Anti-Philosophy

‘Philosophy’ has always been bunk, 5: Try literature instead

Wisdom is not some kind of objective knowledge arrived at by logic, mathematics or science, that can be argued, and demonstrated to other people for them to agree with, and that students can write down in their lectures.  (Perhaps that’s more an argument against science being applied to human matters, than against philosophy.) Some people are satisfied that they have gained Wisdom by sitting in class and writing down the science that other people have produced.   Gaining wisdom requires another kind of intelligence which perhaps can be called ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concreteness of Human Life’ (see previous posts here and here.)  Philosophy hasn’t got it, nor has science.  To understand the self, one’s own and those of others, needs a mind with mental faculties other than those of logic, mathematics and science.  What are these faculties? In my search I have looked at such conceived-of faculties as ‘Imagination’, ‘Intuition’, ‘Inspiration from the gods’, ‘the Autonomous and Supernatural nature of our Selves’, ‘Experience of Living’.  Or perhaps simply a  je ne sais quoi!  One can imagine philosophers making mince-meat of all these ideas The best I have found so far is ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concreteness of human life’, which F.R.Leavis had applied in fact to what literature provides. To add to these terms, that Leavis had applied to what Literature had got, here is Keats’s concept of ‘Negative Capability’:  He criticized Coleridge for putting the idealistic philosophy of his day into his poetry.  Keats recommended being content to live in the world of the senses, and not try to ferret out the ‘fundamental truth’ of things ‘by step by step reasoning’.   Keats called his rejection of truth-seeking, ‘Negative Capability'(from here).  That’s a pretty good term to add to ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concreteness of human life’.   And here is a passage that states something very obvious about all fictional or poetic literature:  “Homer begins his huge epic poem Iliad with the ‘rage of Achilles’. It is emotional from the very first words, and cares little about finding out the secrets of the physical world, and is much more interested in delving into the secrets and the darkness in men’s hearts.”  (The passage comes from a site, perhaps from E.R. Dodds, but I can’t now trace which one.) It does help too to have seen a bit of life, led a bit of life, of the low life, of danger, of risk, of things crashing about one’s head. It helps too to be educated by the reading of literature which broadens and deepens the mind by taking one into the innermost feelings and motivations of fictional characters.  But how on Earth can Education and Wisdom come by way of made-up stories containing no theoretical thought?  (And it has been said, I cannot trace where now, that  for the writng of Literature, it helps not to be an intellectual.)   Leavis said that literature creates human life in its concrete particulars, see here.  That’s the best I’ve got at the moment.  I think the mind is also educated by History and by an understanding of Religion.    So, for coming to Wisdom, to an understanding of oneself and of others, one does base oneself on experience (in real life and in literature).  Therefore one could say one is being ’empiricist’. But, for me, this empirical truth that I have tentatively reached, then has to ring true within me for me to feel it to be really trueI have to feel it and touch it within me.  Even then it is only provisional, and one has to go on receiving experiences.  It is very strange this ‘having to ring true inside one’ as a first test for truth — for knowledge about the self, for human sensibility to human life.  It’s not the sort of thing that philosophers mention.  Being well-read Sixty years ago it was still the done thing to be ‘well-read’, which meant having read the great novels, mainly of the 19th century.   I don’t expect this is so today. Being well read is for me basic to becoming educated and not a nerd, yet I don’t know why (also mentioned here).  It is a mystery, something to do with the broadening of one’s experience and one’s mind by the use of words and by the exploring and understanding of human character.  And all of this comes out of the inexplicable gifts of the novelist for creating stories and characters that never were!  I also have a taste for the landscapes and seascapes they create through their words.  (I wrote that paragraph before reading Leavis on ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concrete wholeness’ of human life and in literature, see here.) I once went to the home of someone absorbed in Philosophy, especially ethics.  He gave lectures on it, got up on his hind-legs at meetings and churned it out, smiling as he did so as if heroically virtuous, and later founded annual lectures on it.  In his home, his shelves were crowded with books on social and human sciences.  I groaned.  I felt there was nothing human in his home or in his mind.  People like that think that learning ethics and speaking ethics makes them good — and then this same degree of intellectual ethicalism helps justify them in their hypocrisies while happily unaware of them.  He was an unsophisticated sort of chap who’d never led a life, or read a decent novel. I now know that what I was objecting to was ‘a lack of sensibility to the the concrete wholeness of human life’.  Human life is what worthwhile literature creates, (see here).  It creates an unabstracted wholeness of life, even though it’s only on the page. Philosophy gives us  the rationalistic immaturity of bright schoolboys, the abstracted, reductionized Philosophy and science of the last 2500 years! I looked up here what was taught at the universities when they were founded in the Middle Ages.  It amounted to arithmetic, geometry, astronomy (including astrology), music theory, rhetoric, logic, grammar, law and ‘science’.  I groaned.  Even then, it was a rationalistic training, plus what was needed for social success.  

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