in this context, with a natural focus on the third set of qualities being the ability of one thing to change something, ie. the power of fire to melt wax and how things produce ideas in us.

Martin Heidegger’s views are then enquired into. It is discussed how the way we use things and the use and meaning context things are a part of, influence how we see things and how these things carries their past connections with them and thereby are able to give us knowledge, we don’t just see the things, we see the whole of which they are a part.

The next chapter focuses on Michael Thompson’s theory about rubbish and how things quickly loose their value and go from being at first new things, transients, to being rubbish – and from this rubbish category can be saved and elevated to a category of durables. This chapter is a discussion of value with regard to things – how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and how value in collections is established on subjective grounds and for that reason everything can in principle be part of a collection.

This leads to a discussion in chapter 4 about how we keep spending in an effort to achieve happiness, but despite that it is striking how each new purchase doesn’t seem to be able to hold our interest for more than a little while, after which we feel we have to spend yet more money. This can be explained by a theory of modern hedonism that connects spending with daydreaming in a way, where every thing in the collection is trying to live up to a dream and therefore, inevitably, always fall short when reality catches up with both the collector and the thing itself.

The following parts of this thesis focus on collecting – and we start out with a chapter discussing why we collect and looking for various explanations for this. Firstly, an element of taste is obviously involved, but it is also interesting to notice how we as children are basically trained and groomed into being consumers. Also, we look closer into why we collect the things we do and how the things we surround ourselves with are helping us create and establish our own identity, especially the things that are part of our homes. It is established that collecting is something we do because we feel a need for it, while at the same time being addicted to the constant consumption of new things, and that things are helping us separate ourselves as individuals.

The next chapter focuses on the collector and discusses three different aspects of the collector’s role. Firstly, that things are so important to the collector and play such a big part of his life that they end up actually being a part of his own person, as a consequence extending his self. Secondly and thirdly, I discuss two metaphors that help explain the collector’s passion for his collection activity: a hunting metaphor that focuses on the actual acquisition of each new thing, and a metaphor focusing on the passion, the Don Juan or Casanova aspects of collecting, and how the collector has deep feeling for his collection and view his collection as something living, perhaps even a mirror of himself.

We then look at the mystique that is part of the collection and how collections first helped science rid the world of anything mysterious by giving the scientists the necessary empiric material to help them rationally explain the world and now instead are helping collectors bring the magic back by bringing meaning to lives led in a material world by using rituals, speech act etc. to help the thing transcend from being merely a thing to being a part of a bigger whole, a collection.

By now we also see how the collection is able to help the collector transcend the ultimate end, death itself. In creating a collection, the collector can use his things to become part of a bigger whole and have his name live on after his physical form has ended.

The next two chapters discuss the role collections plays in science and as the foundation that museums are build on. Science has used things to classify the world and in this chapter we take a look at the collection’s way from curiosity cabinets to more modern collections.

With regard to collections in the museum world, I discuss how the collection works in a museum and the enormous responsibility anybody in charge of creating exhibitions have as well as the future museums face and how they can benefit by working closely together with private collectors.

In the end, the preliminary definition is examined again and the following is added to it:

At the same time the collection gives the collector a sense of purpose in life that influence both the collector’s self-concept as well as enable the collector to better cope with the challenges in life.

Finally, the thesis ends with asking whether we really ought to have this major focus on things, and if it might not be better if we instead tried to diminish the influence material culture has on our life. I also ask of museums to focus on throwing light on this aspect and to start creating exhibitions that shows how the very things that are so big a part of our own lives are influencing us by giving a different view on the familiar and thereby trying to achieve knowledge about what it means to be a modern human being in a material world.