Paul Thom’s obituary notice in The Australian (The Australian, September 27, 1995.) for Kimon Lycos, his friend and former colleague, was aptly titled, “Intellect tempered with passion”. (Hereafter, I will use the familiar form ‘Kim’ when referring to Kimon Lycos as it is more in keeping with his philosophical ethos which is one of open, engaged, rational discussion with others as essential to doing philosophy, where ‘doing philosophy’ is in turn understood as a way of living one’s life. Just as one goes by one’s first-name in such communicative, life-contexts, it seems appropriate to use this intimate form as well when talking about a philosophical vision that essentially refers to these contexts.) Its appropriateness is multi-layered. Most obviously, for as anyone who knew Kim was aware, his philosophical personality was a dynamic blend of uncompromising intellectual scrutiny and intense emotional energy. Less obviously, because it involves a subtle inversion, a re-configuring of the supposed relation between reason and emotion: usually, of course, it is intellect that is meant to temper the excesses of the passions, not the other way round. And Kim’s thought is full of unexpected reconfigurations, being never content to rest with easy dualisms and received understandings of conceptual relations. Further still, because it is the rethinking of this very dualism between reason and the passions as the twin sources of motivation for human action with which Kim’s work, most generally characterized, is centrally concerned. Kim is interested in how to understand the relation between reason and the passions such that the psychological motivation for action they provide is essentially a moral motivation. Acutely aware of the moral and political dangers of allowing either a dispassionate, calculative form of rationality or blind, animal urges to run unchecked as the sole motivating source of action, Kim insisted on reason’s emotional responsibility and emotion’s rational indenture. Reason needs to be tempered, humanized, if it is not to become a soulless tyrant and be instead a progenitor of genuinely moral action; the passions need to be rationalized, if they are to be anything more than mad impulsive drives and be instead morally informed affective states expressive of ethical lives. Reason needs humanizing by the emotions and the emotions need civilizing by reason if either is to operate within the bounds of morality and to that extent give rise to genuinely human action.
Kim, of course, is best known for his work in ancient philosophy, more particularly on Plato, though he had a remarkably broad scope of philosophical interests, ranging over metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, moral psychology, theory of action, philosophy of mind, social and political philosophy, philosophy and literature, philosophy of education, and contemporary European philosophy. On reflection, this breadth is probably not so surprising given his interest in Plato, as Plato ranges over all of these areas too (with the possible exception of the last, although by Kim’s lights, Plato also contributes to the thematics of contemporary French philosophy, albeit two and half millennia before the fact!) Themes in Plato’s philosophy ran deep for Kim, particularly the central Socratic equation of living well with being rational with being human. To not live well is to not think well, to be defective rationally as well as morally, which in turn diminishes one’s humanity. It is not merely to be immoral or irrational, as if being an immoral or irrational human being was a possible way of being human, but because of the equation, it is to be not fully human at all. Understanding this Platonic insight in all its ramifications–for social and political philosophy, the theory of action, the psychological motivation of morality–was Kim’s central philosophical endeavour.
Kim was a transgressive thinker operating between modern inter-disciplinary boundaries and intra-disciplinary distinctions. These theoretical structures imbed interests and serve ideologies; they are responsible both for producing knowledges and restricting or constraining them. Kim wanted us to be alive to both these aspects: to appreciate their benefits as well as recognize their costs. One of the costs of the modern period that Kim felt to be prohibitive is its effacing of the ancient ideal of the examined life. Instituting the strict separation of public from private, theory gets divorced from practice, philosophy from life. Philosophical reflection is something that gets done in the privacy of the study or the academy, by the disembodied, isolated subject in front of the Cartesian fireplace, rather than being a public activity of critical discussion between individuals that is co-extensive with, and constitutive of, the living of the good social and individual life. The ideal of the examined life is the ideal of a philosophic life, of philosophising as living the genuine human life, of reflecting on what constitutes the good life as being itself constitutive of the good life. Reflection is thus not detached from life, something that gets done precisely when one takes a ‘time-out’ from living, but is the very living of it. Kim strove to renew contemporary philosophy by reacquainting it with this its ancient well-spring, and in the example of the living of his own life, reminded us what it is to live a genuine human philosophic life. Given this inextricable link between reflecting on living and living, philosophy and life, in discussing Kim’s philosophy a biographical sketch is particularly in order. (I am very much indebted to Marion Tapper for the biographical details contained in this section, as well as to Paul Thom’s obituary notice and the autobiographical information contained in ‘Freud and Psychoanalysis: The Middle Ground’.)
Kim was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1933, the son of Greek parents. His father owned a dairy and made a living selling dairy products at the local market; his mother looked after the running of the home. Alexandria of the time seems to have been a mecca of multiculturalism and Kim’s early life as a consequence exposed him to a melting pot of cultures, races, religions, and languages. At an early age he was bilingual–speaking Greek and French–and felt a self-identifying affinity with both the displaced Jewish and Greek communities. In ‘Freud and Psychoanalysis: The Middle Ground’ he explains this as an affinity for the identity of the not fully identified, those who are between identities, which was the position of Greek and Jewish immigrants in Alexandria–between west and east, Christian and Moslem, European and non-European. In 1951 the family migrated to Australia. They settled in Maroubra, a beach-side suburb of Sydney and home to the city’s migrant hostels, which further compounded this ‘intermediate’ identity position: he was now an Alexandrian immigrant of Greek immigrants in Australia. During the day, Kim worked a variety of jobs, ranging from clerical positions in the state public service to being on the assembly line at General Motors Holden, and in the evening attended classes at the University of Sydney. In 1957, he gained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with first class honours under John Anderson, who would exert a life-long influence on him. The influence was both theoretical and practical–it shows itself not just in Kim’s interest in Andersonian philosophical views (Kim co-edited a collection of Anderson’s papers on literature and aesthetics (J. Anderson, G. Cullum, and K. Lycos, (eds) Art and Reality: John Anderson on Aesthetics and Literature, (Sydney: Hale and Ironmonger, 1982).) ), but also in the way Anderson provided a role model of the public philosopher. Anderson believed that philosophy and the philosopher have a civic responsibility to engage with issues of contemporary concern to society so as to raise the level of public debate about such matters and thereby fashion, in general, a more rationally-informed and critically-responsive social consciousness. It is the example of Anderson, his espousing of a philosophic ethos-philosophy as a way of living in the world, as a public engagement with its society–that impressed itself on Kim, and it connects with his lifelong interest in Plato. For, it is an ethos that goes all the way back to Socrates, the paradigm of the philosopher as public philosopher, and of intersubjective, critical reflection on-and-in living as constitutive of genuine, human living, which is expressed by the ancient ideal of the examined life.
After graduating Kim took up a University of Sydney travelling scholarship to Oxford, where he gained a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1959. In the same year, he married Frances Williams and the couple had three children together: Ianthe, Thomas and John. The dominant figures at Oxford at the time were Austin, Grice, Ryle and Strawson. Kim attended classes in ancient philosophy given by Grice, Ryle, Gwil Owen and Bernard Williams. His BPhil thesis was on the ‘Categories’: stimulated by Ryle’s recent thought on the topic, it was concerned with bringing Ryle’s work into relation with Aristotle. Immediately upon gaining the BPhil, Kim obtained a lectureship at the University College of Wales, Abersytwyth. After three years in Wales, he returned to Sydney to take up a position as lecturer in philosophy at the University of New South Wales. A philosophical temperament like Kim’s could hardly have wished for a more conducive environment than a large metropolis, in the counter-cultural nineteen sixties. It provided all the scope a public intellectual could hope for and Kim quickly became active in Sydney’s so-called ‘push’ circles–a kind of pub salon–culture in which radical intellectuals discussed issues of contemporary cultural, social and political significance. In 1965, Kim moved to the Australian National University department of philosophy where he was to spend the greater part of his professional career. Kim taught mostly in ancient philosophy and, in later years, contemporary European philosophy, both marginalized fields in the analytically-dominated milieu of Australian academic philosophy, and while not quite a pioneer of their being studied in the Australian academy, was an important figure in their gaining the respect in the discipline they now enjoy. While at the Australian National University, Kim continued to play a public role as a philosopher. He was the co-founder (with Bob Cooksey) of the Pluralist Society in 1967, a kind of institutional embodiment of the examined life, which provided an open, interdisciplinary forum for the critical discussion of current moral, political, social and cultural issues of concern. Kim explained the purpose of the Pluralist Society in his opening address of the second year of the society as follows:
Since I hold with Socrates that the critical way of life is essentially the examined life–constant subjection to criticism not only of what one does and thinks but of what people in general do and think–and that the examined life is a necessary ingredient of the free life, I saw the creation of the sort of forum that the Pluralist Society might provide not so much an achievement of freedom but an expression of freedom. (K. Lycos, ‘Welcome to the Pluralist Society’, Opening Address to the Pluralist Society, ANU, 1968.)
We see here Kim trying to bring into being, in the form of an institution, the Socratic ideal. Around this time, Kim also became interested in what was, post-1967, the hotly debated area of philosophy of education. A notable contribution of Kim’s on this subject was his paper, ‘Is Our Education Moral?’ (K. Lycos, ‘Is Our Education Immoral?’ ANU News, July 1972, pp. 5-8.), which argues that education requires reflecting on the power relations maintained by and expressed in the pedagogic environment. Such reflection in turn requires that an equal, free and critical relation between teacher and student, not unlike that which should operate between two parties if their relation is to be a moral one, should obtain if education is to be achieved, and thus that then current ‘authoritarian’ pedagogical models are not just epistemically lacking but morally defective. Here, again, we see his commitment to philosophy’s duty to engage issues of public concern as well as his defence of the Socratic model of public reason as the free and equal intersubjective activity of discussion and criticism.
Kim’s life-long dedication to Plato culminated in the publication of his book, Plato on Justice and Power in 1987. (K. Lycos, Plato on Justice and Power, (London: Macmillan, 1987).) It marked a new approach to scholarship on the Republic, one that has come to gain increasing currency in ancient philosophy studies. It is a highly context-sensitive reading that in paying careful attention to the internal dialectic of the dialogue, i.e. the relation between the various arguments of the interlocutors and the rhetorical (and political) positions from which they speak rather than just the validity of the arguments themselves, is concerned to emphasize the process of reflection on justice and not merely the product of such reflection–a particular theory of justice–as the theoretical core of the work. Thus on Kim’s reading, Socrates is concerned to show not just that conventional conceptions of justice were inadequate and argue for a new view, but also to transform the discursive practices about justice so that they would be capable of recognizing the truth of the new view: that justice is internally connected with what it is to be a human being and live a properly human life.
After 23 years in Canberra, Kim went to Melbourne, spending a year at La Trobe University before moving to the University of Melbourne in 1988, where he taught Greek and Continental Philosophy up until his death in 1995. By now estranged from his wife, he shared his life with Marion Tapper, a contemporary European philosopher and Kant scholar. They had met and become partners in Sydney eleven years previously and remained so until the end of his life. While at Melbourne he founded, with Robin Jackson, Paul Thom and Harold Tarrant the Australasian Society for Ancient Philosophy in 1991. The date is instructive: that it was so late (its American equivalent, the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, was founded in 1953) reveals perhaps the secondary status of ancient philosophy (and history of philosophy more generally) in Australian philosophy up until that time. Also during his time at Melbourne, Kim collaborated with Jackson and Tarrant on a critical edition of Olympiodorus’ commentary on Plato’s Gorgias. (R. Jackson, K. Lycos, H. Tarrant (eds), Olympiodorus: Commentary on Plato’s Gorgias, (Netherlands: Brill, 1998).) This took Kim’s commitment to historically-invested, context-sensitive scholarship to new levels: Olympiodorus was a sixth century AD Platonic scholar and his commentary on the Gorgias is the only extant piece of Platonic scholarship from antiquity. The volume, in addition to translating Olympiodoros’ commentary, contextualizes the work not just historically–in the Hellenic-hostile period of Christianity in which it was written–but theoretically in relation to contemporary commentaries on the dialogue. It was published posthumously in 1998 to great critical acclaim. Kim’s philosophical presence in the Melbourne department was unsurprisingly established primarily orally through public discussion: whether in the classroom, the seminar room, the corridors of the Old Arts Building, the public bar, or over a meal at his and Marion’s home. In the classroom, Kim did philosophy as opposed to giving lectures. It was as if for him the professionalization of the discipline, with its attendant division between teaching and research, was a betrayal of philosophy’s ancient self-conception. Of course this is not to say that Kim did not publish, that he thought that being in the classroom was all there was to his ‘job description’. Far from it, as this volume attests. His resistance to modern professionalization was not a resistance to research but a resistance to the division between teaching and research, to the idea that the former is an annoying distraction from, and unwelcome intrusion into, the real business of philosophy, which consists in the production of articles in specialist journals for the consumption of fellow experts. Rather his lectures were his professional output, there being no divide between teaching and research (indeed some of the papers here were lectures to non-specialists) because doing philosophy is engaging in ongoing intersubjective rational discussion and criticism that is open to all.
Most of us at Melbourne at the time, on more than one occasion, had the experience of finding ourselves in the small hours of the morning in his and Marion’s living room, continuing a discussion that had begun sometime the previous afternoon, usually having its starting point in some issue arising in Plato but turning out, under Kim’s elenctic prodding, to encompass a contemporary political debate, a prevailing institutional practice, a situation represented in a film, the movement in a piece of music, or even the performance of a current sporting figure. His seemingly boundless energy for philosophical discussion and tireless commitment to the Socratic ideal was remarkable, especially in his final year when he was undergoing treatment for cancer. This was classic Kim, Kim the classicist. Philosophy was in everything and at all times, nothing in life was immune from its reflective scrutiny because reflecting on life (philosophizing) is the living of life (living). It was why for Kim philosophy never stopped where life began, (say) at 5.30 on weekdays, on the way out of the Old Arts Building and on weekends. He made philosophizing continuous with living which is why there was no strict division for him between work and life, teaching and research, philosopher and man, thought and action, knowledge and virtue. By example, in the living of his life, he lived (and helped us to live) the philosophical ideal of living.
David Lewis wrote: ‘I should have liked to be a piecemeal, unsystematic philosopher, offering independent proposals on a variety of topics.’ (D. Lewis, Philosophical Papers: Volume I, (New York: Oxford UP, 1983), p. ix.) Whilst he admits the failure of this wish, his voicing it reveals much about the hegemony of analytic philosophy in the English speaking world and also about the mode of production of twentieth century academic philosophy. ‘Analytic’ philosophy is inaugurated by a methodology more than by a set of first-order philosophical theses, indeed it is the methodology that gives it its name and allows an astonishingly varied collection of doctrines to be classed together under the one term. The methodology is one of analysis, logical or conceptual analysis: the employment of modern logic to break-down and lay bear the true ‘logical form’ of sentences, which is supposedly obscured by the misleading surface grammar of ordinary language, in order to clarify their conceptual components and the relations between these concepts. Once done, the hope is that philosophical problems involving such concepts and their relations should disappear, as these are nothing but artefacts of the deceptive surface grammar of natural language. The paradigm of this methodology was, of course, Russell’s ‘On Denoting’, which by using the new quantified predicate logic that he and Frege had just developed, purported to disclose the true semantic structure of sentences involving definite descriptions (and by extension names) and thereby to dissolve a whole battery of philosophical puzzles to do with existence, identity and truth. Notwithstanding the failure of Russell’s article to deliver on this grand philosophical agenda, it gave birth to the methodology of analysis that became a cause for excitement–holding out the promise of progress on philosophical questions and problems that had stubbornly resisted treatment, akin to that which had emerged and continued to emerge in the sciences. By analysing philosophical questions and problems down into smaller, more manageable units, issues can be isolated from each other and separately pursued with more clarity of vision, making progress toward a solution on any one more possible. Thus a ‘piecemeal’ approach to philosophical issues is encouraged, even required, by the analytic methodology, and an ‘unsystematic philosophy’ composed of ‘independent proposals on a variety of topics’ made possible, even prized–it is almost a measure of one’s commitment to the analytic method.
Analysis requiring as it does the processes of breaking down and separation, of course, also involves a certain kind of idealization or abstraction–philosophical arguments and ideas get excised from their discursive and historical contexts and assessed for their free-standing validity. The tool of choice for the analytic philosopher is the scalpel, that way the philosophical content of a theory can be detached from as much of its surrounding discursive and historical tissue as possible, the better to run its intellectual pathology, determine its independent coherence and truth-value. Content is valorised as essential over context, which is seen as accidental. Approaches that emphasize or even take account of the contextual features of philosophical arguments get downgraded as exercises in ‘literary criticism’ or ‘history’. In this way, analytic philosophy involves a certain erasure of the history of philosophy as a serious field of study in philosophy, a disdain for it as (mere) history or literary criticism, rather than as (genuine) philosophy. Or to the extent that it is countenanced, it is only insofar as it conforms to the analytic model of decontextualized argument-analysis. Accordingly, the analytic mode of doing ancient philosophy was to mine a Platonic dialogue, for example, for its philosophical content, which supposedly can be isolated from the dialectical context in which it arises and the rhetorical-political positions occupied by the dramatis personae expressing it, and independently assess its argumentative validity.
Kim’s work on Plato enacts a methodology very much at odds with this orthodoxy of decontextualized analysis. First of all, there is his very attention to methodology. Analytic philosophy’s methodology is, as we have just seen, a methodology designed to erase the importance of methodological questions–it is about isolating the kernel of content from the husk of other obfuscating collateral material (context and methodology) in order to exclusively concentrate its attention on the content and determine its rational pedigree. For Kim, methodological questions are primary: arriving ultimately at the right destination depends importantly on one’s mode of approach. As such, much of Kim’s attention is directed at matters of approach, sometimes not even arriving at what would ordinarily be considered a finished, first-order thesis. Thus, in the papers that follow, we get not so much the ‘Lycos theory’ of the good life, justice, the self, akrasia, etc, but Kim’s way of thinking about (Plato’s or Freud’s or Foucault’s way of thinking about) how to think about these topics. This should not been seen as a shortcoming, as context being emphasized at the expense of content, process being valorised to the detriment of product, but rather as Kim’s reconfiguring of the usual way of thinking about the relation between context and content, method and theory. It expresses his commitment to the inextricability of the two–identifying and elaborating the right methodology in characterizing human beings and their ethical practices is the first order thesis or is the necessary propaedeutic for arriving at the right such thesis. One of the reasons Plato is so important for Kim is because of Plato’s recognition of the importance of methodology in (what we now call) the ‘human sciences’: in the account of what it is to be human and what a worthwhile human life should consist in. Secondly, it is not just that Kim concentrates on methodology, but what his methodology is that sets him apart from the analytic mainstream. Kim’s methodology is very synthetic, it brings together (rather than analysing away) a range of features of philosophical texts often considered peripheral and so marginalized by analytic methodology–features like dialectical context, discursive setting, rhetorical position, and the like. Kim develops his own view through his readings of the views of others, most notably Plato, as such his point of entry is always to tackle a philosophical topic in its specific textual environment, and he is particularly sensitive to the contextual background–the general theory surrounding it, its immediate adversary in the dialectical setting, the balance of the argumentative burden of proof at that point in the text, and so on. Such factors form the setting in which a view makes the sense it does and gains what justification it has; ignoring them would be to compromise the intelligibility of the view itself. This approach of deep textual immersion, which redraws the boundaries between content and context, philosophy and history, philosophy and literature, is not the accidental result of contingencies to do with Kim’s intellectual temperament, it has a far more essential motivation: it is demanded by the nature of the subject matter it is approaching, viz. an adequate account of human beings and their beliefs, actions, practices and institutions.
One way of understanding the motivation behind Kim’s ‘synthetic-contextualist’ approach and thus what is at stake here in this contest of methodologies (although this is not quite the way Kim would put it), is in terms of an old nineteenth century insight of the hermeneutic tradition concerning the difference between naturwissenschaften and geisteswissenschaften. Among the salient points of contrast between the natural sciences and the human or social sciences fastened on by this tradition is that while the data of natural science can be accessed independently of the cultural, social and theoretical allegiances of the scientist such that theories of natural science can be tested for their truth on the basis of this neutral data of experience; for the human sciences this kind of neutrality in the data is impossible. This is because the objects of experience in the natural sciences are non-intentional, not meaning-rich items but mere dumb matter; whereas in the human sciences, because the phenomena we are investigating are human beings and their beliefs and practices, their ‘objects’ are subjects, intentional agencies, themselves centres of meaning and interpretation, rather than dumb matter. As a result, the ‘data’ upon which theories in the social sciences are based is meaning-rich: it involves such things as social norms, intentional behaviour, documents and artefacts that are what they are because of the meaning they have for their agents. Recognizing and identifying the data as having the significance they do involves a level of understanding and interpretation (a theory of what they mean) on the part of the social scientist which in turn requires a certain immersion in the cultural and social practices to which the data belongs that make such data theory–or interpretation–laden. They depends on data which depends on theory–this is the intractable ‘hermeneutic circle’ constitutive of the very identification of the data of the social sciences and which renders them unsuitable for the methods of investigation of natural science.
Kim’s synthetic-contextualist method can be seen as an attempt to re-capture this insight, an insight that had been lost in the scientistic and naturalistic zeal of positivism, which exercised such influence in Anglo-American philosophy until the nineteen sixties. Taking the natural sciences as the paradigm of truth and knowledge, the positivists sought to model the human sciences on them in order to achieve objective results in these fields as well. This meant that the human sciences, such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and, of course, philosophy and its sub-fields, had to imitate the epistemic procedures and criteria of the natural sciences: causal hypotheses that could predict or explain human phenomena needed to be tested on the basis of social scientific data grounded in repeatable experiments. Such data needed to be neutrally characterizable, accessible to all social scientists anytime and anywhere irrespective of their theoretical orientation, historical perspective or cultural vantage point, for only then would they be generally repeatable. Theory-neutrality of the data is necessary for the objectivity of the theory based on it. Disciplines in which the data was ineliminably theory-laden, that require interpretative insight gained from special immersion in the history and culture that the data belong to, are then interpretation-specific, perspective-relative and thus incapable of objectivity. Such was the positivist reduction of the human sciences to the natural sciences. Now although there was a backlash inside analytic philosophy to this positivist picture, the backlash was to it as a picture of the epistemology of natural science-post-Quine and post-Kuhn, the positivist account of natural science seemed hopelessly naïve; for many philosophers of science, natural science has turned out to bear some of the characteristics of the pre-positivist picture of the human sciences, such as theory-ladenness of data and the under-determination of theory by data. Strangely, the other side of the claim, its picture of the human sciences as being modelled on the naïve positivist picture of the natural sciences, was slower to be questioned and dismantled. It seemed that while the natural sciences were being humanized, the human sciences were still being naturalized–as is evidenced by the still dominant reductive materialist theories of mind and action. While behaviourist reductions of mental states to gross bodily behaviour in the philosophy of mind may have been on the wane in the nineteen sixties, they were being replaced by brain state-mental state identity theories. The naturalistic assumption that the human mind and human actions can and should be approached reductively along the lines of a natural science was not being questioned, rather one reductive story (behavioural psychology) was simply being replaced by another (neurophysiology). Kim’s synthetic-contextualist methodology can be seen as being part of a rear guard effort to subject the positivist conception of the human sciences to the same kind of critique that its conception of the natural sciences had been undergoing. He thinks that it is a methodology demanded by his subject matter: Plato’s theory of what is it to be human and of what the ethical human life consists in, are topics par excellence of the human sciences. (Perhaps the old eighteenth century term ‘moral sciences’ would be more felicitous here since in addition to having the same extension as its more modern equivalent ‘human sciences’, it also includes in its gambit moral considerations of good and bad and how they influence distinctively human action and life, which is precisely Plato’s topic.) The vital methodological question Kim faces is what is involved in understanding, interpreting and explaining Plato’s texts so that we can genuinely learn from them rather than just adapt them to our contemporary purposes and read modern problematics and ways of thinking into them. His answer, given that such texts are quintessential expressions of human intentionality, is his textually-immersed, context-sensitive, synthetic method, which by synthesizing details from various sources: historical, textual, rhetorical, philosophical, is capable of disclosing the intentional richness of the text. The methodology of investigation cannot be one of external observation favoured by analysis as it may be with respect to natural phenomena but must rather be this internal participation or immersion in the dialectical space of ideas that constitute the meaning of these texts.
Kim’s central theoretical question is to correctly understand what Plato’s views on justice, the soul, action and moral psychology come to and he will argue they fall out of Plato’s methodology of engaging these issues and result in a certain anti-naturalism about human beings, reason and value, and an intersubjective account of objectivity. In a positivist climate where natural science serves as the paradigm of all objective knowledge and others disciplines are respectable only to the extent that they can emulate its standards and procedures and so be reduced to or participate in the sciences, to insist on the irreducibility of a field of inquiry, such as ethics or philosophy of mind and action, to natural science is to court the charges of relativism or scepticism. If one wants to avoid these charges and maintain that objective knowledge can be obtained in such areas in spite of their resistance to reduction, as Kim does, then one has the burden of developing an alternative conception of objectivity, one that is not hostage to the natural sciences. Kim recognizes the burden and takes up the challenge, a challenge that the human sciences and the methodology it requires sets for him. Just as the subject-matter demands a methodology, the methodology in turn gives rise to a first-order thesis about its subject-matter. In probably his most programmatic piece, ‘Irony and Moral Reflection: The Philosophy of Socrates’, Kim elaborates this as follows:
[K]nowledge of oneself, of others, and of how best to live together can only begin by submitting to critical scrutiny one’s own moral understanding; one’s own convictions about, attitudes towards, and responses to actual and imagined situations, as well as to different characterizations of them. To be human, [Socrates] thought, is to be morally responsive, and to be morally responsive is, or at least crucially involves, being prepared to engage in the sort of rational activity that may result in the radical modification or refutation of one’s moral understanding…the activity of moral self-scrutiny is best conducted with others and among others…engaging in the elenchos, in moral self-scrutiny, itself has moral import: not to engage in that activity, or to refuse or be reluctant to participate in it, is to neglect or to avoid being morally responsive; which in turn implies that one does not care about or take seriously enough one’s own humanity…whether such inquiry leads the participants to moral truth or not, the claim to possess moral truth, even if true, would not count as moral knowledge if the claimant either had not or was not prepared to engage in an elenchos…for Socrates, engaging in critical moral self-scrutiny with others and among others was what it is for a human being to lead a morally responsive life.
This passage contains the core Lycosian commitments, learnt via Socrates: namely, an intersubjective (or ‘contextualist’) account of objectivity, and a non-reductive conception of human beings that consists in according reason and morality a constitutive role in what it is to be human and what it is to lead a human life (what I will henceforth refer to as the ‘constitutivity thesis’). I will look at these in turn.
Objective moral standards are disclosed in and maintained by rational-critical discussion, evaluation and instruction with others over conceptions of the good, the paradigm example of which Kim finds to be the Socratic elenchos. Moral truth and knowledge are achievements of a historically-invested, context-sensitive, intersubjective reason–they arise in and through contexts of discussion inside the moral-rational community. As such the standards of truth and knowledge are on-goingly achieved and only ever provisionally realized–being always open, in principle, to revision in the light of the further scrutiny of future communities of discussants. What is thus made possible is a non-scientistic conception of objectivity in the moral sciences and it exposes the false positivist dichotomy of either scientistic objectivity or relativism and scepticism. Denying the former does not entail holding (one of) the latter; the dialectical space is expanded to include another option–an intersubjective, contextualist conception of objectivity. Although non-scientistic, this Socratic account is to be distinguished from both moral scepticism and moral relativism: it differs from scepticism in countenancing the possibility of knowledge (albeit of a certain, practical wisdom sort) of the ethical and it differs from moral relativism in denying that the communally agreed on moral standards are thereby the right ones, that the moral community cannot go wrong. This second difference needs to be handled carefully: the Socratic intersubjective account implies contextualism–that moral standards of objectivity arise in and depend on social-historical contexts of intersubjective discussion and scrutiny, rather than relativism–that the standards are to identified with or reduced to context-specific agreements. Since all it says is that standards of good require a community, it does not exclude the possibility that the community as a whole could go wrong, only that where they do this is only ever assessable from the standpoint of another community of discussion; what it does exclude is the possibility of making this assessment from a point of view independent of all social contexts of discussion, evaluation, instruction, agreement, etc., i.e. from an extra-elenctic viewpoint. Having the permanent possibility of subjecting the view to further discursive scrutiny is all that is required to avoid the relativistic identification of ‘whatever we say is true’. It is enough to fund fallibilism, which is in turn all that is needed to secure objectivity.
Furthermore, and this brings us to the other key Socratic idea contained in the passage, this intersubjective process of rational discussion is constitutive of what it is to be moral, which is in turn constitutive of what it is to be human. And the consequence of making reason and morality constitutive of what it is to be human and what it is to lead a human life ultimately is a non-naturalistic account of human beings and their actions, beliefs, institutions and practices. If morality and rationality (understood as an on-going achievement of intersubjective discussion) are constitutive of being human, then what people really believe, desire and do is what they rationally-morally ought to believe, desire and do. The ideal normative domain of reason and morality thus permeates the real world of actual belief-desire formation and action and this precludes naturalistic accounts of human beings and human action. Naturalistic accounts drive a wedge, in principle, between being human and being rational and moral for they recognize no essential normative constraint on the identification of belief, desire and action–these are purely empirico-descriptive matters to be got from observation and experiment, such that if this leads to the attribution of irrational-immoral beliefs, desires and action then so be it. This is precisely what the Socrates-Lycos constitutivity thesis rules out. Thus for Kim, reductive naturalistic accounts of human being should be resisted not for Cartesian reasons–because there is an unbridgeable metaphysical divide between mind and body–but because human beings are constitutively governed by normative constraints that escape totally being captured in natural law and recovered by empirical investigation. In a reprise of McDowell, what blocks naturalistic reductions of mind and action is that human beings and their mental states and actions exist in the ‘space of reason’ and morality, not just in ‘the realm of law’. This is the deep Socratic insight that Kim thinks has been lost in the progressively scientistic modern period and that is disclosed and maintained in intersubjective rational discussion of the moral life and which requires a methodology responsive to history and context to be recovered and investigated. Kim’s particular context-sensitive methodology, which finds its model in Socrates, is thus ultimately in the service of developing a post-modern account of objectivity, reason, moral value and being human that turns out to be very pre-modern, ancient.
Having situated Kim’s work in relation to some of the main theoretical presuppositions and methodological approaches of twentieth century Anglo-American philosophy, it remains to locate it in the more specific context of twentieth century Anglo-American ancient philosophy. This in turn involves looking at the position of ancient philosophy, and history of philosophy more generally, in the Anglo-American philosophical world at large. From the foregoing, we should expect that it has not occupied a very exalted position, being not obviously of the analytic, progressive, scientistic, problem-solving variety. This has indeed been the case. If conceptions of the history of philosophy in general can be crudely divided into three camps: what I will call the ‘mere history of philosophy’ conception, the ‘retrospective history of philosophy’ conception and the ‘prospective history of philosophy’ conception, then for the most part the way those analytic philosophers not doing history of philosophy, but rather working on the ‘cutting-edge’ of contemporary philosophy, viewed work in the history of philosophy was on one of the first two conceptions. The three conceptions range from thinking that the history of philosophy has nothing to say to us now, through thinking that it prefigures, albeit in often confused and inchoate ways, things that only now we are beginning to understand properly, to thinking that it can inform and transform current modes of thinking. On the first, ‘mere history of philosophy’ conception, the history of philosophy is the history of ideas or better the history of bad, failed ideas, of the ideas that we have (thankfully) exposed and moved beyond. Doing history of philosophy on this conception is a stale, pedantic, academic exercise concerned only with historico-factual issues of no contemporary relevance. On the second, ‘retrospective’ conception, the history of philosophy does have contemporary relevance, but of a passive kind. This is history of philosophy of the sort that looks for parallels and precursors of contemporary views in thinkers of the past, a practice that retrospects from the present to the past. On this conception, history of philosophy is exhausted by identifying the historical genealogy of a current position in a thinker of the past, without believing that the past thinker has anything much of critical importance to offer the contemporary state of the debate. With self-congratulatory condescension, it is the position that commends the silly old duffers (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, etc.) for actually seeing the faint glimmer of something that they did not wholly grasp (and that we now do), that credits them for seeing at least something of which we now know the true contemporary and lasting value. Needless to say, neither conception was the self-image of those working in the history of philosophy.
The third, ‘prospective’ conception is much more respectful of the past and modest with regard to the present, and promotes the (re)educative potential of past thought, its present critical relevance and challenge. It sees past thinkers in dialogue with contemporary figures, occupying equal footing in the debate, and thus potentially providing new (or renewed) insight into the issues at hand. This is Kim’s position. For Kim doing ancient philosophy was not an exercise in ‘mere’ history of philosophy, of (say) getting one’s interpretation of Plato right for the sake of accuracy in Platonic scholarship. Indeed for Kim there was no such ‘mere-ness’ to history of philosophy. History of philosophy in his hands is philosophy because ‘getting Plato right’ on this is getting the right theory of what it is to be human, to live well, and to have a just society, and thus is the very subject-matter of philosophy proper. Hence, also, history of philosophy for Kim is not of the ‘retrospective’ kind of finding intimations of contemporary views in Plato and in that way demonstrating Plato’s relevance to the present–as if Plato’s importance depended on his ideas getting contemporary airplay. It is far more constructive and prospective than that. Plato is important not so much because his views keep on cropping up, but because they do not but should. That they do not is because the fundamental Socratic insight about the relation between reason, the good and being human has been unlearnt in the modern tradition and needs to be re-taught if contemporary human life and its institutions are to be genuinely human, i.e. truly rational and moral. In this way, the study of Plato has an active, transformative relation to contemporary philosophy. We can see this attitude constantly enacted in the papers collected here: by the fact that when Kim writes on Plato he almost always relates the discussion to some modern or contemporary figure–e.g. Freud, Foucault, Armstrong, etc., or some modern or contemporary theme–the possibility of irrational action, the relation between power and truth, the question of whether the ‘given’ is pre-conceptual, moral relativism, etc.
Kim is not just a practitioner of prospective Platonic scholarship, but a practitioner (and one of the early practitioners) of a particular brand of prospective Platonic scholarship. (It has since become somewhat of the orthodoxy in ancient philosophy, being the methodological practice of such currently influential ancient scholars as: Julia Annas, Sarah Broadie, Alex Mourelatos, and Richard Sorabji, amongst others.) For, one could work on Platonic dialogues prospectively in the way outlined earlier–as decontextualized argument-analysis. This is not Kim’s way and it is not because of the methodological considerations set out above, which require highly context-sensitive readings that involve very close attendance not merely to the arguments put forth but to the rhetorical and political positions of the interlocutors as well as to the state of dialectical play of the dialogue. So to complete the previous characterization: when Kim writes on Plato he almost always relates the discussion to some modern or contemporary figure or to some modern or contemporary theme all the while engaging in detailed textual, contextual and argument analysis of the dialogue. It is a methodology that Kim developed in his Plato on Justice and Power and one that he continues to deploy in his latter work. This methodology emphasises the process of reflection on the issue at hand as much as the product of reflection (a particular theory), and is designed to show that Socrates’ work is as much about defending the truth of a particular position against conventional alternatives as transforming the discursive practices of his community so that they can see the truth of his view. Kim’s highly context-sensitive prospective studies of Plato is attempting to enact just such a context-sensitive, Socratic transformation of our own discursive practices about what it is to be human and what it is to live properly human, ethical lives.
Perhaps ironically for some, the theoretical products of these context-sensitive, prospective studies of Plato are cutting-edge positions on mind, action and value. The return to Plato, the rejection of naturalism, and his propensity to think in terms of supposedly superseded categories like ‘moral science’ are all aspects in which Kim may seem, deceptively, to be very old-fashioned, even reactionary. However, Kim’s prospective contextualist studies have a way of giving old concepts new life by showing the moral and epistemological bankruptcy of the new (and supposedly progressive) concepts. A return to certain pre-modern ways of thinking may be what is required for a sophisticated post-modern conception of ourselves and the world we live in. In a further measure of the prospective potential of his work on Plato, far from leaving him in outdated positions, such a synthetic, context-sensitive return to ancient ways of thinking has led him to hold positions very close to those of Davidson, McDowell, Brandom and others at the vanguard of late-twentieth century critical re-assessments of naturalistic-reductive approaches to mind, reason and value.
On the face of it, the papers collected here may seem to have very little in common with each other. They range from ancient Greek philosophy and literature to Freud on self-constitution and sexuality, and Foucault on truth and power, taking in Augustine on the narrative self along the way. This impression is strengthened if one attempts to employ received disciplinary boundaries and distinctions in trying to understand their relation, for again their subject matter seems disparate: some seem primarily to be commentaries on specific Platonic dialogues, while others contributions to contemporary topics in philosophy of mind, philosophical psychology, political philosophy, and philosophy and literature. This should be unsurprising: Kim is precisely about dismantling these structures and categories; so to employ them to try to understand the continuities in his thought is doomed from the start. Instead, I will show how the general themes in Kim’s thought that I identified in the previous section get exemplified in the specific papers we have chosen and in this way hope to show the relations between this seemingly disconnected series of papers. But first, a brief note concerning our criteria of selection: in addition to wanting to make available in one place Kim’s last, published and unpublished work, we also wanted to include important, previously published, papers that are either difficult to obtain, or essential to understanding the trajectory of his thought. All the papers collected here meet at least one these conditions and they span 30 years of work: the earliest being written in 1964, the latest 1994.
‘Aristotle and Plato on ‘Appearing” was Kim’s first published paper and it appeared in Mind in 1964. In it he is concerned to defend Aristotle’s objection to Plato’s account of what it is to be appeared to in a certain way (phantasia) and then apply the objection to Armstrong’s (then) contemporary work on the theory of perception. Plato’s view is that sensing (being appeared to) is a kind of judging, that it has a propositional form expressible by a ‘that’ clause and thus is capable of being true or false. Aristotle objects that sensing or being appeared to is not to be understood in this way on the grounds that if it were a kind of judging then in cases where the sense judgement contradicts a true belief about the thing either the true belief about the thing would have to be lost while one is sensibly judging (which phenomenologically is false), or else in such cases one still holds the true belief but it is both true and false while I’m sensibly judging its contrary (which is logically impossible). Kim applies this objection to Armstrong’s work on perception, finding in Armstrong’s view on sense impressions a contemporary avatar of Plato’s position on being appeared to, and thus one susceptible to the Aristotelian dilemma. In this his earliest work, we already see in practice Kim’s conception of the value of the history of philosophy in general, and ancient philosophy in particular, to contemporary philosophical discussions: the constructive work that it can perform in elucidating a current dialectic and diagnosing a recurrent problem. Whether one agrees with Kim’s Platonic interpretation of Armstrong or not, the piece is methodologically instructive in showcasing how for Kim ancient philosophy has a dynamic, transformative potential for contemporary philosophy, a prospective function that has the ability to not only speak to current debates, but inform them of something new (that is really something old but forgotten), and thus potentially change them for the better.
In the second paper, ‘Irony and Moral Reflection: The Philosophy of Socrates’ (1992), Kim takes up the issue of the how objective knowledge of the ethical is possible in the absence of a science of ethics. The issue of whether there can be experts in moral matters is Kim’s, and the ancient’s, way of engaging this question–for the expert would be precisely the custodian of such knowledge whose modern avatar is the figure of the scientist. Objective knowledge is possible in ethics as it is about the natural world, but the nature of the knowledge and the way of arriving at it are very different. The knowledge is non-propositional in nature, involving rather a way of living and acting, one that consists of reflection with others on what the good life consists in. As this process of reflection is itself an activity, a way of living one’s life, we get a questioning of the dichotomy between thought (reflection) and action, content and methodology, philosophy and life. Reflecting on how best to live by scrutinizing the viewpoints of others on this very question is both the way of arriving at knowledge about ethical matters and what that knowledge consists in (and also, because of the ‘constitutivity thesis’, what being human consists in). It also shows the poverty of thinking that the epistemological options are exhausted by the disjunction: either ethical science or else non-cognitivism (scepticism) about ethics. A third position is available that involves a new (which is at the same time a very old) conception of knowledge as the kind of practical wisdom of intersubjective living-reflecting which has its model in Socrates and the Socratic elenchos. This practical wisdom which gives one the reflexive capacity to recognize and discriminate good from bad, should also be distinguished from a skill or practical ‘know-how’ for the possession of a skill is determined consequentially by whether the action based on it is successful or not, whereas the possession of the practical wisdom of self-reflective living is not determined by whether the actions based on such wisdom are successful, but rather by how the wisdom was formed–whether by self scrutiny about moral matters with others (i.e. the elenctic method) or not.
‘Loving Men: Aspects of Plato’s Theory of Eros in the Phaedrus‘ (1992) is concerned to elaborate Plato’s view of love. Firstly, it takes to task Nussbaum’s fractured understanding of Plato’s reflections on love, arguing that Plato’s view is a lot more unified than Nussbaum’s interpretation would have us believe. (M. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986), Chapters 6 and 7.) Nussbaum divides Plato’s views on eros into early and late where the early view operates with a strong divide between reason and the passions, to which eros belongs, and that reason must overcome to achieve knowledge; whereas the later view sees love as a relation to the other and an affective state of the self that expresses a mutual involvement of both intellect and the appetites. Kim counters that the later view is really Plato’s view all along. However Kim as usual is not just interested in correcting a particular interpretative mistake, but has larger fish to fry–in this case the loving relation as the model for the knowing relation, epistemology as love. His reflecting on Plato’s reflections on love leads him to think of love as a kind of ongoing reflective relation between the lover and the beloved, where each is open to being affected by and changing in response to the other. As love is a reflective-transformative relation, reflection is crucially important to love and the loving relation is integral to reflection. Furthermore, given that reflection is importantly constitutive of the knowledge relation, particularly where knowledge of what it is to be human and lead the good life is concerned, a radically new conception of epistemology is prefigured: knowledge as a kind of loving relation. Love as a form of relatedness to the other differs essentially from the relation of grasping, mastering, objectifying, which is the traditional understanding of the knowing relation familiar from Descartes and the one operative in the epistemology of natural science. Rather than this oppositional subject-object model, of an isolated consciousness set over and against the object to be known, which gives rise to the curricula of problems comprising modern philosophy, the Platonic ‘love model’ of knowledge suggests a more intimate relation-of immersion in, participation with and understanding of the so-called ‘object’ of knowledge. Objective knowledge is understood as a form of self-completion–to know the other (whether a natural object or another person) is to become reunited with something that has belonged to oneself all along but from which one has been separated. Knowledge is a state of self-realization–gaining knowledge of the other amounts to the knower attaining a state of self-knowledge, of becoming fully aware of his or her own being. Thus, in this paper we get another attack on the subject-object model of scientific knowledge, and a rapproachment between the natural and human sciences but not in the way the positivists would have it, i.e. conforming the human sciences to the natural sciences, but in the other direction–aligning the natural sciences to the human sciences. The unspoken implication is that the modern problems of scepticism about the external world and other minds can be avoided if we rediscover the Platonic conception of knowledge as self-knowledge (rather than conquest and mastery of the other) and foreground the moral relation of love rather than the acquisitive one of grasping.
If one takes seriously, as Plato and Kim do, the ‘constitutivity thesis’–that human beings are constitutively rational and moral–then one faces the rather pressing problem of explaining how it is that human being can act (and hold beliefs and desires) irrationally and immorally. That is, the problem of explaining examples of weakness of the will (which is the case of irrational action), indeed even allowing for their very existence, looms large. This is the topic of essay three, ‘Socrates and Akrasia: Reading Protagoras 351a-358d’ (early 1990s). The undeniable fact that people at times act against their better judgement as to what the rational thing to do is seems to constitute a reductio of the Plato–Lycos ‘constitutivity thesis’–it seems any adequate philosophical psychology should taken these cases as data that need explaining rather than ruling them out a priori as impossible. This is the conventional way, what Kim dubs the ‘Many View’ of akrasia: they are cases where the passions, whether pleasure, rage, lust, etc. overrule one’s knowledge of what the good (in the rational or moral sense) thing to do is. Thus we cannot be constitutively rational or moral, for we don’t always conform in our actions to the demands of reason or morality. However, for Kim, to subscribe to the ‘Many View’ and take cases of weakness of the will as constituting a reductio would be to sacrifice the greatest virtue of Plato’s insight: the central importance it accords rationality and morality to distinctively rational and moral creatures like human beings. Also, it presupposes a disunified account of the virtues that is anathema to Socrates: it splits reason (and thus the virtue of wisdom) from what is good as a principle of choice for action, and thus opens up the possibility of a general fracturing among the virtues–i.e. that one could be courageous without being wise so that to act courageously maybe to be overcome by courage (which is now understood as a reasonless, mad passion) just as the weak-willed on the ‘Many View’ are overcome by pleasure, lust, rage, etc. The paper reaches a negative conclusion–it doesn’t give us an account of what Plato’s account of akrasia is but rather why it cannot be the ‘Many View’–and one that is motivated by a very patient reconstruction of Plato’s more general views about moral psychology and the unity of the virtues, which form the dialectical context in which his account of akrasia is developed.
‘Hecuba’s Newly Learned Melody: Nussbaum on Philosophy Learning from Euripides’ (1988) concerns the question of whether and what we can learn about ethics from literature, or more particularly Greek tragedy. Kim argues that what one learns and whether it teaches us anything worthwhile depends on one’s ethical theory (whether Platonic or Aristotelian) and thus on one’s conception of what the central question is to which ethical theory is a response. This gets played out through a critical study of Nussbaum’s reading of Euripides Hecuba in the closing chapter of her The Fragility of Goodness. Kim, working from a Platonic perspective that understands the ethical life as consisting in rational self-mastery of the competing forces of appetite, spirit and reason in the soul, sees the value of virtue in Platonic terms of protecting the soul from loss of self-mastery; Nussbaum, working from the Aristotelian perspective that understands the ethical life as developing a practical rationality in thought and action that makes for self-realization, sees the value of virtue in Aristotelian terms of safeguarding a life from the vicissitudes of contingencies of circumstances and insufficiencies of practical reason. For the Aristotelian, in representing human emotions, actions and decisions in morally testing situations, Greek tragedy has a clear, ethically pedagogic purpose–by depicting these all-too-human responses, it teaches us what we value in life and to what these values are vulnerable (which is chance or luck). For the Platonist, since the ethical life is one of inner psychic harmony, Greek tragedy if it is to be educative does not depict events and actions but characters or soul-types, and ones, given the nature of tragedy, that are in discord. Thus it has an ethically dangerous or subversive potential which requires that it be banished from the curriculum of philosopher-kings.
‘Philosophy and Poetry: Plato’s Legacy’ (1983/4) takes up this question of Plato’s view of poetry in the Republic and thus of the related issues of the relation between philosophy and poetry, and of philosophy’s position in the marketplace of the disciplines: whether it belongs to the humanities or the sciences. In a rare moment, Kim is critical of Plato, specifically his banishment of poetry from the ‘philosophic city’ and of the conception of poetry and philosophy that this exile relies upon, albeit from insights for which Plato is responsible. Plato’s position relies on two misconceptions: one to do with poetry, namely that it has a solely mimetic function of reflecting or imitating the prevailing cultural conventions and social norms rather than the critical function of arriving at the culturally-independent truth about self and society; the second concerns philosophy, that it alone plays this critical role and to that extent requires a detached, external perspective on the cultural practices and social norms of the community such that it can expose its prejudices and illusions and in this way arrive at the truth. Both are misconceptions: art is not just a mirror of society but can shape and transform it, indeed this is one reason why it may be dangerous; and performing the critical function in culture and society so as to arrive at truth in the moral sciences does not require the possibility of an extra-cultural viewpoint: it can be funded by ongoing, rational dialogue inside the community of discussants. To think otherwise is to sacrifice the contextualist, intersubjective account of objectivity that Plato has argued so strongly for through the example of Socrates and the methodology of the elenchos. It mistakes relativism for contextualism, that because truths may arise in cultural practices that their validity is relative to the culture they arose in, for it assumes that objectivity can only be won from an external vantage point rather than being bootstrapped from within it by continual, intersubjective rational discussion of standards and presuppositions. Hence, in banishing poetry from the republic, Plato betrays his own insights. Furthermore, these Platonic misconceptions about art and philosophy, and their implications for truth and knowledge, still persist today and constitute a dubious, Platonic legacy: they are evidenced by philosophy’s (especially analytic philosophy’s) desire to claim for itself a kinship with mathematics and the ‘hard’ sciences rather than art and the humanities which is expressive of a naive scientism about truth and knowledge–after all the external viewpoint is the epistemic position par excellence of the natural scientist.
The next two essays concern Freud. Kim’s interest in Freud, like his interest in Plato, stems from his central concern with philosophical psychology and moral psychology, in the psychic sources of action expressive of a life as an ethical life. Just as Plato is the great philosophical psychologist of the classical era so is Freud of the modern period. ‘Freud and Psychoanalysis: The Middle Ground’ (1993/4) engages the question of whether Freudian psychoanalysis offers a reductive conception of identity-constitution. Kim’s answer is the seemingly contradictory ‘yes and no’, and he invokes the figure of the intermediary, or the mediator, to try to make sense of this. The mediator is precisely the one who is neither ‘this’ nor ‘that’, who is caught in the middle between two poles and whose position of between-ness is irreducible to either but incorporates the import and features of both. Indeed this paper is as much a meditation on mediation as it is a paper on Freudian theory, and this is because mediation is a concept that applies to psychoanalysis as well as one that looms large in Freud’s theory. Its meta-application to psychoanalysis itself is the result of psychoanalysis’s occupation of a mediate position between a reductive and non-reductive theory of mind. Psychoanalysis’s employment of pseudo-scientific categories and mechanisms of repression, resistance, denial, narcissism, the Oedipus Complex, etc, give it the air of a reductive science of the psyche, while its insistence that these features aren’t reducible to biological/physical structures of the individual but are constituted through the complex hermeneutic (with all the attendant circularity of ‘transference’) co-operation of analyst and patient, distance it from reductive, physical science. The concept of mediation also figures in the theory since its conception of identity-constitution, is one whereby the Ego, or self, is constituted in its activity of mediating between the instinctual forces of the Id and the social-moral strictures imposed by the Super-Ego. Kim allows this mediating theory of identity-constitution to refract back on his own conditions of self-identity, as an Alexandrine (between East and West), as an émigré (between the Greek and Jewish immigrant cultures), as formed on the balcony (the place between the public life of the street and market and the private world of home and family). As such, the essay itself occupies an intermediate place between both philosophy and biography, and provides a working illustration of the break down of the distinction between theory and description, theoretical work and extra-theoretical life.
‘Phantasy, Symbolism and the Origins of Human Sexuality’ (1980) is concerned to articulate Freud’s view that much of our experience of ourselves, others and the world around us is ineliminably mediated by phantasy, i.e. by meaning-structures such as symbols, metaphors, and myths, that are other to how such experience appears to our conscious awareness. More particularly, it focuses on how human sexuality, or our coming to be and experience ourselves as sexual beings, is phantasmatic. This entails that, as against the accepted naturalistic view, sexuality in human beings cannot be completely understood as a biological given, an instinctual drive or set of urges implanted by nature, part of our organic hardware that can be exhaustively captured by the appropriate biological science, but is something that belongs rather to the meaning-rich human sciences. Human sexuality originates in these cultural imaginings, rather than being a natural given onto which the imaginings (of which we are often unaware) are projected, and so is a meaning-rich phenomenon from the very beginning. Furthermore, this conception of human sexuality carries implications for the sense of Freud’s own theories: they cannot and should not be understood as psycho-social laws based on experiments that are predictive of and testable against individual human behaviour, rather they are interpretative reconstructions that have very different uses and adequacy conditions–like helping us to make sense of our desires and actions, or for overcoming a resistance to our recognizing our psychic realities. It also means that the methodology of the ‘science’ that investigates human sexuality should have more involvement between subject and object than the neutral outside-observer method typical of natural science. Whether the ‘talking cure’ methodology of psychoanalysis is entirely adequate or not to investigate the meaning-rich character of its object–there is the danger of too much intercourse between analyst and patient such that psychic meaning–structures of the analyst are transferred to or projected on the patient–it at least has the possibility of disclosing something about this character.
In the final two papers, the Platonic and Freudian themes of the contextualist account of objectivity, the role of art in the production of truth and knowledge, and the nature of self-constitution are pursued in very different contexts: in a discussion of Foucault’s conception of the relation between truth, knowledge and power and in an analysis of Augustine’s theory of the self in the Confessions. ‘Foucault, Freedom and Truth Emergence’ (1994) traces Foucault’s account of the relation between truth and power in the discourses of the human sciences. Foucault’s view of the relation is opposed to mainstream political thought, Right and Left. In their different ways, both Liberal and Marxist political theory rely on a sharp separation between truth and power relations (i.e. the influence of ideological, social, cultural and political interests): getting to the truth of who we are and how we should live together requires divesting ourselves of these attachments. Rather than standing over and against relations of power, Foucault argues that truth is a ‘power-effect’, the result of certain institutional configurations, discursive formations, political interests, social arrangements, etc. On Kim’s reading though, in claiming that truth is linked to power-relations Foucault is not committed to some sort of relativism about truth, as many have claimed, but rather to precisely that middle position (which I have been calling ‘contextualist’) between context-transcendent and relativist accounts of truth that he argued emerged from Plato. Truth may depend upon practices and discourses that are interest-invested without having its validity relativized to them; it arises out of contexts of communal agreement that may well be shot through with all kinds of investments without being identified with such agreements. Foucault’s work defends a practice-immanent, context-dependent account of truth in the human sciences, one that makes possible a de-transcendentalized account of objectivity:
[A]s well as the abstract idea of truth, of something’s being so or not so independently of whether anyone in any concrete historical situation has seen it to be so or not, we also operate with the idea that truth can emerge, that there is a moment when it comes to exist and conditions under which it exists. In this sense truth is originally and irreducibly situated in a field of social, historical, political differences of power, and the fact that it is so does not falsify its nature or make it something other than it is.
‘Summary of a Thought-Pattern in Augustine’s Confessions‘ (late 1994) is the most recent paper included in the volume and was intended as a lecture handout, which explains its admitted summary character. It was to form part of a longer piece involving a complete reading of Augustine’s Confessions that Kim did not get to complete. In this short paper, Kim distinguishes in Augustine’s work two orders of explanation–meaning-bestowing (presupposition) and temporal/causal (condition)–and three levels of self-experience, which are identified and related via these two kinds of relations of explanation: lower levels presuppose higher levels in order for them to have the meaning that they do whereas lower levels condition higher levels in the sense that higher levels would not exist unless lower levels did. In ascending levels, the self acquires deeper self-understanding and confronts conditions of possibility (in the sense of presuppositions) for reaching this deeper understanding that cannot themselves be provided by that level but require the positing of a further one. The highest level is presupposed by the other levels and is ultimately what gives them the meaning they have. It is the level of understanding sub specie aeternitatis, the self understood in relation to the eternal (i.e. God), the self understood as God’s own self-understanding, and although it cannot be literally achieved by finite human beings it has a pale reflection in the moments of self-recognition that human beings can achieve in their movement between the first two levels. In distinguishing between a meaning-giving relation and causal-temporal one, and by aligning self-understanding with the first sort and genuine self-understanding as impossible for time-bound, finite creatures, Kim finds in Augustine an uncompromising anti-reductive understanding of the self.
Kim’s work was devoted to developing a historically-informed, context-sensitive form of rational humanism that gives a constitutive role to reason and morality in determining who we are and how we should act and live, a non-naturalistic conception of human beings, and an intersubjective, fallibilistic account of objectivity in the human sciences. It is what unites his work across all of its diverse sites of interest and what makes his a ‘living philosophy’–philosophy as something that is lived and as something essentially living, part of life and alive to and in the culture at large.