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Eric Voegelin, "Structures in Conciousness"

Excerpt from Prof. E.Voegelin's 1978 lecture, entitled "Structures in Conciousness":

Photo of Professor Eric Voegelin


"Ladies and Gentlemen: As the topic for tonight's lecture, I have chosen the title "Structures in Consciousness." That could be related to the general title of this meeting, "Structuralism and Hermeneuticism." But I am not talking about the "isms;" not because I am at variance or disagreement with them, but because the mere ending "ism" adds a stratum of meaning about which I have hesitations and misgivings, because "isms" are positional conceptions which have arisen since the 18th century, and represent something like a _stasis_, in the Aristotelian sense, in thinking. Not that the thought is necessarily wrong. You will see that, to a large extent, what I have to say is in accordance with what people who prefer to style themselves structuralists or hermeneuticists are doing. But the "ism" itself is an additional problem. Let me briefly explain.

We have in the 18th century the beginning of "positional" formulations, by a personality, of his "position" in a matter, formulating the truth of reality as if it were found and now is the truth, to be available in the linguistic formulation achieved at the time. Let me give you a few examples of such "isms." For instance, such "isms" as we use every day nowadays--like "monism," or "pluralism," or "dualism" and so on--have arisen in the 18th century, have there been formulated for the first time as philosophical "positions." [...]

We have, furthermore, in the 18th century the beginning of certain "isms" expressing new sentiments of existence, such as "optimism," "pessimism," "nihilism:" All new things. There was no optimism or pessimism in Greece or in ancient Israel [...]. And this genesis of the "isms" goes together with an entrance into the linguistic sphere of all sorts of words connected with the "ego." The ego itself--you will perhaps be surprised--does not appear in English language before 1824. Before 1824, apparently Englishmen had no ego. (I don't know how that works out.) And you get then derivations of ego: somewhat earlier already, "egoism" precedes ego in time; and then there is soon afterward in 1825 the "egomania;" then against the egoism you find the counter-formulation of "altruism" in the 19th century. And, indicating apparently one stratum in the _psyche_ that is connected with such positional assertions of truth, in 1890 you get the term, for the first time, of "megalomania." So these are, you might say, existential positional formulations in the 18th and early 19th century..."


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