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Renmin universitātes Pekinā starptautiskās konferences tēzes

prof. Maijas Kūles zinātniskās tēzes priekšlasījumam Pekinā, Renmin universitātē 2012.g. 2-4. jūnijs



prof. Maija Kule [Latvia]

Values and Virtues at the Three Life Forms Today  

International conference "Traditional values and virtues in social life today",  

Renmin university, Beijing, Council for Research in Values and Philosophy.  


            Culture is not a sum total of things or phenomena, neither is it their seeming manifestations; it is formed as an experience and result of life forms that have arisen historically and are maintained by common human effort. The German philosophers Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel introduced the philosophical teaching of life forms at the beginning of the XX century, it was described by Wilhelm Windelband and Ernst Cassirer,too. The concept "life form" has been in use since the end of the XIX century – the times of Wilhelm Wundt when it was introduced to designate the way people live, their ethical principles, interrelations, communication and different habits at a certain period. The life form ideas is to be found in Max Weber’s teaching on the spirit of capitalism and its connection with faith, the world of values and the activity of the mind. The theory of life forms made an impact on Husserl’s phenomenology within which the capacious and most widely used nowadays concept of life-world (Lebenswelt) was worked out. The philosophical conviction that human life allowed to distinguish definite forms originated with Kant and has not exhausted itself as yet because it is echoed both in structuralism and post-structuralism, hermeneutics, postmodernist compositions and etc. The theory of life forms has been adopted by part of contemporary anthropologists and sociologists. Ludwig Wittgenstein says: “The accepted, the given – one might say – are life forms. 


            Every age, ours as well, has a characteristic view of the world and its own values. Changes in one sphere of life bring about changes in other spheres, forms of life acquire new – different – fulfillment. Values that have long been in the centre of attention, have been regarded eternal, vanish to be substituted by others. The totality of things created by people becomes a totality of other things, other actions; the interaction of things, nature and human relations undergo changes. The spiritual arrangement is inherent in the life forms and people are apt to feel and realize it as the style of the age. Our life experience is recorded in our bodies and manifests itself in concepts of amalgamated influences that Pierre Burdieu names habitus. “The categories and concepts we use to form an understanding of our world are themselves an integral part of the influences: basically they are social formations or constructs. The meaning of the most personal and obvious actions does not belong to the doer of the actions, but to the absolute system of relationships through which they are accomplished

Society as such, considered the main term in classical sociology, has lost its significance. French sociologist Allain Touraine writes: “We no longer live in a world of institutions, but in a world of markets, communities and individuals.” We have finished searching the basis of social life in the illustrious consensus of culture, religious morality, individualistic universality and in the principle that all are equal before the law. All these ideologies illustrate the fact how difficult it is to live in the world divided into two parts – the market and the communities. It actualized the question about traditional values and virtues in social life today.


        The XXI century life in contemporary developed societies tends towards “bringing upward” the dregs of society and “bringing downwards” former centres (the normal, non-alienated, unchallenging, calm, healthy and etc.). Everyone appears in his attire and his singularity. No matter how strongly pluralism and diversity be accented in the post-classic life form, one gathers an impression that the idea of pluralism is used to form new centres. Only the order is reversed now.

        When contrasting the natural and the artificial, the artificial comes first; juxtaposing the fast and the slow it is the fast that wins; the beautiful and the ugly comparison is in favour of the ugly that calls itself new aestheticism in postmodern arts and etc. People who used to think and live in the classical cultural form where the beautiful, following the norm, is taken to be beautiful, the truthful – truthful, and lies – lies, are at a loss because even many trends of the contemporary European philosophy no longer guarantees the existence of universal ethical norms, universal humanistic ideals or highest values. Many European philosophers today are convinced that tradicional values do not respond to the moral issues of modern societies. Life in the traditional forms goes on more like spitefulness, perseverance and belief. Postclassical thinkers sometimes call it senile narrow-mindedness, conservatism and stagnation. But we can ask the question: are they really right in their positions?

            Philosophy has changed nowadays. We know that philosophy is often overloaded with the most passionate requirements of the age – to speak so as to justify power, sensual enjoyment and sometimes - ideology. It observes and states, sees and informs, invites to think for oneself and try to understand what is going on, adding that actually it is beyond the individual to completely grasp it on account of the unknowledgeable, language relativity, historicity, finitude. The French philosopher Alain Badiou is of the opinion that nowadays philosophy no longer creates universal truths, but organizes synthetic perception of truths.Idea to develop concept of the "life forms" corresponds to such synthetic perception of contemporary cultures.

            The simplest way of dividing contemporary culture is splitting it into two periods: classical and postclassical. The periods not only follow each other but also contain opposing tendencies. There is a clash of the classical and the non-classical, the traditional and the destructive, the stable and the transformational. There is a clash of the eternal and the temporal, the steady and the changeable. Life forms in them are basically different. Life forms get established gradually; their outlines become visible to all through prominent events in art, architecture, science and economy, technological developments, communication forms, value systems, political events and revolutions.

            I would like to deal with my inovative ideas about three forms of life today based on the differences of value's interpretations. They are life forms: upward, forward, on the surface. We can see them everywhere around the world, the differences are only of their spread and intensity.

            The form upward is the model of classical, hierarchically ordered life; the form forward shows how with the approach of modernity the reign of historicity and changeability sets in. The form on the surface is the description of contemporary postclassical life and absence of value systems. Very amusing that in contemporary  life they all exist together. The postclassical way of life expressed as life on the surface does not at all prevail in the whole of Europe; it only expands and gathers strength. It depends on superficial modernization and globalization.

            The most typical contemporary life form in the Baltic states is forward though just like throughout Western Europe we more and more often find ourselves on the surface.

            Classical life form manifests itself as a life form upward that gradually transforms into the life form forward. From Modern times through the Enlightenment up to the end of the XIX century or in another version – up to the start of World War I. Many stances that gain strength in Modern times have their roots in the antique culture and medieval times.

            Postclassical life form or modernity manifests itself as a life form on the surface. This life form is subdivided into two stages:

a) modernism (from the turn of the XX century to the end of World War II);

 b) postmodernism or other modernism (from the sixties of the XX century up to our day). It is characterized not only by loss of spiritual values but much more - by pragmatical and utilitarian pursuit of material goods and pleasures.

             Classical times are based on the form upward that characterizes a hierarchy with the Absolute at the top. The Absolute as perfection, the absolutely beautiful, good and genuine can also be called God. Even if we do not attribute religious characteristics to God, in God as in principle [idea of perfection, ideal sphere, aim] we may discern the top of the hierarchy. While there exist hierarchy of values that can be reached trying to overcome one’s self and the somber prose of life the glance upward will unite people. One can aspire to God, truth, transcendence, the beautiful, good, superhuman, and etc. In the classical life form people have a system of ranking based on a stable understanding of values. There is always something that is more valuable and something else – less valuable. Ethics isn't beyond good and evil, it is based on clarity of moral concepts. It is difficult to change this hierarchy of values because it is directed towards firmness and stability. Glances are turned upward, hands pointing upward, churches towering towards the sky. There is a centre and a centripetal force. It is impossible not to understand that good cannot be evil and evil cannot be good. Truth does not emerge from history, memory or testimony. Truth isn't changable narrative or pluralistic discourse. It is not relative; it is absolute. Only the most heretical and villainous representatives of mankind can praise Satan and it is incredible that they do not see him as evil incarnate. In the life form upward there is a centre, borders, main tendency. Order means repetition and predictability.

             In the life form on the surface, in its turn, disorder (the representatives of the form, though, do not call it that) is regularity and order – an exception. Eternity is one of the principal concepts of the classics. Changeability – that of the post-classics. When wishing to admit that something in human life is indisputable, stable and of high value, “eternity” is the word to use. He, she will live forever. Nowadays it does not mean – in peace and unchangeable. Eternity is now grasped as perfection of the flow of time, a glimpse of heroism, not as a phenomenon beyond time. The higher place in a hierarchy one occupies the greater his inherent striving for perfection. Upward does not mean a position, but direction and diligence.

             Ideas about Virtue ethics correspond much more to the life form upward but is isn't so easy to implement this life form at the contemporary societies and to withstand the attack of consumer society, the cult of things, the media manipulations, neoliberalism, fast time pressing and money temptations.

            In the course of centuries in European culture there appears a tendency “to overthrow” the hierarchical, upward inclined vector and replace it by a horizontal one. History shows that the change of life form does not occur simultaneously in all the spheres: at times it has a more pronounced manifestation in political processes, at times in art, economy or architecture. Since the end of the XIX century almost all the hierarchies in Europe have been affected. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s aphorism “God is dead” gives the synopsis that the vertical (at the top of which for such a long time used to be God) is finally downcast and life forms start attesting horizontal – coexistence – relationships. Philosophy started to look for a new foundations of ethics avoiding pure structures, transcendental subject, metaphysical heights. Experience, practice, bodily feelings, power and human relationships in communication come to the forefront.

            From the XIX century European middle class life style is carried away by evolution, increase, profit, achievements and amount. At that time “duty and adventure is one and the same thing.”Economy and the bustle in social sphere drive contemporary life forward. In the life form forward each thing has its time not so important to have a place (that it also has, of course). Only visible things (those within your practical horizon) have their time, the invisible (transcendental) ones have (if have) eternity. Traditional values started to be perceived as "old" in difference with new strivings, ideology of "New". Now the things capture their time, essence depending on its ability to expand, to be changable and always new. Fulfillment is found in time, not in the stability and traditional values.

            The word “time” appears in the titles of newspapers, books, in the names of parties and in advertisements. The tempo of life accelerates, demands grow; production and marketing capacities expand. Time turns into fast time; space shrinks. Stay-at-homes turn into travellers. Money becomes the universal measure for everything that can and cannot be measured. The words “development”, “career”, “the social role”, “wealth” belong to the repertory of the new “sacred writings”. It should be admitted that this form of life after the Second World War has been beneficial in many respects – prosperity is enjoyed, the states undertake social care, everybody is entitled to elementary education, science development is observed. The majority of contemporary Europeans live striving forward. Forward supposes normativism in ethics, rapid historical change of value systems. Man is perceived as a totality of functions. Society is ruled by utilitarism, pragmatism and functionality. The stance itself that the new must be followed by something still newer is the life form instituted by the philosophy of Modern times that has taken deep roots in contemporary culture. The word “new” is “sacred” in a profane sense. It has taken the place of the unchangeable Absolute because it is a concentration of changes, negation, development, i.e., the totality of all the feelings and values that Modern times directed against medieval times to abolish perfection, peace, stability and eternity. One might say that the word “development” is a social and pedagogical duplicate of the word “new”. That, as mentioned before, helps to profane the Christian value of “hope”. Development is a victory over the present just like hope is a victory over the present and a project of the future. However, if hope is an emotionally existential feeling (in Christianity it is made into the greatest value by the promise of life after death), then development is to a greater extent directed towards what is happening outside man’s existential feelings: production, society, legislation, programmes and etc. develop. The magical word - “new” – is the key to the contemporary period; and at the same time it is also a scare. The XXI century Western society changes (in all spheres: thinking, norms, ideas and etc.) are briefly to be characterized by one stance: move forward, away from the Absolute. This stance determines the way of thinking be it about the truth, norms, conscience, the beautiful, the essence and eternity or honour, strength and power. You can still manage to acquire what you have not yet acquired; you can try to retrieve what you have lost. It is the form forward that mostly characterizes modern capitalism as a contemporary way of life.

        Contemporary man understands this form of life very well because he/she himself/herself to a great extent lives in it. On the “horizontal vector” strict hierarchy is no more prevalent, but it is not yet lost altogether. Yet, the hierarchical relations are formed differently. They are not given; they come to be. The one who is steadier is of greater value. In this life form value is created, if we can say so, by place in time that is given by “the presence of the past” or, to quote Max Weber, by the accumulated past. Every event has its prehistory. The accumulated past is not the reason for what is going on, but the basis for the present. Therefore it is possible to look for the place of traditional values but they never can occupy the central place in development.

            There is a great difference from the hierarchical system in the fact that the value arrangement is forever changing; it is never stable. It demands attestation. The value arrangement is not given but, as the philosophers say, set as a task. It must be ever attested, every day fighting for one’s place in time, not just existing. In this life form one can see the spirit of capitalism challenging to competition, demanding stability and failing to give “life insurances” in the hurly-burly of life changes. On the horizontal line events have a fairly even grouping. Their hierarchical arrangement is changeable, however, it should be fought for. Victory is stimulated by circumstances, constant evaluation of the situation and the ability to change. This life form uncovers the origins of the ideas of liberal democracy on equality as opposed to fixed hierarchy.

        The time-oriented life form saturates everything with the feeling of historicity. It is not for nothing that the XIX century is said to be a century of historical perception. History is formed by masses and energy. In a way it is not yet over although the wars of the XX century made one revalue history failing to see progress in it. History without the story of progress is a chaotic history for then it has no principles that would arrange the events in a definite value system.

        Life without the story of progress is the beginning of the end to the life form forward. If in the life form upward man’s fundamental feelings are thoughts about eternity, then in the life form forward a similar role is played by “progress” or its milder expression – “development”.

            Considering the contemporary situation the French sociologist Alain Touraine states: “We no longer believe in progress.”

            That is a sign that the next form heaves in sight, still more contemporary – life on the surface. At the second half of the XX century and today life form on the surface deeply change the value systems. The triumph of the body is strikingly manifested in the extreme forms of art, in the media, in communication. Desires of the body become more important than the power of reason and spirit. Emotional experience overshadows cultivation of human deepest spiritual feelings. The public merges with the private. Medicine, cosmetic industry and pharmacology help to control the body. The ideals of classical ethics many times are regarded old-fashioned, and the norms – discriminating. There is no centre of spiritual activity; one can sooner speak of centrifugal and intercrossing tendencies creating modern and ultra-modern things, a fast and restless life. The postclassical form is characterized by stances defying totality, universal values, historical regularities, man’s nature and essence, objectivity of knowledge and one truth. There appears a skeptical attitude towards the concept of genuine, good and beautiful; high culture is not separated from mass culture, the elitist is not taken to be the peak of culture, a tendency towards relativism appears, plurality and indefiniteness are welcome. Tomorrow is perceived as today only offering more opportunities.

            It is the necessity to oppose the nihilistic and pluralistic tendencies that could have lent classics stamina to survive. Although in many European cultural niches classical life forms continue to exist, it must be admitted that modernity times based on postclassical stances are inevitably on the march in global developed societies. If there is one principal mark to characterize modernity, then it is the power of aestheticizing. “The life of imagination and the life of activity is one and the same thing. Imagination and activity develop simultaneously and intermingle.” The creation of one’s mind becomes a reality that is at times frightful and at times quite pleasing. The aesthetic does no longer mean beautiful, but rather visually observable, demonstrable that could be more often than not outstandingly ugly and even repugnant. Culture turns into a culture of aesthetical showing off. It stimulates to lose virtues in social life today.

            We can summarize: it starts as a road beyond ethics. If morals are retained, then only on condition that they help to assign to the event a postclassical sense, not evaluate it. Thirst for freedom turns into freedom of buying and adventure, egoism, denying of communal needs. It is characteristic that the most active supporters of the postclassical period standpoints are modern art, literature and the media.

            The narratives have a special role to play in postclassical societies. Just like formerly myths they justify a definite way of thinking, the existence of norms, legislation and social institutions. If there is fight for self-assertion, it is possible for a short time only. As the prominent popular artist Andy Warhol once said: everyone can be famous for fifteen minutes. Contemporary media confirm that.

            In the life form on the surface differences are all. You cannot form strategies basing on differences, that is why there aren’t any. There is no concept of progress, and the concept of development is doubtful, too. The highest idea of unity can be expressed in words: Let’s unite in being different! So why cherish naïve hopes for higher and deeper unity. This way of life arises from the postclassical form that has lost all touch with the Absolute, norms, the ideal and history as a universal process. The postclassical life form does not further belief in an ordered historical flow of time. Paul Virilio says: “We are switching over from extensive historical time to intensive time that is characterized by moments without history. The world is in a hurry. Speed is the world’s age. The speed that has now taken over time is only a hallucination, destruction of any territory, of any chronology. Uncertainty in man’s life is similar to the contemporary physicists’ conclusions about the uncertainty observed in the microcosm when trying to fix the position of a particle. A characteristic approach is fragmentation. Traditional values and virtues cannot find the place. There are no methods and means how to implement them. Everything in the world is divided and disconnected, examined in parts and fragments.

            The postclassical life form does not crave for unity or integrity. It is accompanied by turning against all kind of authorities, norms or canons. Prejudices and traditions are precluded. Change and mockery have their day. The postclassical life form combines irony, uncertainty, fragmentation and absence of selfness alongside with canon negation. The comical mood is in keeping with the perception of the absurd. Violent disorder, laughter, brightness and destruction are cultivated. Slight impudence triumphs over portly seriousness, resplendent naughtiness throws into confusion the traditional stiffness. Those who take life easy imagine themselves grand. However, life presents much more serious bills when you can’t get away with lies, pretense, irony and light-mindedness. As Western philosophy has not stopped reminding the conclusion of life is death in front of which neither property, fame or imagined grandness make any sense. The life form on the surface does not foresee a serious confrontation with death because life is a chain of unforeseeable events and death is a chance event just like all the others.

            The turn of culture towards a secularized life in some ways makes the thoughts about sin, blame and sense easier, leaving the centre of gravity of the thoughts, however, for the moment when the inevitable is imminent. A whirl of prosperous and merry life carnival only at times stops to remind one of horror, senselessness and absurdity.

        You can experience the life carnival only if you are involved in it; irony can be grasped if it hits you. It is important to take part, to be involved. Man is being involved in everything – in the process of literature, in deciphering the symbolism of the cinema, politics, a street brawl and etc. The world perception models, life styles, art modes, kinds of political activity – everything is being construed. It is a process of moving from at one time accepted single truth and the created unchangeable world towards a variety of truths, world emergence and polemic versions of it. That is why the postclassical life form is intensely pictorial, exotic and unreal (virtual). To the forefront is brought something that has never been hidden, yet has seldom been noticed. Contemporary fashion exhibits the navel that had previously not been specially hidden. Now it has been driven out in the forefront of body signs.

        The world is full of signs; they are used to denote bodies, things and events. Living in the world of signs we seldom encounter reality; we keep playing with ourselves afraid of being too serious, united, whole and unchangeable. Traditional values are looking too much serious, virtues - old fassioned. In the postclassical life form there exists a maximum belief in pluralism in all its possible manifestations. The piano is hit with a hammer, sculptures are made of butter and  “heroes” of sex appeal are placed in front of the church.

  The life form on the surface does not fit any definite scheme because it breaks down all schemes including those referring to it. Western Europe has experienced political liberation, colonial liberation, sexual liberation, women liberation, youth liberation, instinctive passion liberation and art liberation. In life everything is liberated, as it were. Baudrillard calls it a state of simulation in which we can only play out different scenarios because actually they have already taken place. Postclassical people live in an image and dream world that is behind us but which we are trying with, as it were, predestined indifference to produce. 


            Life on the surface flourishing beginning with the second half of the XX century causes dislike among representatives of different civilizations and religions which prefer moral stability and harmony. Question about the meaning of virtue ethics today can be interpreted at the wider context - of the different life forms. Alasdair MacIntyre writes in his "After Virtue" that the best form of human life in which the virtues is most adequately embodied, is based on the human community directed towards the achievement of common goods. Common goods are not possible at the life form on the surface. It mostly corresponds to the life form upward with the universal values and are realized at the life form forward if it isn't overloaded with relativism and utilitarism. I have sympathy for the life form upward and I am going sharply criticize post-modern life form on the surface. If contemporary philosophers are interested to found basis for virtues in social life today they have to be directed to the more intensive critique of the life form on the surface.

Riga, Latvia, May 23, 2012



Scientific degree: Dr. habil. phil., professor, director


Full member of the Latvian Academy of sciences (Riga) and European academy of sciences and arts (Salzburg)

Place of work and position: University of Latvia, Faculty of history and philosophy; Institute of philosophy and sociology, Riga, Latvia

professor, director of the Institute;

FISP CD member (International Association of Philosophical Societies, member of Director's Committee)

head of the FISP Committee for Philosophical cooperation and philosophical encounter

Ievietots: 20.06.2012
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