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James Cappio ARISTOTLE, BERKELEY, AND PROTEUS: JOYCE'S USE OF PHILOSOPHY ? No one familiar with Joyce's biography is unaware that he knew a good deal of philosophy. And given that Joyce put so much of his life into his writings, we should expect to find a good deal of philosophy in at least A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Surprisingly little work, however, has been done on this topic, to my knowledge: we seem to have a field wide open for systematic investigation. I offer the following as a contribution to such investigation. I argue that in the "Proteus" section of Ulysses, Joyce interweaves images, motifs, and themes he introduced as early as "The Dead" to fashion a picture of the development of Stephen Dedalus's consciousness. I further argue that these elements center around the philosophical theme of subjectivity vs. objectivity, which determines the choice of motif (for example, Joyce's use of mathematical imagery). Finally, I argue—roughly—that Stephen is a solipsist trying to come to terms with the objective world. He fails to do so in Portrait, despite the central place he assigns to claritas in his aesthetic. His change in consciousness, from solipsism to a first tentative acceptance of the objectivity of the world, takes place on Sandymount; and I propose that we can most profitably view it as a struggle in Stephen's mind between a godless Berkeley and Aristotle. Aristotle wins at the end of "Proteus," so that Stephen is ready to confront the reality of experience in "Ithaca," not for the millionth time, but for the first. I believe that if my interpretation is sound, Joyce will emerge as doing something original; as using the doctrines advanced by historical philosophers as devices of characterization. The idea is that Stephen may be said to personify the doctrines in question, in the sense that he thinks and acts as one would think and act who really believed them—believed them, that is, so strongly as to try to live them. And this may have repercussions for philosophy; might it 21 22Philosophy and Literature not be possible that a great imaginative writer can tell us something about a philosophical view which we could not have known otherwise? Let me begin by considering a passage from the beginning of chapter three of Portrait (pp. 102-103), in which Stephen is solving an equation. At the end of chapter two Stephen has just been exposed to the dark swoon of sin (why "dark," and why a "swoon," we shall see later). We see him now engaged in the truer spiritual prophylaxis of mathematics . Mathematical imagery is central to this passage, and most important in Ulysses; I should like to suggest some reasons. The majority of philosophers, following Plato and Descartes, have given mathematics a place of honor among the sciences. They have made mathematical knowledge a paradigm of knowledge because, alone of all the sciences, mathematics yields results which are certain. And the philosophers have evolved a standard explanation; the truths of mathematics are certain because they are knowable a priori, independent of any particular experience. The a priori nature of mathematics ensures its objectivity, since the truths of mathematics do not depend on our shifting, subjective perceptions. Contrast Descartes's example of an illusion, the square tower that appears round at a distance. When you see the tower from a distance, your belief that it is round is subjective, in that it obviously depends on your experience of the tower from your present position; a later experience from another position can lead you to discard your belief. No experience, though, will lead you to discard the belief that two plus two equals four; this belief is so certain that any computation inconsistent with it would be dismissed as mistaken. Because this belief is certain, it is immutable; two plus two always equals four. All this is contained in the doctrine of the a priori.4 Mathematics is, however, more than just a body of a priori truths; it can be applied to empirical objects, becoming then a system for representing abstract relations in the world, relations which are permanent through...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 21-32
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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