Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963)
Aldous Leonard Huxley was born in Godalming, England and died in Los Angeles. The Huxley family was at the center of the literary and philosophical scene in England at the time. His grandfather was the famous biologist, T. H. Huxley, who introduced Darwin’s theory of evolution to the public and coined the word “agnostic” to describe someone who is neutral about the existence of God. His mother, who graduated with a “First” in English Literature at Oxford in 1882, was a niece of the poet/essayist Matthew Arnold who focused on the crisis caused by the decline of religion as a moral foundation for society. His two older brothers, Julian and Andrew, both became distinguished biologists. Aldous planned to follow in their footsteps, but, while studying at Eaton, he became partially blind, which put an end to his plans for a scientific career. Despite his handicap, he obtained a scholarship to Oxford where, reading with the aid of a magnifying glass and eye drops, he studied English literature. He published his first book of poems, The Burning Wheel, in 1916, the year he graduated from Oxford. During this period, he also regularly attended the gatherings of a diverse gathering of progressive writers and intellectuals including the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell, writer Virginia Woolf, writer and poet T.S. Eliot, the controversial critic Clive Bell, and writer D.H. Lawrence, who became a lifelong friend of Huxley, at Garsington Manor, the home of socialite, and Bertrand Russell’s longtime lover, Lady Ottoline Morrell. Early in his career, Huxley became interested in Indian spirituality as an alternative to the Western rational scientific progressive world view. He is most famous for his dystopian social science fiction novel, Brave New World, which shows this Indian influence in its exploration of the conflicts between science, technology, and reason on the one hand, and religion, spirituality and morality on the other. The work is generally seen as prophetic in its anticipation of powerful psychological means of control by dictatorial governments, in vitro fertilization, genetic cloning, and virtual reality. After graduating from Oxford, Huxley taught at Eaton for a few years, where one of his inspired students, Eric Blair, later went on to write his own dystopian social science fiction novel titled 1984 under the pseudonym, “George Orwell.” In one of those striking historical coincidences, Huxley’s death went largely unnoticed because he died on the same day that John Kennedy was assassinated.
In his early period, Huxley published four novels that satirise the British society and conventional morality of his day. These angered some of his Garsington friends, especially Lady Ottoline, who never forgave him for his parody of her.
Brave New World (1932) signals the beginning of a new darker direction for Huxley. The novel is set in London in 2540 where babies, technologically designed to fill roles of a rigid castes society, are produced on assembly lines, the social and economic divide between the haves and the have-nots is legally enforced and people are controlled by advertising, drugs, sex and entertainment. The novel’s anticipation of new forms of dictatorship including drugs and other psychological means of control, in vitro fertilization, genetic cloning, and virtual reality is widely seen as prophetic. Huxley’s vision is in a sense darker than Orwell’s vision in 1984. Whereas Orwell worried whether one would be allowed to think freely, Huxley envisages a society in which people are psychologically conditioned by governments to not even want to do so.
In 1936 Huxley published his novel, Eyeless in Gaza, which displayed his growing interest in Eastern philosophy and mysticism. During this period, he began his long association with the Vedanta Society. Huxley’s interest in mysticism led to his experiments with the hallucinogenic drug mescaline, chronicled in his 1954 non-fiction work, The Doors of Perception. When the famous (or infamous) Harvard professor, Timothy Leary (“Tune in, turn on, drop out!”), who became the most visible proponent in the United States of the use of hallucinogenic drugs as a means to spiritual enlightenment, read The Doors of Perception, he set up a meeting with Huxley and the two became long time friends. Leary argues that The Doors of Perception can be seen as part of the history of entheogenic model that sees such hallucinogenic drugs within a spiritual context (alongside, for example, the peyote extracted from a certain kind of cactus and used by some Native American tribes to induce spiritual visions).
In 1955 Huxley published a set of essays titled Brave New World Revisited, in which he argues that his predictions in Brave New World have, alarmingly, largely come true. His last novel, The Island (1962), takes a more hopeful look at some of the themes raised in Brave New World.
Huxley first visited India with his wife, Maria, in 1925, and found himself both fascinated and disgusted at his first exposure to raw Indian culture. However, even before this, the imagery in his first youthful book, The Burning Wheel, is reminiscent of the Buddhist wheel of becoming. The influence of Indian spirituality can also be seen in his 1927 essay “The Essence of Religion” and his 1929 essay “Spinoza’s Worm.” The five castes in Brave New World, Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons mirror the five castes in Indian culture, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishyas, Sudras and Harijans. The name of the drug used by the state in Brave New World to control the population, “soma,” is a Vedic Sanskrit word that refers to a plant of disputed identity that provides a hallucinogenic extract for use in Ancient Indian religious ceremonies. In his later work, Island, the intoxicating substance used on the island is called “moksha medicine,” “moksha” being a Sanskrit word that means liberation (from the cycle of death and rebirth).
In his last novel, Island, Huxley describes a peaceful utopian society in a remote secluded island, Pala, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean whose basic principles of education, agriculture, economics and politics are modeled on certain values of Mahayana Buddhism. Huxley explores the clash between the Western and Palanese inhabitants of Pala in order to contrast the destructive consequences of Western greed, materialism and militarism with the Buddhist pursuit of self-improvement, knowledge and spiritual enlightenment.
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.
Huxley did not simply reject Western ideas in favor of Indian ones. In his later period, he remarked that it was his aim to “make the best of both Eastern and Western worlds. “Brave New World displays what would happen if the Western world, realizing that its confident belief in continual progress had not worked out as expected, were to implement Eastern ideas (e.g., the caste system) without understanding them, and papering over the lack of spiritual depth by employing foreign technologies. As Watt (1971) puts it, the moral seems to be that the “way to enlightenment consists, not of some remote visitation from the sky, from outside the self,” e.g., is, from some foreign technology, “but rather of tilling the soil of one’s individual soul.”
Huxley’s friend and spiritual advisor, the Vedic monk Swami Prabhavanada, claims that Huxley’s belief in the use of hallucinogenic drugs as a path to spiritual enlightenment can be accused of using the same kind of technological substitute for genuine enlightenment that Huxley himself implicitly condemns in Brave New World. That is, Huxley is inconsistent insofar as in Brave New World drugs are used as an instrument of tyranny but in The Doors of Perception and Island drugs are used as an instrument of “liberation” (wisdom in a pill).
Similarly, the Jewish religious philosopher, Martin Buber, rejected Huxley’s view that mescaline enables a person to participate in “common being” with others because it actually transports a person to a “strictly private sphere”. The recourse to such drugs is merely the “fugitive flight out of the claim of the situation into the situationlessness [that] is no legitimate affair of man.”
Finally, the Oxford professor Robert Charles Zaehner published an article in 1954 titled “The Menace of Mescalin” in which he argues that the artificial interference with consciousness cannot produce genuine religious experiences but only what Pahnke and Richards call “experimental mysticism”. In his 1957 book, Mysticism Sacred and Profane, Zaehner turns turns the tables on Huxley and argues that the kind of experience one has upon taking such drugs is dependent on the religious views one already has. Since Huxley is already influenced by Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism he will have vivid drug induced experiences that express those prior beliefs. If one is a Christian, or even an atheist, the same drugs will lead one to have experiences appropriate to those beliefs. In other words, hallucinogenic drugs do not lead one to spiritual enlightenment but only produce vivid experiences that amplify one’s prior beliefs.
The Burning Wheel, B.H. Blackwell, 1916 Available at Project Gutenberg.URL: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/47912/47912-h/47912-h.htm
The Collected Poetry of Aldous Huxley. Chatto and Windus, 1971
Chrome Yellow. The Floating Press, 2011
Antic Hay. Aegitas, 2021
Those Barren Leaves. Vintage, 2005
Point Counter Point. HarperPerennial Classics, 2014
Brave New World. Prabhat Prakashan, 2020
Eyeless in Gaza. McClelland & Stewart, 2019
After Many a Summer. Random House, 2015
Time Must Have a Stop. Random House, 2015
Ape and Essence. HarperPerennial Classices, 2014
The Genius and the Goddess. HarperPerennial Classics, 2014
Island, HarperPerennial Classics, 2014
Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics. Chatto and Windus, 1956
The Perennial Philosophy. McClelland & Stewart, 2014
Aldous Huxley: Selected Letters. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 2007
The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Random House, 2010
Brave New World Revisited. Random House, 2008
Moksha: Aldous Huxley’s Classic Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience. Inner Traditions/Bear, 1999
The Human Situation: Lectures at Santa Barbara. A Cass Canfield Book, 1959
The Politics of Ecology: The Question of Survival. Center for Democratic Institutions, 1963
What are you going to do about it?The Case for Constructive Peace. Fb&c Limited, 2017
“Who are we?” (To the Vedanta Society, 1955). URL: http://www.gemstone-av.com/WAW.htm
Note: Huxley published some 47 articles for Vedanta and the West and was involved in the production of five screenplays including Pride and Prejudice and Jayne Eyre. These and other Huxley works are listed in Wikipedia. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldous_Huxley_bibliography
There is a useful free online collection of many of Huxley’s works at fadedpage.com. URL: https://www.fadedpage.com/csearch.php?author=Huxley%2C%20Aldous%20Leonard
“Aldous Huxley’s ‘Island’: An Even Braver New World?”, Daily Philosophy. April 29, 2021. URL: https://daily-philosophy.com/aldous-huxley-island/
Bloom, Harold. Aldous Huxley. Infobase Publishing, 2009
Bowering, Peter. Aldous Huxley: A Study of the Major Novels. A&C Black, 2014
Buber, Martin. The Knowledge of Man: Selected Essays. Martin Friedman, (ed.). Harper and Row, 1965
Murray, Nicholas. Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual, Hachette, UK, 2009
Pahnke, Walter & Richards, William. “Implications of LSD and experimental mysticism”. Journal of Religion and Health. Vol. 5. No. 1. (1966), 175-208
Richards, William A. “Entheogens in the Study of Religious Experiences: Current Status”, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 44. No. 4. (2005), 377-389
Richards, William A. “Here and Now: Discovering the Sacred with Entheogens”. Zygon. Vol. 49. No. 3. Pp. 652-665
Shipley, Morgan. “A Necessary but not a Sufficient Condition”, Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural”, Penn State University Press. Vol. 3, No. 2 (2014), 367-400
Tufts, Carey. “Siddhartha Savage: The Importance of Buddhism in Huxley’s Brave New World”. Master’s Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 2006.URL: https://harvest.usask.ca/bitstream/handle/10388/etd-08042006-145303/c_tufts.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Watt, Donald, (ed.).The Collected Poetry of Aldous Huxley. Harper and Row, 1971
Watt, Donald, (ed.) Aldous Huxley: The Critical Heritage.Psychology Press, 1997
Zaehner, Robert Charles. “The Menace of Mescaline”. New Blackfriars. Vol. 35. URL: https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/wiley/the-menace-of-mescalin-lM02TyNuC3
Zaehner, Robert Charles. Mysticism, Sacred and Profane: An Inquiry into Some Varieties of Praeternatural Experience. Oxford University Press, 1969
Author citation information:
<Richard, McDonough,“Aldous Huxley,” ODIP: The Online Dictionary of Intercultural Philosophy (2012), Thorsten Botz-Bornstein (ed.), URL = <www.Odiphilosophy.com/huxley>.
The Philosophy of
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick
Herman Melville, the famous American short story writer, novelist, and poet, was born in 1819 in New York City and died in 1891. He produced numerous literary works, including his romantic accounts of life in Polynesia titled Typee (1846) and Omoo (1947), The Piazza Tales (1857) and The Confidence Man (1857), and his most famous work, Moby-Dick, in 1851. His “metaphysical” work, Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, was published in 1876. His novella, Billy Budd, another masterpiece, a “morality tale” and psychological study about an angelic young sailor, Billy, whose innocence, charm and popularity arouses jealousy and leads to his downfall and hanging, was unfinished at his death but was later completed by his widow and others. When Melville’s father, a merchant, went bankrupt and died suddenly, Herman, the third of seven children, about 15 years old at the time, had to drop out of school to help support the family. He worked as a teacher, helper on his uncle’s farm, and clerk at a local bank. During this time, however, he read extensively in mythology, anthropology and history, but was especially fascinated by Shakespeare’s magnificent poetry. He also learned at this time of the thrilling true story of the whaling ship Essex attacked and sunk by a giant whale in the South Seas in 1820.
In 1839, Melville took his first sea voyage as a cabin boy on a merchant ship. A year later, he joined the crew of the whaling vessel Acushnet in January of 1841. After a year and a half on the Acushnet, he and a fellow seaman were captured by cannibals in the Marquesas Islands, who, Melville said, treated him well, and lived with them for about a time until he was rescued by an Australian whaling ship, the Lucy Ann. He travelled on the Lucy Ann to Tahiti where he and another crew member committed mutiny. He was briefly jailed, but escaped and travelled to the nearby island Eimeo where he worked on a potato farm. Uninspired by potato farming, he joined the whaling ship Charles and Henry as a harpooner. When the Charles and Henry anchored in Maui Island 5 months later, he worked as a clerk and a bookkeeper in a general store in Honolulu. In August of 1843 he enlisted in the United States navy and worked as a seaman on the navy ship United States as it sailed around the Pacific. In October of 1844, Herman returned to his mother’s house to write about his adventures. His first manuscript, Typee, in which Tommo, the narrator, is captured by cannibals in the South pacific Marquesas Islands, was rejected by publishers because they could not believe the story. It was later published to favourable reviews in London where it was seen to explore the relationship by a New Englander and an exotic foreign culture. The modest financial success of his early works enabled him to marry Elizabeth “Lizzie” Shaw, the daughter of a prominent Boston family, in 1847. His best-known work, Moby-Dick, inspired by the true story of the Essex, was not well-received in the United States, but was slightly better received in England. The great American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, impressed by an early manuscript of Moby-Dick, became a lifelong friend and gave Melville much encouragement. There have been somewhat speculative claims of a homoerotic relationship between Melville and Hawthorne, and there are definite homoerotic passages in Moby-Dick, usually in the form of humour. After the disappointment of Moby-Dick’s reception, and the tragic early deaths of several of his children, and difficulties in his marriage due to financial problems and his drinking, Melville battled depression, obscurity, and financial ruin. A trip to Europe to visit Hawthorne did little to lighten his depression. Melville toured from 1857 to 1860 giving lectures on a wide range of topics associated with his adventures before moving back to New York where, believing himself a failure, he worked as a customs inspector on the New York docks until his death. However, many scholars now see Moby-Dick as the quintessential American novel and one of the great literary works of all time. Moby-Dick, written by a man who never finished high school, is now on virtually every high school reading list in the United States and is celebrated around the world. Many of Melville’s other works are also now recognized as masterpieces.
Although, on the surface, the novel is about the battle between a whaling ship, the Pequod, and a giant malevolent white whale, the language in Moby-Dick, is deeply symbolical. Numerous philosophers are mentioned, including Pythagoras, Plato, Pyrrho, Cato, Aristotle, Seneca and the Stoics, Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Kant and Burke. The novel explores metaphysics, cosmology, good and evil, race, class, social status, and the human psyche. It can do all these things simultaneously because Moby-Dick advances the ancient microcosmic doctrine, inherited from Pythagoras and Plato, the view that all living organisms, including human beings and whales, are miniature copies of the entire cosmos. Thus, to explore the nature of the universe is at the same time to explore the nature of the human soul and human society for these are all images of each other. Since the whale is a living organism, it too is a microcosm of the whole universe, and, because identity is transitive, the nature of the whale is identical with human nature. Thus, the confrontation between the crew of the whaling ship and the giant malevolent whale symbolically represents the confrontation between human beings with their own mysterious darker malevolent selves. There is a curious complete absence of females in Moby-Dick. However, it is possible that the female principle is represented, as in the ancient Babylonian myths, by the sea itself (Tiamat). The sea, with its dark mysterious depths, also symbolizes the human psyche.
Since the crew of the Pequod is a motley collection of characters, including white New England Christians, Africans and Asians, representing a wide array of exotic religious beliefs, the Pequod is a “little world,” a microcosm of the entire human family. Since according to the microcosmic doctrine, all living organisms resemble the entire cosmos, they all also resemble each other. Moby-Dick explores this hidden microcosmic unity, transcending all the differences of culture, race, social status, and religion, between all these vastly different men aboard the Pequod and between all of them and the whole cosmos. The two most important characters in Moby-Dick are Ishmael, the spokesperson for the deepest values expressed in the novel, who at one-point hints that he has a New England Presbyterian background, and Queequeg, the savage tattooed harpoon-carrying Polynesian cannibal with whom Ishmael, initially reluctantly, shares a tiny bed. The name “Ishmael,” in Jewish, Christian and Muslim literature connotes an outcast and a wanderer. Ishmael was the first son of Abraham, not conceived by his barren wife Sarah, but by her Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar. Thus, Ishmael “shall be a wild donkey of a man” (Genesis 16:2). The novel explores the nature of the cosmos as it explores the relationship between these two very different “outsiders,” the Christian New Englander who calls himself “Ishmael” and the savage cannibal harpooner Queequeg, as they wander together, learning from each other, over the hazardous seas of life, searching to plumb the natures of the universe until the great white whale rises up out of the cosmic depths at the end of the novel and shatters their little human worlds.
Anderson, Mark. 2017. “Platonic and Nietzschean Themes of Transformation in Moby-Dick.” In Cory McCall and Tom Nurmi (eds), Melville among the Philosophers. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 25-44.
Arvin, Newton. Herman Melville. New York: Grove Press.
Bender, Bert. 1986. “Moby-Dick, An American Lyrical Novel. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. In Harold Bloom, (ed.). New York: Chelsea House, 97-106.
Cameron, Sharon. 1981. The Corporeal Self: Allegories of the Body in Melville and Hawthorne. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Conger, G.P. 1922. Theories of Macrocosmos and Microcosms in the History of Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.
Faulkner, William. (16 July, 1927). “[I Wish I Had Written That.].” The Chicago Tribune, 16 July 1927. Reprinted in Harrison, Parker, and
Hayford, Hershel. 1968. The Writings of Herman Melville. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Fish, Peter. 1987. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Hauppauge: Barrons Educational Series.
Kazin, Alfred. 2007. “Introduction to Moby-Dick.” In Harold Bloom, (ed.), Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. New York: Infobase, 7-18.
Lawrence, D.H. (1923). Studies in Classic American Literature. Reprinted London: Penguin Books.
Levine, Robert S. 2014. The New Cambridge Companion to Melville. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McDonough, Richard. 2010. “Plato: Organicism.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy URL: http://www.iep.utm.edu/platoorg/
——. 2018. “Melvilleʼs New Seafarerʼs Philosophy in Moby-Dick.” Athens Journal for Humanities and the Arts 6 (3): 211-234 URL: https://www.athensjournals.gr/humanities/2019-6-3-3-McDonough.pdf
Melville, Herman. 1976. The Portable Melville. Jay Leyda (ed.). New York: Penguin Books.
——. 1999. Moby Dick. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth.
——. 2017. Hayford, Harrison, Alma MacDougall, Robert Sandberg, Thomas G. Tanselle (eds). Billy Budd, Sailor, and other Uncompleted
Writings. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Novak, Frank. 1986, “The Metaphysics of Beauty and Terror in Moby-Dick.” In Harold Bloom, (ed.), Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. New York: Chelsea,
Nissim-Sabat, Marilyn, 2017. “Melville’s Phenomenology of Gender.” In McCall and Tom Nurmi (eds), Melville Among the Philosophers. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 129-148.
Sherrill, Roland. 1986. “The Career of Ishmael’s Self-Transcendence,” In Harold Bloom, (ed.), Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. New York: Chelsea,
Stookey Lorena. 2004, Thematic Guide to World Mythology. Santa Barbara: Greenwood.
Jacobson, Thorkild. 1968. “The Battle between Marduk and Tiamat.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1), 104-108.
Way, Brian. 1977. Herman Melville: Moby Dick. London: Edward Arnold.
West, Cornel. 2017. “A Time to Break the Philosophic Silencing of Melville.” In Cory McCall and Tom Nurmi, (eds), Melville Among the Philosophers. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 213-220.
Wright, Rosemary. 2013. Cosmology in Antiquity. London: Routledge.
There is a complete online edition of Moby-Dick at Project Gutenberg: URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/2701-h/2701-h.htm
There is a complete online edition of Billy Budd at Bibliomania. URL: http://www.bibliomania.com/0/0/36/1006/frameset.html
There are several of Melville’s works, including several commentaries on his works, at Project Gutenberg. URL: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Herman+Melville
There is a complete user-friendly online version of Clarel at URL: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Clarel
Author citation information:
<Richard, McDonough,“Aldous Huxley,” ODIP: The Online Dictionary of Intercultural Philosophy (2012), Thorsten Botz-Bornstein (ed.), URL = <www.Odiphilosophy.com/huxley>.