When I started reading interpretations of the great Philosophers of the Western World from Thales of Miletus onwards, I couldn’t believe they were really serious in expounding their logico-mathematical cogitations as Wisdom. I couldn’t hold what they seemed to be saying in my mind. This was stuff for bright schoolboys. Surely, I felt, they must be saying something higher and deeper, but which I was failing to get hold of.
But, when I dropped my worshipful attitude towards them, and also started to discover my own views, I started to realize that what they seemed to be saying was said in all seriousness. I started to understand what kind of minds they had.
The naivety of Philosophers on human life
I was shocked at how banal the examples from human life and speech were, that philosophers drew on to illustrate their questions and answers. But such examples are the only ones that the logico-mathematical mentality can think to work on. I’ll have to give examples as I come across them again.
Where for instance are the implicit, paradoxical, ironically playful subtleties and immoralities of language, intentional or otherwise, ill-understood by the speaker himself or herself? Where is the seeing of a bit of life, the living of a bit of life, of the low life, of experiencing people and oneself, of danger, of risk, of mortal danger, of things crashing about one’s head, strengthening one’s character, temperament and truthfulness with oneself, ultimately giving one Wisdom? All this passes them by.
I often couldn’t credit what the great philosophers like Descartes and Locke were saying. Their greatest dictums sounded so pedestrian, banal and naïve, that I felt I must be missing something.
I feel that my astonishment at what Philosophy amounts to, was more radical than what appears in the humanities versus sciences debate going on since the late 19th century, or in the rationalism versus romanticism debate, or in the thought versus life debate, or in the concrete versus abstract debate.
Is it Informal Logic?
Someone I knew of, who had switched from Theology to being a lecturer in Philosophy, said that philosophy is just Informal Logic. I don’t know whether this is exactly right, but sounds roughly as if it could be.
I felt they dealt in a nitpicking of logic with logic, a bending backwards to eat their own tails, some kind of weakness for obsessive logical certainty and completion that the human mind is prey to.
I wanted to say to them, ‘Just stop, stop, when you feel yourself slipping down this path, just break through and use language for what it was invented for!’ Language was created by Homo sapiens on the savannahs, and in the cave by the fire, and later in the streets and market-places. Language had already taken these problems of its own imperfections into account with a nod and a wink. Language has always been just a rough attempt to express what comes to us in our senses and in our feelings. Language already contained some wisdom before philosophers wiped it away with contempt and started logicking from the beginning using language.
I do believe that scientific method is the only way to knowledge of things that haven’t got selves, like gravity and the heavenly bodies. But it is a kind of knowledge (such as that water is H2O) that detracts from our experience of the concrete wholeness of the thing (see an earlier post). I gasp at Science and at Mathematics, and at computers and mobile phones. My mind can’t even grasp today what Newton was writing in the 1690s. But to me it just isn’t Wisdom. I’m not interested in the sciences, though I depend for my life now on practical benefits such as dentistry, sewage disposal and computers.
Where can one find relief from the Western mind?
Are there others so alienated from the Western mind that they have always groaned with ennui at everything offered them because it was somehow dead and worthless?
A paper that advanced my daring a couple of years ago was “A Genealogy of the Western Rationalist Hegemony” which apparently can now be found here, here, and here. The author was better able to understand and aim shots at the philosophers than I was, but he then recommended some kind of occult and futuristic alternatives. So it was for me another kind of wrong-headedness. But he was the nearest I could at that time find to a Criticism of Philosophy. Leavis’s ‘lack of human sensibility to human life’ was better, although he didn’t mean it as a dismissal of Philosophy.
I tried the Existentialists, but couldn’t quite credit what they seemed to say. They started off well by saying that Philosophy had never been to do with human life. (But they themselves had the kind of minds capable of absorbing this Philosophy’s 2500 years of logico-mathematical thinking). What then made them ‘Existentialists’, it seems, was their momentous discovery that Man is different from a concept! (You don’t say!) Their discovery was that a person comes into existence first and then makes something of himself! while a concept has to have an essence first before coming into existence!
(Apparently ‘Essentialism’ refers to Plato’s discovery that a concept has to have an essence to come into existence at all.)
It seems to me to be a gross instance of lack of ‘human sensibility to human life’ on the part of the Existentialists to reduce human life to being on the same plane as ‘concept’, an idea in logic. I still can’t credit that this is really what the Existentialists were saying. Does it come under some gross kind of what philosophers themselves call a ‘Category Mistake’?