Uden frihed er der ingen kærlighed

“Dét, der gør et liv værd at leve, er kærligheden, fordi den er meningsskabende. Men kærlighed kan kun eksistere, hvis der er frihed, hvorfor kun frie mennesker kan elske. Ufrie mennesker bilder sig selv ind, at de slår, undertrykker eller dræber af kærlighed, selvom de reelt blot er voldelige. De, der har følt sig truet af Salman Rushdies ord har aldrig været frie, de har aldrig elsket,” skriver forfatter ph.d. i filosofi, Finn Janning.

Læs resten af kronikken her.

Living by Courage, Generosity & Wisdom

Finn Janning says empathy and compassion are necessary for our thriving and even our survival.

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday. I can’t be sure.” These are the opening lines from Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger (1942). If these words seem gruesome, it is because the reader has an expectation that a ‘normal’ person simply has to know when his or her mother died. Expect this not, says Camus. Or perhaps he is saying, keep an open relationship with death. The French writer may also be asking: Does it make any difference? Today, or yesterday – my mother is dead!

However, it doesn’t get any better with regard to the reader’s possible expectations when the novel’s protagonist Meursault – the one whose mother is dead – does not seem to grieve at her funeral. On the contrary, he falls in love with a girl during the ceremony. Afterwards they go to the beach, where they bathe, and subsequently make love. The girl wants to marry Meursault, and he tells her that it is of no consequence, but if she really wants to, he will go along with it.

You can read the rest of the essay in Philosophy Now, Issue 148: February/March 2022

“And me?”

Simone de Beauvoir’s novella Inseparable is remarkable in several ways: It was written in 1954 but has remained hidden away among her surviving papers until now. It is an autobiographical text from a prominent writer and philosopher. It is both a beautiful and a sad story about a friendship. It shows how rigid cultural norms and ideals can turn a life into a prison. It indirectly illustrates how one might liberate oneself through authentic love, friendship, and critical thinking.

Inseparable revolves around the meeting between two young girls, Silvie and Andrée, who meet as classmates in a private school in Paris during the First World War. We meet Andrée through the enamored gaze of Silvie, the narrator, who devoutly senses the details of the beloved, as here, where Andrée has hidden in the back garden to play the violin: “Her beautiful black hair was separated by a touching white side parting which one wanted to follow respectfully and tenderly with the finger.” 

Later Silvie acknowledges, “Without Andrée my life is over,” and later, “I had a need to share all with her,” and still later, when Andrée tells about her first love with a boy called Bernard and claims that he was the only one who loved her as she was, Silvie says, “And me?”

Silvie is the smartest in her class; she is a free and critical thinker. For example, one day she is dazed by the obvious truth: “I didn’t believe in God.” Andrée is equally gifted—Silvie fears that she might be smarter—and appears through Silvie’s gaze and fascination to live in her own world. Andrée is more eccentric, unpredictable, and musical than Silvie but also deeply Catholic.

Silvie envies Andrée, especially her independence, until she learns that Andrée lives in a prison where her strict mother watches all the possible exits. Unlike her mother, Andrée believes in the idea of love-marriages. Her mother just wants to marry her daughters off without any concern for love. 

Some might wonder whether the novella is about the friendship or love between the two young girls, later teenagers and young women. Making a distinction between love and friendship may be problematic, since true friendship consists of love—that is, trust, honesty, and equality. For example, Andrée challenges Silvie when she says that wanting to understand everything is haughtiness.

As mentioned, Inseparable is an autobiographical novella, Beauvoir scholars might  debate how accurate Silvie is as an alter ego of Beauvoir—as well as Andrée, who was inspired by the author’s friend Zaza (Elizabeth Lacoin), who died in 1929, when she was only 21 years old. 

Although I look forward to following the debate, the novella can easily stand alone as a sensuous story about friendship, love, freedom, and loss. Still, it may be tempting to tentatively place or interpret the novella through some of Beauvoir’s philosophical concepts. 

In The Second Sex, Beauvoir writes that authentic love is “founded on mutual recognition of two liberties.” Authentic love is freely chosen or, to put it differently, without freedom, there is no love. Freedom is not only remaining loyal or true to your individuality (whatever that means); rather, freedom is becoming—that is, you are free to become whatever you choose, while you also make sure that the other is equally free. 

The relationship between Silvie and Andrée is authentic. In contrast, an inauthentic love is one in which one party is hindered in experiencing freedom. 

In Inseparable, it is primarily the strong Catholic upbringing and faith that guide Andrée’s family and hinder her free becoming. Her mother makes sure that she has so many tasks to do that Andrée intentionally cuts her foot with an ax just to get some free time. Inauthentic love is based on submission, control, and domination, whether by mothers and priests, as here; or gender, race, or religion in general, to name a few of the most dominant examples. 

The novella might also open up the possibility that Silvie is dominated or restricted by her own ideals. For example, she believes that a woman cannot be free, creative, and innovative if she becomes a mother. Unlike her friend, Silvie doesn’t find the small twins (or babies in general) charming or attractive. Motherhood is apparently a hindrance to free thinking. 

History has, luckily, shown that many women have become philosophers, writers, artists, and much more while being mothers. 

The moral simmering in the novel is that there might not be only one way of being a mother but rather several. Motherhood is a multiplicity. At least, I cannot help but wonder what Andrée, who is capable of cutting her own leg with an ax, would do in a less self-harming way if a potential husband would hinder her playing her violin and writing her stories. Ideally, of course, she wouldn’t have to, if the marriage was one of authentic love. Continuing this line of thought, then no one would have to harm themselves, if they were brought up in a world of love—that is, one of equality and freedom for all.

Furthermore, since we are dealing with a novella inspired by true events, then Andrée was set to marry Pascal, who in real life represented Merleau-Ponty. Could they have matched Beauvoir and Sartre as not only the two dominating existentialists but also another example of aspiring philosophical friendship? 

Returning to The Second Sex, then, one might also describe the relationship between Silvie and Andrée through Beauvoir’s use of the concepts “transcendence” and “immanence.” She writes: “Every subject posits itself as transcendence concretely, through projects; it accomplishes its freedom only by perpetual surpassing toward other freedoms; there is no justification for present existence than its expansion towards an indefinitely open future. Every time transcendence lapses into immanence, there is degradation of existence into ‘in-itself’” 

Transcendence is a person’s ability to transcend a given situation, which, in theory, is possible for all human beings but in practice is reserved mainly for men—at least during the time where the novella takes place in France. For instance, Silvie transcends the Catholic faith. In contrast, a woman is traditionally held in immanence, where she is tied by her biological destiny: becoming a mother. A way to transcend this “destiny” is to throw alternative projects into the future. Silvie appears skeptical about whether a woman, whether Andrée can transcend her “immanent” destiny, but Andrée believes that another life is possible: another form of motherhood. Could Andrée (or Zaza) have found independence within dependence?  

If you appreciate an intimate novella about friendship, freedom, and love, then read Inseparable. I truly enjoyed the book and recommend it warmly. 

Finn Janning, PhD, writer and philosopher. 

This review was first published in Metapsychology, Vol. 25, No. 37

Dårlig opdragelse

Hvordan kan vi som samfund sikre, at alle borgere uddannes i empati, kritisk tænkning og moralsk dannelse? Hvordan kan vi i fællesskab undgå, at små søde, bløde drenge bliver til mænd, der krænker og diskriminerer? I stedet for at overlade opdragelsen af drenge til Jordan Peterson kunne vi som samfund gøre filosofien obligatorisk i folkeskolen, skriver filosof Finn Janning. Han mener, at vi som samfund bør hjælpe hinanden med at frigøre os fra alt det, som holder os fanget.

”Man fødes ikke som kvinde, man bliver det.” Sådan skriver forfatter og filosof Simone de Beauvoir i sit hovedværk Det andet køn.

Det er en ikonisk sætning, der gennem årene er blevet debatteret grundigt. Det afgørende i sætningen er verbet: ”at blive.” På den ene side er der tale om en transformationsproces, der finder sted over en periode. Du bliver pianist, læge eller blikkenslager gennem øvelse, uddannelse og praksistræning.

På den anden side er der tale om en pludselig ændring. Kvinden, der bliver mor, idet babyen fødes. Eller personen, der får stillet en diagnose og bliver kræftpatient. I denne udlægning er der en klar skillelinje mellem før og efter.

Spørgsmålet er, om en pige bliver kvinde på den ene eller anden måde: som noget gradvist eller med et fingerknips. De fleste de Beauvoir-forskere vægter den gradvise tilblivelsesproces – en tilblivelse uden et klart slutmål.

For eksistentialisterne Simone de Beauvoir og Jean-Paul Sartre handler det om, at alle mennesker – uanset køn, race eller seksualitet, skal være frie til at blive – leve – som de ønsker. Af samme grund er der mange måder at være og blive kvinde på.

Skabelsen af samtidens borgere

Problemet, som de Beauvoir belyser i sin bog, er, at samfundets strukturer – biologiske, historiske, kulturelle, psykologiske, religiøse, mytiske, etc. – har virket kontrollerende, hæmmende og diskriminerende, hvorved den enkelte pige ikke frit kunne vælge at blive den kvinde, som hun ønskede at blive.

Jeg tænkte på denne åbning, da jeg læste Isabella Miehe-Renards glimrende anmeldelse af den canadiske psykolog Jordan B. Petersons nye bog Hinsides orden – 12 nye regler for livet.

Psykologen Peterson fremstår som en velment pendant til vores egen danske Svend Brinkmann. Begge taler om at forpligte sig, stå fast og turde satse på noget for at skabe dybere mening.

Begge leverer nogle simple leveregler, der har godt tag i samtiden, hvad enten det drejer sig om at tage nejhatten på, eller ikke at gøre noget, du hader. En væsentlig forskel synes dog at være, at den canadiske professor har et bedre tag i de unge drenge.

Jeg tror, at en del af svaret herpå sandsynligvis kan findes i de Beauvoirs ikoniske sætning. I disse MeToo-tider vokser interessen for de Beauvoirs forfatterskab. Og med god grund.

Men i samme forbindelse kunne det være interessant, hvis hendes tanker blev anvendt mere stringent. En ting er ensidigt at klandre et patriarkalsk system for alle samtidens problemer; en anden ville være, hvis alle samfundets borgere – inklusive kvinderne – kiggede kritisk på deres rolle og ansvar i forbindelse med skabelsen af samtidens borgere – både drenge og piger.

Hvis præmissen er, at mennesket er noget blivende, så gælder dette for både kvinder og mænd.

Hvad er gået galt i opdragelsen af drengebørn?

Og her vender jeg så tilbage til Jordan Peterson, der ”opdragende” taler om at tage vare på sig selv, vælge sine venner med omhu, ikke at lyve og balancere mellem kaos og orden. Hvilket er noget, som mange mænd tilsyneladende har svært ved.

I de sidste halve år er det blevet klart, at flere magtfulde og mindre magtfulde mænd i Danmark har opført sig upassende. De har ikke respekteret andre menneskers grænser, enkelte har sågar foretaget decideret diskriminerende og voldelige overgreb.

Det undrer mig, hvordan det kan være, at flere mænd – og drenge – ikke besidder et anstændigt moralsk kompas. Eksempelvis viser en rapport fra Danske Gymnasielevers Sammenslutning, at hver fjerde kvindelige gymnasieelev har været udsat for krænkende kommentarer.

Det er uacceptabelt.

Hvordan blev umiddelbart uskyldige drenge til mænd, der ikke kan opføre sig ordenligt? Hvad er gået galt i opdragelsen af drengebørn?

Opdragelse er et anliggende for begge forældre – såfremt begge er tilstede – og for staten. Eksempelvis bør folkeskolen sikre, at børn, der opfører sig racistisk eller kvindehadsk, rettes til efter samfundets normer. Det er oplagt at spørge, om uddannelsessystemet har været for tolerant, eller blot ikke besiddet de rette værktøjer til at sætte ind overfor moralsk upassende opførsel eller holdninger?

Har seksualundervisningen været upassende? Jeg tror det.

Omvendt Ødipuskompleks

Antagelsen har sikkert været, at spørgsmål om moral og værdier bør foregå i familien. Dette er dog et sats, da ikke alle familier praktiserer lighed, frihed og retfærdighed omkring spisebordet.

Et andet underbelyst område er, hvorvidt børn – især drenge – overbeskyttes af deres mødre. Personligt – og her er jeg farvet af at være bosiddende i Spanien – tror jeg, at omfanget af overbeskyttende og ekstremt tolerante mødre er relevant at belyse.

Jeg har oplevet flere spanske mødre – også dem, der betegner sig selv som feminister – der ser igennem fingrene, når deres egen søn er involveret i upassende og diskriminerende adfærd. Jeg har sågar hørt mødre undskylde for deres sønner, ligesom jeg har hørt mødre anklage pigerne, fordi de (pigerne) har forledt deres sønner.

Endelig har jeg de sidste par år arbejdet sammen med et par psykologer, der hjælper drenge i alderen 11-14 år med at vende tilbage til folkeskolen. Historien er den samme: Faren er fraværende, drengene sidder derhjemme og spiller computerspil uden megen anden social kontakt end moderen.

Når psykologen foreslår, at drengen vender tilbage til skolen, så er det gerne moderen, der modsætter sig, fordi hun er bange for at miste kontrollen over sin søn, har psykologerne fortalt mig.

Der er tale om et omvendt Ødipus-kompleks, hvor, i dette tilfælde, moderens tiltrækning til et barn er problematisk.

Selvom der ikke er tale om et videnskabeligt bidrag, kan jeg ikke lade være med at tænke på, om der en sammenhæng mellem de ganske ukritiske mødre i Spanien, og så det skræmmende niveau af mandschauvinisme, hustruvold og drab i selvsamme land?

Jeg ved det ikke.

Opdragelsen er et fælles ansvar

Til gengæld ved jeg, at mange drenge aldrig løsriver sig fra deres mødre (og omvendt). De lærer aldrig at tage ansvar for deres egne handlinger. De formår ikke at stå til regnskab for, hvad de har gjort eller gør.

De forbliver umyndige. Den tyske filosof Immanuel Kant talte om, hvordan barnet går ud af umyndigheden – går ud af hjælpeløsheden – som en modningsproces. Flere danske mænd er tilsyneladende juridisk myndige, men eksistentielt og moralsk umyndige. De besidder ikke modet til at bruge deres egen forstand, ville Kant sige. De fremstår dumme.

Betyder det så, at problemet med mænd, der krænker piger og kvinder, er kvindernes egen skyld? Nej, selvfølgelig ikke. Opdragelse er et fælles anliggende; et fælles ansvar.

Som Camus skriver i Pesten: ”Jeg levede med ideen om min egen uskyldighed, hvilket vil sige, uden nogen som helst ide.”

Det drejer sig om, hvordan vi – som samfund – sikrer, at alle borgere uddannes i empati, kritisk tænkning og moralsk dannelse. Hvordan kan vi i fællesskab undgå, at små søde bløde drenge bliver til mænd, der krænker og diskriminerer?

Set i det lys kan jeg godt forstå, at Peterson er populær blandt drenge, da mange sikkert har savnet, at der bliver opsat nogle klare regler for dem. Grænser er vigtige. Men i stedet for at overlade opdragelsen af drenge til Peterson – der i Isabella Miehe-Renards anmeldelse fremstår som en semireligiøs paternalistisk forkynder – så kunne vi som samfund gøre filosofien obligatorisk i folkeskolen.

Undersøgelsen fra gymnasierne viser, at vi som samfund skal starte tidligere. En eksistentiel feminisme er en påmindelse om, at alle mennesker stræber efter frihed, hvorfor feminisme også er i enhver tænkende mands interesse. Som samfund bør vi hjælpe hinanden med at frigøre os fra alt det, som holder os fanget: Såsom dårlig eller mangelfuld opdragelse.

Først bragt POV International

When life blooms

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, When life blooms – Breathe with Jeppe Hein will be released November 28th.

The publisher writes about the book:

“Danish artist Jeppe Hein soared to the top of the international art scene before the age of 35. His works were showcased at the world’s finest exhibitions and sold for sky-high prices. Then suddenly his body said stop. In 2009 Hein went down with stress.

In this book philosopher Finn Janning follows Jeppe Hein’s development from the tome immediately after his diagnosis with burn out and onward – a period where Hein underwent psychoanalysis and developed and interest in yoga, breathing exercises and spirituality.

Janning shows how spirituality has become more present in Hein’s works, and in the book, he develops an existential philosophy in continuation of the artists spirituality and art.”

I may add:

Although I was commissioned to write this book, I aimed at turning it into a philosophical biography that describes the life of the artist Jeppe Hein. In doing so, I’ve tried to exemplify Gilles Deleuze’s idea that “life is not personal,” that is to say, each life is a case study.

I choose this approach as a way of addressing the narcissism of the artist without making the narrative confronting, or in anyway judgmental.

Instead, I illustrate how Jeppe is formed by the major cultural trends during the last 40 years, such as the growing accelerating and spirituality and social entrepreneurship. He is an artist of his time.

It’s a book that tests and nuances the popularity of today’s spirituality through a philosophical, primarily existential lens.




Whenlife blooms_cover

When life blooms

Get your copy – either Danish or English version.


What is happening in Catalonia?

The Spanish novelist Eduardo Mendoza has won many literary prices, including the Franz Kafka Prize, in 2015, and the Premio Cervantes, in 2016. Recently, he published a short essay entitled Que está pasando en Catalunya (What is happening in Catalonia).

Like many others, he wants to understand what is happening in the Spanish region of Catalonia, especially, as he notes, because of the “ignorance” and “prejudices” that affect many people’s images of Catalonia and Spain.

It is a mistake to reduce the Catalan nationalist and separatist movement solely to origins in the Spanish Civil War, Mendoza says. Franco’s dictatorial regime is gone. Since the late 1970s, Spain has undergone a difficult, but also impressive, democratic transition. Many of those today who refer to “Franco’s ghost” never lived under his regime; if they had, they would probably be more cautious when using terms such as “Francoism,” “fascism,” and “dictatorships” so carelessly. At the very least, they would be cautious out of respect for all those who suffered and died during that time.

It is true, however, that Catalonia, like the rest of Spain, suffered during the Franco years. Furthermore, the Catalans suffered with respect to their language, and many Catalans wanted to separate themselves from Franco (as did many other Spaniards). “No one doubts the antipathy of the Franco regime towards the Catalan language,” Mendoza writes. And yet, not all Catalans were against Franco. He continues, “we should forget that a good part of the young (and not so young) Catalans volunteered for the Falangist movement.”

The idea of Catalonia revolting against Spain is wrong, because this assumption is based on the naïve generalization of claiming that all Spanish or Catalan people are identical. Spain, as a country, suffered under Franco, just as some Catalans followed Franco freely.

Luckily – and I say this ironically – for the contemporary Catalan separatist, “the habit of adapting history to fit contemporary conviction is a distinctive Catalan identity,” Mendoza says.

Anyone with a little knowledge of what has happened in Catalonia will know that facts are treated with creative elegance that places the separatist within the post-truth, alternative facts, or fake news era. Illustratively, Mendoza draws a comparison between France and Catalonia. While France had a glorious past, one to which we can look for compassion, the Catalans never had one. Thus, “to hide what they considered shameful, the imagination and artistic talent of Catalans has been dedicated to inventing a past that the society would have loved to have.”

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the complexity of the separatist lie is by referring to Sartre’s concept of “bad faith,” a way of using freedom to deny ourselves the freedom we actually have. This is a strategic way in which some Catalans take away their own responsibility to choose by saying that they have no choice. As a consequence, the independence movement has created a culture of victimization where it is easier to blame Spain than to take responsibility for themselves. For example, blaming the centralization of power in Madrid. Interestingly, Mendoza writes, “if there is place where you can speak about savagely centralism it’s in Catalonia. Barcelona has always scorned the second ranked cities …”

Mendoza describes the Catalans as shy and a group whose thinking is not used to getting very far. “They are practical thinkers, but theory and abstraction bores them.” Perhaps, for this reason, some seem to speak of democracy and freedom that, at most, resembles Orwell’s Newspeak. As Mendoza has written elsewhere, if you can freely demonstrate in the street and participate in the Spanish government, then there is, indeed, democracy. However, if you do not wish to accept that democracy is a long and tiring process, then you simply need to organize an illegal election insisting that it is legal.

To begin with, “the participation of Catalans in the Spanish government was encouraged … during the years after the transition.” Unfortunately, with Jordi Pujol, who served as President of the Catalan Generalitat (i.e. the Catalan government) from 1980 to 2003, a systematic plan towards independence was in place: it was found in schools, the media (Mendoza mentions how the Catalan media outlets TV3 and Catalunya Radio moved from being neutral to “separatist organs”), the local government, and via less involvement in the Spanish government. All activities were aimed at creating a Spanish enemy by altering facts. Then came the financial crisis in 2008, which – as is many other places such as in Madrid, Athens, Lisbon – hit the younger generations, and created a healthy and global anticapitalistic movement that, unfortunately, quickly turned into a nationalistic protectionism.

Using his trademark easy-going style, Mendoza writes that, regardless of the mythical stories that Spain and Madrid is stealing, ”you live better in Barcelona than in Madrid.” The morale is: Life is hard, for all, not just the Catalans.

Towards the end of Mendoza’s pedagogical essay, he concludes that there is “no practice which can justify the desire for independence from Spain,” before adding, “Spain is not a bad country. It could be better.” This is true, but so can Denmark, where I am from, and all other countries. Democracy is, after all, a dynamic process.

Mendoza succeeds in killing a few myths, but whether these efforts are enough to make people less ignorant, only time will tell. Nevertheless, it is good to see that more and more Spanish and Catalan intellectuals are participating in uncovering the political theater, where politicians (most notably Puigdemont & co) play with the Catalan people’s emotions by selling certain beliefs, irrespectively whether these beliefs are true or false.

So, when Mendoza writes that there is “no practice which can justify the desire for independence from Spain,” then he emphasizes that the emotions and beliefs behind the separatist are unreasonable and unjustified, despite how some Catalans feel. Therefore, it is healthy, as Mendoza says, to question our ideas, to explain things to each other, and to eliminate prejudice, ignorance, and incomprehension.

Mendoza shows that sometimes thinking is painful. For example, Puigdemont & co use “freedom” and “democracy” as tranquilizing slogans, yet if we pay attention, it’s obvious that their use refer to a superficial understanding (if not simply a nationalistic misunderstanding). At most these slogans are sleeping pills that hinders an open and honest examination of a challenging conflict, an examination that requires empathy and compassion. Elsewhere, I ‘ve argued that compassion is needed in Catalonia, not as something artificial, but as something that arises naturally in complex and tense situations.

A difficult road lies ahead – for all parties.


Camus: A Life Worth Living

The French writer, Albert Camus was ‘a moralist who insisted that while the world is absurd and allows for no hope, we are not condemned to despair.’

Like this, the historian Robert Zaretsky presents Camus in the book, A Life Worth Living — with the subtitle, Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning. Camus was a moralist, but not a moralizer. He did not judge from a higher or more lucrative position, but tried to grasp what took place. He tried to create meaning where none was given.

Zaretsky organizes his portrait of Camus around five key-concepts: Absurdity, Silence, Measure, Fidelity and Revolt. The concepts are strongly related; that is to say that certain points in Camus’ thinking are repeated, but never in a tiring way. On the contrary, Zaretsky develops an intimate portrait of Camus showing how it most likely was for him to be in this world. Camus is placed both in his historical context — whether it is the struggles between Algeria and France, or between Sartre and Camus — and in conversation with contemporary thinkers.

What do we learn about Camus?

Like Nietzsche, Camus detested any kind of resentment. He knew that being faithful was not a virtue in itself. Instead, one only ought to be faithful towards a life served in happiness. Happiness, therefore, seems to be the main thread in Camus’ struggle. Not as something shallow, but as an existential guide that could help him balance his thoughts. This is an interesting reading.

Happiness is, of course, a difficult task for Camus. First of all, the world is absurd. It is without any meaning. One must invent meaning, just as one must ‘create happiness in order to protect against the universe of unhappiness.’ At times one can only do so by being silent. As Camus says, ‘we do not write in order to say things, but in order not to say them.’

Camus was a pragmatic. He did not idealize life or describe it through theoretical abstractions. He wished to witness life as an experience — no matter how painful or beautiful it appeared. This practical approach caused him several problems, going from his battles with Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, especially their idealized Marxism, to the confrontation with an Algerian student who, the day before Camus received the Nobel Prize in literature, criticized Camus for his silence over Algeria. At one point, Camus famously said: ‘People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.’

Zaretsky portrays Camus as a real human being, albeit a bit more gifted than most of us. His most impressive achievement is, I think, that he succeeds in describing Camus’ quest for meaning as if it was a psychological case-study. Recent studies in psychology show that a one-sided quest for happiness can result in the opposite. Instead, having a purpose or being able to produce meaning is more important to make a life flourish. ‘Today,’ Camus said in an interview, ‘happiness has become an eccentric activity. The proof is that we tend to hide from others when we practice it.’ Sixty years later, happiness seems to be something quite ordinary, vague even, that the majority of people like to expose. And yet, whether eccentric or ordinary, a deep felt happiness — then as now — is something that requires ‘attention and effort.’ There is no quick fix for achieving a life worth living.

For Camus, suffering is part of thinking. It is related with one’s active involvement in life. Paying attention. Trying to make sense. One might realize that violence is ‘unjustifiable,’ because of one’s compassion and empathy. As a consequence, one acts. ‘Rebellion, Camus declares, is born of the spectacle of irrationality.’ Like the ancient Greeks, Camus based his thoughts on the idea of limits, Zaretsky says. Nothing should be carried to extremes. Nothing should be denied beforehand. The quest for meaning never stops.

I believe that Zaretsky’s book  is not only interesting for readers of Camus, laymen as well as scholars (i.e. scholars from various disciplines, e.g., literature, philosophy, history and psychology), but also for anyone who would like to change the state of things. It can serve as a toolbox for future moralist! Changing the world requires more than a glittering or candied ideal. In fact, it requires a courageous and honest sensuality that allows one to be touched by life and death as something real — an experience.

Camus questioned life from within this life, the only life there is. No appeal is possible. Still, if we trust Zaretsky, Camus lived a life worth living because of his ongoing quest for meaning, a quest that brought him moments of happiness. ‘For Camus, true nobility lies in lucid acceptance of the world, its beauties and its limits, its joys and its demands, its inhabitants and our common lot,’ Zaretsky concludes beautifully. Absurdity might ‘ambush us on a street corner or a sun-blasted beach. But so, too, do beauty and the happiness that attends it.’ All it requires is attention and effort.

This book is worth reading.

Finn Janning, Ph.D. in philosophy, is a writer.

Review first published in Metapsychology, Volume 18, Issue 30


“For empirical knowledge, like its sophisticated extension, science, is rational, not because it has a foundation but because it is a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy, though not all at once.” – Wilfrid Sellars

The philosophical tradition of Pragmatism challenges the implicit assumption that our practices are necessarily inadequate and require backup from some standard or unchangeable principle that lies beyond them. This tradition argues, among many things, that there is no other world to which we can refer. Philosophy is not religion by other means; it is not babysitting, but an ongoing struggle for survival.

The reason for this post is the book Pragmatism: An Introductionby Michael Bacon that I recently read.

Pragmatism is mainly an American story, and to some extent American philosophers tend to debate with each other. It is a closed party, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage, since, for example, the debate becomes intense but sometimes also too parochial. This book tries to provide a broader and more inclusive view.

The themes of Pragmatism are not just an American phenomenon but an interesting American phenomenon. The main difference between European and American philosophers is that many European philosophers understand philosophy, I think, as a form of life (such as the existentialist tradition from Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre to Deleuze), which has formed many thinkers regardless of their differences. The way a person thinks, feels, and acts are part of the way they live their life. Americans (I generalize) are more philosophers by profession, although this is also a tendency that is growing in Europe.

Enough of this; let us deal with the book Pragmatism. It starts with Charles Sanders Peirce, but only because William James refers to him in a lecture given in 1898. Bacon´s book presents the history of Pragmatism through a series of profiles of prominent Pragmatists: Dewey, Rorty, Davidson, Putnam, etc. Most of these are familiar faces regardless of one’s knowledge of Pragmatism per se. The book also presents profiles of a few interesting thinkers I haven´t read; yet, such as Brandom and Bernstein.

There are beliefs that the Pragmatists share, such as the view that ideas should never become rigid ideologies that refer to transcendent norms. They believe that everything is fallible and nothing is certain in all eternity, which they understand to mean unquestionable. Several Pragmatists deal with the relationship between “the game of giving and asking for reasons.” The goal of philosophy is not truth; rather, philosophy is an ongoing inquiry that may make us wiser in overcoming the various struggles or setbacks that fill our lives.

Personally, I like the style of James and Dewey, because they write very clearly, without too much jargon. The same can be said about Rorty, although some may find him too jovial at times. In my opinion, he has written some interesting essays, for instance, one on Nabokov and cruelty, which argues that the trouble with rights is that they address predetermined forms of cruelty; the idea that everything is given makes our thinking shrink (Badiou was saying something similar in a previous post).

In one interview, Rorty said, “If we take care of freedom, truth can take care of itself,” thereby emphasizing that what is most important in philosophy is freedom, not truth. The truth does not set anyone free; it is just another example of an unquestionable postulate. Being free, however, makes one amenable to a richer understanding of life.

Another interesting figure that Bacon presents is Sellars. Sellars deals with the myth of the given by stressing that the human being is distinct in his or her ability to bring understanding to the world through the creation of concepts. His ideas lead to the views of Brandom, or some of them. One very interesting idea is that language is not merely a tool. Rather, what we do is intrinsic to the structure of language. Language is not a tool to reach a goal, as some pop-coaching methods claim; rather, the interests in a goal cannot exist prior to language. If they do, then they do not have any transformative potential, which may be why some forms of coaching often comprise a never-ending story, trying to convince the poor victim (or paying client) about the significance of the goal. This idea is also related to Brandom´s idea about negative and positive freedoms, which appears to place itself in alignment with Foucault´s idea about resistance and Deleuze’s understanding of the will to power as a will to create–that is, freedom being understood as becoming through a mixture of resistance and creation. “Without a suitable language there are some beliefs, desires, and intentions that one simply cannot have.”

Some portraits, of course, I find less interesting—es lo que hay—but in general, the book serves it purpose: it introduces the reader to a vast number of thinkers related to Pragmatism in a very precise and clear way.

In conclusion, Bacon emphasizes that Pragmatists are united in what Putnam calls “the supremacy of the agent point of view,” and what Brandom calls “the primacy of the practical,” whether this concerns knowledge, communication, reasoning, etc. A very interesting result of Pragmatism is that we—all of us human beings—are in a constant clash of mentalities (not cultures, por favor!), or of standpoints and beliefs.

New readers may start to think now.


If interested, see also my comment on Richard J. Bernstein’s book, Why Read Hannah Arendt Now

100 år med Tour de France

Tour de France fejrer i år sig selv. De hylder sig selv, som verdens største cykelløb gennem 100 år. Men trods den høje alder, er det ikke en moden fødselar. Snarere en lidt naiv teenager, der fejres. Og måske er det ganske indlysende, at det er sådan. Ud af de 100 år er der flere, som Tour de France ikke vil kendes ved. Eksempelvis de 7 år, hvor Lance Armstrong sejrede. Forestil dig tilsvarende, at du er til fødselsfest hos en god ven som fylder 50 år, men som ikke ønsker at vedkende sig 3-4 af sine levede år. Det betyder ret beset, at din ven ikke ønsker at tage ved lære. Fortrængning.

Okay, lad os holde os til fakta. Det første faktum: Armstrong snød. Og nu er han den store stygge ulv, som ingen vil hænge ud med. Mindst af alt Tour de France. Men hvorfor spørger Tour de France ikke, hvorfor så mange – hvis ikke alle cykelryttere i 90’erne og 00’erne – har snydt? Hvorfor ikke spørge, hvad der er galt med reglerne siden de ingen funktion har? Et andet faktum: Doping begyndte ikke med Armstrong; den stoppede ikke med ham. Ja, den begyndte heller ikke med cykling, ligesom den heller ikke stopper der. Zinedine Zidane er nok ikke den eneste fodboldspiller, som har anvendt væksthormonet kreatin, eller bloddopet sig.

Tilbage til Tour de France.

Tour de France er mønstereksemplet på det, som den franske filosof Jean-Paul Sartre kaldte ”den falske tro”. Tour de Frances bevidsthed eller selvbillede er formet på en sådan måde, at den som organisation ikke kan agere. Tour de France er forført af sin egen falske tro eller bevidsthed, som touren ynder at svøbe sig i. Tour de France er ren på samme måde, som penge ikke har nogen slibrig hukommelse. En tusindlap bevæger sig fuldstændig nonchalant fra den magtfulde mands lomme til luderens BH, som sender den videre til bageren, som betaling for seks tebirkes. Tour de France er ikke i stand til at agere, selvom ingen jo tvinger dem – eller har tvunget dem til at organisere alle tiders dope show. Tour de France er guidet af en falsk tro eller en ekstremt sløj bevidsthed, da de er underlagt den styrende ideologi, der hedder fortielse. A.K.A. Money don’t tell. De håber at ingen bemærker, at de i 100 år har været del af et teknologisk laboratorium, hvor mennesket har prøvet sig selv og forskellige medikamenter af. Heri ligger en del af fascinationen. Hvis så bare Tour de France med 100 år på bagen havde været modig og moden nok til at sige, ok, something is rotten here, men nej. Armstrong er fjernet. Skåret væk, som et væskende siddesår. Hvorfor lægger de ikke et større pres på UCI eller andre uafhængige institutioner? Hvorfor ikke spørge, hvorvidt Armstrongs hold virkelig var ekstraordinært dopet? Hvad ved vi om følgende cykelholds organisering: Telekom, Once, Banesto?

Jeg har fulgt Tour de France i mere end tyve af de 100 år. I disse år er der reelt meget få vindere, da følgende ryttere udover Armstrong jo også har været dopet, selvom de ikke har været jaget vildt: Pantani, Ullrich, Riis, Landis, Contador, Indurain … listen er sikkert længere. Ja, jeg kan da også huske Sørensen, Jalabert, Vinokurov, Zabel, Virenque … Så faktisk kan jeg huske et løb, som reelt ikke eksisterer. Ingen har reelt kørt i den grønne pointtrøje, den prikkede bjergtrøje eller gule førertrøje. Hvad med den store sprinter Abdoujaparov eller den smukke løve Cipollini, den rolige Zülle, etc. Nej, de var alle dopet. Selv Skibby og Holm, selv den gamle Meckx (er han med i præsentationsvideoen?).

Det virker næsten som at begrebet sportsidiot giver god mening, selvom det ikke har noget med sport at gøre, men ene og alene penge. Tour de France redigerer i fortiden af hensyn til fremtidens bundlinje. Ikke af hensyn til de atleter, som voksede op i en dopingkultur; en kultur, som aldrig er skabt af rytterne, men af sportens ledere.

Det ville klæde Tour de France, at anerkende at de tjener to banker. Den ene er den finansielle, som efterhånden styrer al sport (ja, alt). Den anden er blodbanken. Problemet er, at den ene bank får bank så det batter, mens den anden stadigvæk tjener godt på at fastholde en falsk tro. Den ene bank består af mennesker, som får deres liv ødelagt, fordi de var del af en kultur, hvor det var (måske stadigvæk er) ok, at dope sig. Den anden bank … her er ingen blod, slet ingen ilt.

Fortsætter Tour de France og andre magtfulde instanser i cykelsporten på lignende vis, så kvæler de sig selv. Der er grænser for det ledelsesmæssige hykleri i cykelsporten; der er grænser for, hvor meget disse ledere kan hænge enkelte atleter ud, når den enkelte reelt viser sig, at dække dem alle sammen.

Tour de France fejrer i år alle tiders dope show, som får Marilyn Manson til at ligne Pippi Langstrømpe. Jeg elsker stadigvæk løbet på grund af rytterne, ikke på grund af de klovne, som sidder på taget af de røde biler. Der er intet fascinerende i gamle magtfulde mænd.

Så hvis ingen andre vil, vil jeg gerne takke Lance Armstrong, Bjarne Riis, Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich og Albert Contador for godt cykelløb. Alle store vindere af et stort cykelløb.


Den spanske psykolog José Luis Gonzáles García har skrevet en interessant socialpsykologisk bog: La construcción social del sujeto, Psicoterapia, ideología y poder en las sociedades avanzadas.

I begyndelsen slår han tonen an: Psykologi og psykoterapi handler om frigørelse. I dag er de dog reduceret til økonomiske værktøjer, der hjælper den enkelte med at restituere, så han eller hun kan håndtere det pres, som et kapitalistisk og konkurrencepræget samfund efterspørger. Kapitalen presser mennesket. Det primære problem, er, at mennesket reduceres til noget mekanisk. Denne menneskelige reduktion medfører bl.a. stress og burnout.

García foretager en horisontal idehistorisk læsning for at vise, hvilke kræfter og magter, som til forskellige tider har været dominerende, fx religiøse, politiske og kapitaliske. Han går også i kødet på den postmoderne relativisme, hvor ”alt er lige meget værd” – en tankegang, der ofte medfører, at ingen tør sige fra eller til. Det ender nemt i en falsk pluralisme, som reelt blot dækker over en kønsløshed, idet intet jo er noget værd. García inddrager også fysikken, fx Heisenberg (som konsekvent staves med ’m’) for at tydeligøre, at observatøren og det observerede ikke er to uafhængige instanser, hvilket Newton mente (jf. mekanisk). Popper tækkes frem for at understrege, at ingen teori eller metode er ufejlbarlig. Der er ingen universel lov.

De menneskelige værdier og overbevisninger tager farve af det system, som opretholder eller skaber bestemte situationer. Eksempelvis lever vi i et kapitalistisk samfund, hvor politikere og ledere (i.e. systemet) opretholder eller skaber en social kontekst, hvor det er normalt at tro, at flere penge altid er bedre end færre. Eller, hvor stort set alt værdifastsættes i forhold til økonomi, fx hvilken opdragelsesform eller institution er mest rentabel, dvs. hvilken løn ender børn fra en Rudolf Steiner skole med kontra en privat kontra en offentlig. Gad vide om det er sådan en kalkule, der har fået den danske statsminister til at sende sine børn på en privatskole, selvom hun som øverste repræsentant for systemet har mulig for at skabe en uddannelsesmæssig situation, som ikke favoriserer familier med penge. Pointen er, at  en kapitalistisk kontekst præger mennesket i retning af egoisme, da systemet ynder at udnytte sine ressourcer uden anden målestok en bundlinjens. Det har stået på så længe, at selv nye ledere blot gør mere af det samme. Omkvædet lyder: Kan det betale sig? (og man kunne spørge: Kan det betale sig, at spørge så stivbenet?)

Problemet er, at der er for mange underdanige. Det vil sige, personer som mangler en kritisk sans, men – og det er et stort MEN – der er også tale om en kritisk sans, som selvsamme system selvfølgelig ikke favoriserer, idet fx danske politikere ønsker forskning, der skaber fakturaer eller kunst, der understøtter et opdragende og politisk formål. Samfundet former sine borgere. Dette ses, fx når de fleste former for selvhjælp blot er blevet til en anden form for konsumering, som reelt intet ændrer.

Det enkelte menneske er en receptor for de værdier, overbevisninger og ideologier, som strømmer gennem samfundet. Tænk blot på, hvordan anerkendelse er tæt forbundet med indkomst, titler og status. Her er det samfundets værdier og normer, som præger hvad idealborgeren tillægger større eller mindre anerkendelse. Af samme grund er det sociale vigtigt, jf. socialpsykologi.

Løsningen for García er ikke en eksistentialisme a la Kierkegaard, Nietzsche og Sartre – personligt finder jeg meget gods i disse tænkere. Sagen er jo den, at ’jeg’ er mange, hvilke García også nævner, men ikke helt følger op på. Derimod appellerer han for mere samarbejde. Argumentet er historisk, idet det selvfølgelig er samarbejde, ikke konkurrence, som er grunden til at mennesket har udviklet sig.

Til sidst, taler han kort om nye former for terapi. Han er ikke fortaler for en naiv socialkonstruktivisme a la: Min hjerne eller tanker skaber min virkelighed. Nej, verden er i færd med at blive. Vi lever i og med den, men ved hjælp af sproglige konstruktioner, kan vi nærme os de mange kræfter og energier, som er til stede. Af samme grund er der intet slutmål, kun praksisformer. Som Nietzsche sagde: religionen er en praksis, men dens objekt er ren og skær fiktion. Det betyder, som jeg læser ham, at terapeuten ikke skal lede patienten et bestemt sted hen, men bringe denne i kontakt med verden uden dette filter af præ-definerede værdier, ideologier og normer, som gennemsyrer kapitalistiske samfund. Det betyder endvidere, at det ikke er ’mig’, som er det aller vigtigste, men hvordan ‘jeg’ formår at give plads til det, som er i færd med at blive – måske endda række noget givende videre. Det vil sige, noget har værdi, nemlig det, som bringer liv.

Og hvad der giver liv, ved ingen jo på forhånd. Det er grunden til at livet, er så forbandet interessant.

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