‘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.)

It requires another kind of intelligence which perhaps can be called Sensibility to Human Life, see previous post.    Philosophy hasn’t got it, nor has science. 

Some people are satisfied that they have gained Wisdom by sitting in class and writing down the science that other people have produced.  

To understand the self, one’s own and those of others, one needs a mind with mental faculties other than 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 just a je ne sais quoi!  One can imagine philosophers making mince-meat of all these ideas The best I can do at the moment is ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concreteness of human life’, see an earlier post.

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 it be that Education and Wisdom come by way of made-up stories containing no theoretical thought?   Leavis said that literature creates human life in its concrete particulars, see here.       I think the mind is also educated by History, Religion, and the Classics.

I am not convinced by Leavis’s high views on literature, but it’s the best I’ve got at the moment.

So, for coming 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 knowledge about the self, for human sensibility to human life.  It’s not the sort of thing that philosophers mention. 


Philosophers were the proto-scientists of ancient times, seeking objective knowledge of the universe by way of logicking.  And according to Wittgenstein, they were thereby misled into metaphysics (see here).  The scientists tried it later, but successfully, by way of their scientific method.  Even then, one still  doesn’t call science Wisdom. 


Keats 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’.  

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.)

I was impressed by a post from philosopher Christopher Norris, here.  It made me think that good philosophy of science, by warning scientists to stick to the empirical and to be careful with words, is relevant to modern physics.       As another post says: ‘Philosophy is epistemology applied to the scientific enterprise….’  Yes, perhaps that’s all philosophy is good for, which is already quite a lot in the modern world.


Logicking upwards from one or two certainties (or axioms?) like Descartes did, in order to gain knowledge or wisdom, and not to trust one’s senses, leads to absurdities.  I think Ayn Rand (who was otherwise an enthusiast for Philosophy) said that one only learns to mistrust one’s senses because one’s senses eventually tell one the truth.  To believe what comes to one by logicking, rather than by the senses, is crazy.  This applies to Parmenides just as much as to Descartes (from here). 

Philosophers have defined Man as ‘the rational animal’ in their sense that Man is able to do  logicking, mathematicking and scientificking. Our feelings, musings, memories, dreams, nostalgias, imaginations, motivations, ironies, deceptions and self-deceptions, hatreds and loves, longings for a life of life and of adventure etcetera seem not to come into it, even though they too are so much more developed than in animals.  So someone as schooboyish as Bertrand Russell becomes supreme Man.     Oi! 

I am a stickler for logic in ordinary communication, and get infuriated by people whose words make no sense after I have taken all the trouble to concentrate on them till the end.  But for philosophers to take logic further, onto one level of abstraction after another above concrete experience, in order to explain all kinds of things, is simply wrong-headed.   I am also a stickler for finding the right word, and I  admire self-knowledge and self-discipline.  None of these come from philosophers’ logicking or maths or science.  I do demand hard realism when it comes to our thinking on Man, not the sentimental words and melodies of some Romantics.

Philosophers’ philosophizing is of a kind and degree of rationality that cuts out human wisdom.  It is so ‘rationalistic’ that it becomes irrational.

Philosophers have a drivenness for logical neatness and conclusivity.  A truly rational person should rather shrug his shoulders at questions that are quite clearly beyond logicking, such as: What is the relation between the material brain and the immaterial mind? Philosophers think up ridiculous rationalizations for this problem such as epiphenomenalism and occasionalism.  Look these up; they are amazing.  Descartes himself in a letter late in his life (from here) wrote that ‘the union of mind and body is best understood by not thinking about it, and that it is just one of those mysteries that has to be accepted without being comprehended’.  Exactly!

From the beginning, philosophers have been grinning with the optimism that comes from confidence in Reason.  This rationalistic sense of life is seen also in scientists with their simple optimism in science.  

Religions, with all their misbeliefs and and horrors, are more intelligent about Man than Philosophy is.  They do at least deal with his lack of fulfilment, his sin, and his yearning for eternal life and for reward.


No Comments Found

Leave a Reply