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‘Philosophy’ has never been Wisdom. Chapter 1, Overview

My university course in Philosophy astonished me from the moment the professor first opened his lips.  It sounded like something from those schoolboys who are brilliant at mental arithmetic and at solving puzzles made of squiggly wire.  I couldn’t believe that was what Philosophy was. It certainly didn’t sound like Wisdom to me.

It was Wisdom, I thought, for people of rationalistic mind (using ‘rationalistic’ in the modern sense of logicking, mathematicking and scientificking).

I then read many sites on the Web.  I found that I had to pick sites written in language for non-philosophers because I couldn’t understand Philosophy written by philosophy seniors for philosophy juniors.

So, what follows in these chapters is outrageously derived from the sites I could read, though edited and paraphrased by myself.  They are the nearest I could get to understand Philosophy.

They have astonished me.  They have served to give me reasons why I have always felt astonishment at the wrong-headedness of philosophy.

For me, real Wisdom is a matter of human intelligence, of human sensibility to human life.  Philosophy by philosophy seniors for philosophy juniors didn’t remotely contain it.

 

‘Philosophy’ has always been by the wrong kind of mind, like those of precocious schoolboys who keep asking Why?  What it lacks is human intelligence, a human sensibility to human life.  (That last phrase, coined by Leavis for something else, is the best way of putting it that I could find.)

‘Philosophy’ is the product of the rationalistic mind occupied by logic, maths and science.  It is not Wisdom.

Philosophy may perhaps have been justified as a side-issue in Linguistics, as Russell and Wittgenstein said at one stage.  (But they themselves carried on philosophizing.)

To put it bluntly, ‘Philosophy’ has always been Bunk.

Philosophy has always been a confusion in words, and then using words to try to get out of it. The logicking that Philosophy consists of, always sounds to me so unsophisticated, uneducated, literal-minded and immature.  An intelligent, reasonable, rational stopping before the point of obsessive, schoolboy logicking is required.  It is the civilized mind that does this.

 

Here, down to the first horizontal line, is the nub:

Philosophy from its beginning in Ancient Greece has been the province of the rationalistic mind, which has always been absorbed in logic, usually in maths, and, as the centuries have passed, in science as well.

What it lacks is simply human intelligence, which is human sensibility to the concrete wholeness and irreducibility of human life.

This latter is the best wording I could find for what philosophers lack.  I lifted it from the F.R. Leavis of many decades ago, who perhaps got it from T.S. Eliot.  (Leavis applied it to what literature provides, rather than to what Philosophy lacks. He wasn’t himself against Philosophy; he saw it as another approach by another kind of mind.)

Philosophers have a vocabulary of their own, which sets them apart.  One can eventually begin to understand their earnestly rationalistic minds, and to re-express this vocabulary in less abstract, more concrete terms, but it is a long job.  (Even the words ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ have difficult meanings in philosophy which I doubt I have grasped.)

 

Some people in Ancient Greece took the fateful first step of seeing Wisdom as consisting of logicking and mathematics; and their successors added science.  They called it Reason, and they were called Philosophers.

The Birth of Philosophy was in some ways a regression from the wisdom already present in the culture of ancient Greece with its myths and with its tragic sense of life, and has been a regression ever since relative to the current culture.

I have tried philosopher after philosopher, yet found it difficult to credit what they were seriously expounding as ‘Wisdom’.  Surely, I felt, they must be saying something higher and deeper, but which I was failing to get hold of.

Philosophy lacks human sensibility to the concrete wholeness of human life.  When on the subject of human life, it mentally abstracts concepts out of it, and then does logicking on each one like infuriatingly bright schoolboys do.

It may be that abstracting out of human life, making a concept out of what it has abstracted, and then doing logicking on the concept, constitutes Philosophy of human life.

It’s like defining water as H20.  It’s a tremendous abstractionism into a concept that can be logicked, mathematicked, scientificked with, but it’s not water that the human sensibility comes in contact with.  Water is choppy grey sea that makes going out in a trawler from the coast of the Netherlands a dangerous business.  It is cold, wet and dangerous to one’s health in winter and needs to be towelled off.  On a hot day after gardening in the sun, it cools down one’s head.

I felt that Philosophy, with this logicking on words, was some kind of enormous Category Mistake in that its problems didn’t really exist. These problems of Philosophy were and are matters of verbal logicking, and then of logicking on the logicking.

I was shocked also at the banality of the examples from human life and speech that philosophers took to do their philosophizing on.  But such examples constitute human life and speech for the logico-mathematical mind.

Philosophers wipe away the wisdoms we already have, such as that we exist and that there is a world out there that we appreciate with our senses, and start again from the bottom, going back to a beginning that we never previously had even as infants.  They start all over again with the tool of logicking with words.

Words are only rough and ready approximations that come to us from the history of our language.  Use them as best you can.  Bulldoze your way through with them, to express the meaning you aim for.  What is interesting about words is their etymology over the millenia and the meanings that have evolved.

I felt that philosophers 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 was alienated by Socrates sitting on the stone in the market-place in the early morning and asking questions that left my mind and speech empty.  Russell and Wittgenstein pointed out 2500 years later that his questions needed breaking down into their hidden components, and later pointed out that they weren’t actually about entities at all!

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What Philosophy lacks is human sensibility to human life

Philosophy’s rationalistic cast of mind lacks awareness of human life: the subtlety and complexity, the irony, darkness and depth, the deceptivity and self-deceptivity, the feelings, memories, musings, longings, dreams, nostalgias, imaginations, motivations, hatreds and fondnesses, longings for a life of adventure and of life, the tragedy and comedy.  All this passes them by.

The closest term I have so far found for what Philosophy lacks is something I’ve lifted from the F.R. Leavis of many decades ago.  This is ‘lack of human sensibility to human life’.  It means a lack of sensibility to the concrete wholeness, the concrete irreducibility, of human life.  I feel it is just a lack of human intelligence.

Perhaps T.S. Eliot was Leavis’s original source. And Leavis wasn’t himself against Philosophy; he saw it as another approach by another kind of mind.

Philosophy does reductionisms on human life.  It doesn’t leave it an irreducible whole, as for example in a novel by Anthony Trollope.

Philosophy abstracts (i.e. identifies and isolates) concepts out of human life and then brightly does logicking on each one. In other words, life gets chopped up and mentalized into abstract concepts which are then worked on, logicked on, generalized on.

[I tried to look up ‘ Abstracting’ in the philosophic literature, and found seemingly something else entirely, an enormity of philosophic thought, a real verbal-on-verbal obsessiveness, a circularity without end.  The word ‘reductionism’ is similarly taken into realms far beyond me.2,3,4]

Here is an example of the abstracting and reductionism that the philosophical mind does: I saw a bright young philosopher on a video, polishing off Meaning in Life in a brightly logical, facile, and near-mathematical way. He was one of those philosophers whose minds I feel to be similar to those of the technologists of Silicon Valley (who have admittedly given me the computer for my education, one of the many benefits that the rationalistic mind does give us.)

Look also, for abstracting and reductionism, at the discussions by bright readers after so many of the philosophy posts on the Web.

A particularly gross example of abstracting from human life comes in a later chapter of mine on a modern philosopher. It goes like this:  Life is miserable for many of us.  What is the solution?  Don’t give birth!  That’s just logical.  This piece of philosophizing is called ‘Anti-Natalism’.  Brilliant!  (He even does near-mathematicking on it.)

 

It was said of Quine for example (see my later chapter on him) that his autobiography was ‘so devoid of emotion and internality as almost to suggest not only that he had neither, but hardly even knew what they might be.’  To me, this is a damning comment.

Some philosophers draw lessons from quantum uncertainties in nuclear physics!… and apply them to the ancient question of whether human-beings have free will.  But, think I, these two matters are from entirely different and incomparable realms!  Don’t all philosophers see this?  To see these realms as remotely comparable is an example of a lack of awareness of themselves.

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The banality of philosophers on human life

I was shocked at how banal the examples from human life and speech have always been, that philosophers draw on.  But these are what constitute human life and speech for the logico-mathematical mind.

Here is a prize plum, which I have paraphrased from this source6.  It is Quine’s distinction between an actual object and the name we give it, which is the distinction between mentioning and using.  He says that an actual cat, say Hercules the cat, is to be distinguished from the name ‘Hercules’.  Firstly, he says, one uses single quotation marks (as has just been done) to denote a name.  Also, Hercules the cat is orange and white, while the name ‘Hercules’ isn’t.  And the name ‘Hercules’ has other properties, such as beginning with the letter ‘H’.  So, an actual object (Hercules the cat) is something that is mentioned, and the name (‘Hercules’) is used to do so.

Didn’t Bertrand Russell also write on using and mentioning?  Why on Earth call this kind of stuff   ‘Philosophy’, rather than a minor issue in Linguistics?

Another example of banality was a statement that interested Russell: ‘The present King of France is bald’.  It interested him on the grounds that there isn’t presently a king of France!  What a thing to be interested in!  (See my later chapter on Russell’s Logical Atomism).

Look too at Analytic Philosophy’s ‘theory of reference’ in which Frege and Russell puzzled over what an identity statement like ‘Venus is the morning star’ refers to.7   The interest here is that both of the terms in that statement refer to the same thing!  You don’t say!

Here is another example of banality from human life and speech that Bertrand Russell used to begin a philosophical discussion:  ‘The barber who shaves all but only those who do not shave themselves…’ 8

Look too at Wittgenstein’s logical calculus of language in my later chapter on him.  And read the following amazing paragraph9.  It seems to be a logicking on logic, and is entirely beyond me.  And what on Earth has it got to do with Wisdom?

‘For Wittgenstein what a sentence says is identified with the information it provides about the location of the actual world within the logical space of possible worlds. If S is atomic then S represents the actual world as being one that contains the possible atomic fact the existence of which would make S true. If S is both meaningful and logically complex, then S is a truth function of a certain set As of atomic sentences, and S represents the actual world as containing a constellation of facts that corresponds to an assignment of truth values to As that would make S true. However, in the system of the Tractatus, P is a member of As only if there are situations in which the truth value of S is affected by which truth value is assigned to P—only if there are complete assignments of truth values to As which differ solely in what they assign to P that determine different truth values for S. Since, when S is a tautology, its truth does not depend on the truth values of any atomic sentence in this way, it follows that S isn’t a truth function of any non-empty set of such sentences.’

Here are some more banalities from human life and speech that interest philosophers:

Parmenides (who is in my chapter on the pre-Socratics) said in about 500 BC:  ‘Being is being and can be thought; not-being is not being and cannot be thought.’  Brilliant!

Descartes (see my later chapter on him) said: Cogito ergo Sum, ‘I think, therefore I am’.  Even more brilliant!  Did Descartes really think as an adult person that he couldn’t believe he existed until the logic of words proved it?

He incidentally later changed his mind and said he could after all trust his senses that he did exist, so he discarded Cogito ergo Sum entirely.

Look also at Bertrand Russell’s wisdoms on human and on political affairs (see my later first chapter on him).

Another example is philosophers making an important thing out of the Principle of the Excluded Middle – ‘Either it will snow today or it will not snow today, but not in-between’.  They see this as one of the Three Laws of Thought!  An ordinary person just accepts it as not worth talking about.  What would Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope have made of it?  (No, you could say that’s an example from Logic, not from human life.  But then, human life is largely a matter of logic for philosophers.)

Here are two further examples of the footling and insoluble matters philosophers concern themselves with:

Some philosophers pointed out that Descartes couldn’t really conclude logically that just because thinking is going on, there must be an ‘I’, or even anyone or anything, doing the thinking!   (Unbelievable!)

Bernard Williams logicked his way through the question of whether one’s Identity belongs to one’s body or one’ mind!  (See my chapter on him.)   My mind boggles.

There are other examples of the amazing puzzles that have occupied philosophers’ minds — on Identity; on Sameness; and on the Doctrine of Flux by Heraclitus1:  ‘Just what is a thing separate from its qualities?’  This being led by the logicking of words to say absurdities, is what Philosophy has always been.

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The Birth of Philosophy as deductive logicking

I have the idea that poetry was in ancient times the natural way to express profundities.  That included the gods and their myths. Then along came Philosophy with its Reason and this was in prose.

‘Rationalism’ has a special meaning in Philosophy in referring to the Classical Greek belief that one can reach the ultimate Truths of Universe and Man by way purely of deductive logicking from axioms, i.e. self-evidential truths.  So they sat in their armchairs and thought!

I can imagine that this Rationalism was regarded as superior to simply believing in the senses, because it derived from Thought, Argument, Philosophy. This Rationalism raised its head again with Descartes and Leibniz.

This for me comes closest to explaining why the Greeks continued to sit in their armchairs and do logicking, rather than doing observation and experiment.  Another reason we are told was because their senses had sometimes fooled them; and because their mathematics, which had been so successful at gaining knowledge, consisted of deducing from axioms.12

Heraclitus even went so far as to believe that the way the world was, was actually in accordance with the logic in the human mind1.

I imagine that in this way the first philosophers liberated themselves from the tradition of receiving Truth from the Gods via the Poets.  To do observation and experiment on top of deductive logicking, would have been too much of an adventurous further step.  So they sat in their chairs and did deductive logicking.

The Philosophers were the proto-scientists of ancient times in that they sought objective knowledge of the universe; but unlike modern man they attempted to do it by pure logicking.  This purely mental methodology, without sensory information, was Metaphysics which they were misled into (as Wittgenstein, and Kant, and others before him, have pointed out).

 

I find it unbelievable but it seems that this reliance on deductive logicking was still the thinking of Descartes in about 1637 AD (see my chapter on him).

Here is an example of deductive logic:  ‘All men are mortal.  Socrates is a man.  Therefore Socrates is mortal.’  And another: ‘If I think, I must exist.  I think. Therefore, I must exist.’   Aristotle called such brilliant arguments ‘syllogisms’.

Did Aristotle really say that this was all that Philosophy amounted to?  Or am I wrong?  Did Philosophy through the ages remain dedicated to deductive logic alone?  It seems incredible!

Due to my alienation from the philosophical cast of mind, and to my inability to credit the amazing things philosophers were saying, I still don’t know!  I can’t work it out.  If that was all Philosophy ever did, it could only have produced tautologies or truisms.  Why wasn’t this obvious?

Surely Philosophy must have graduated to doing more than that.  But I read now that Descartes, in the early 1600s, was still dedicated to deduction, and so were the Rationalists of the 18th century!  No, I can’t yet credit this simple fact in the History of Philosophy.  If Philosophy did graduate, what did it graduate to?  What does Philosophy do now?  Or did part of it just start metamorphosing into Science from 1500 or 1600 AD onward?

I am able to grasp that Science is different from Philosophy in that it uses inductive logic to draw provisionally acceptable ‘laws’ from observations and experiments.  I know that this understanding of science has been contradicted by Popper, who has himself been partly contradicted by others.

It seems to me that Descartes was still operating in deductive logicking, yet at the same time regarded as an innovator in philosophy.  And there were still Rationalists in the 18th century!

The scientists however, from about 1600, tried to find knowledge by way of scientific method. They were successful.  But one doesn’t call science Wisdom.

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The logicking of Philosophy winds upward into absurdity

It seems to me that Plato working out logically that ‘tree’ or ‘dog’ exist as entities and in some kind of heaven, or Descartes working out that he does actually exist because he is thinking, are regressions from the wisdom we already have.  A child wouldn’t make these mistakes, unless he were a precocious philosopher. Think too of the whole incredible debate on whether Mind isn’t just Matter!

Philosophers unscramble the wisdoms we already have, such as that we exist and that there is a world out there that we appreciate with our senses, and start again from the bottom, going back to a beginning that we never previously had even as infants.  They start all over again from the bottom with the tool of logicking with words.

The wisdoms that were already developed and implicit in our lives and language are wiped away in this going back to logicking from the beginning as if one had learnt nothing.  Philosophers go downwards and backwards, wipe away what we already know, and then do logicking on logicking on logicking upwards and upwards.  In this last phase, they are misled by the logic of words into a maze of abstractions winding upwards into nonsense, the very opposite of what rationality should be.

An intelligent, reasonable, rational stopping before that point is required. It is the civilized mind that does this, and doesn’t get led into obsessive, schoolboyish logicking.

Exhaustive logicking exhausts the life out of what one is discussing.  When my own mind drifts into this kind of logicking obsessiveness, it depresses me because it isn’t life any more.

D.H. Lawrence said somewhere that when one lifts off into abstractions, i.e. abstracted concepts, one loses profundity.  I feel that one can with benefit go one storey up into abstraction, but then stop.  Logic is mandatory in our everyday use of words so that we make sense.  But it isn’t otherwise separately a source of Wisdom.  What philosophers call rationality is a putting aside of the human intelligence already present in the words we use, and ending up with something silly.

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‘Philosophy’ isn’t the product of the educated mind

Many people come to Philosophy expecting something high and deep from the depths of human experience and self-knowledge, something to rival and supersede Religion, but what they get is the logicking of bright schoolboys!  They were right in their original expectations of what Philosophy should be.

I am sorry to have compared philosophers to annoyingly precocious schoolboys. But I can’t presently find anything better for philosophers with their logicking intelligence on everything, including human life.

They are a lineage of people going back to the 6th century BC whose thinking is of a highly rigorous standard, of not letting anything sloppy past them. They are impartial and tolerant, and able to appreciate other world views.  But, but, but. . . they don’t deal in Wisdom

Religion is based on the untrue, and on wishful thinking, and has often been full of totalitarian mind-control and cruelty, but at least its mild practitioners of today have some human sensibility to eternal issues of human life.

Perhaps one can say that Philosophy from the beginning was seen as a duty to abolish the human and the human-like.  They started by abolishing the gods cavorting up above like bad people, from explanations of how physical things worked.  And, since the 19th century, they’ve been taking the human out of how the human mind works.  It is an attempt to find natural, material causes rather than human, intentional ones.

I was once sitting in a Philosophy tutorial at a university and said something about Jung because I was a confused fellow at the time.  Anyway, a middle-aged lady next to me turned and said that what I had just said represented Education, and that the people lecturing to us didn’t!  What a thing to say!  She spoke spontaneously and unpretentiously.  Someone felt like I did!  Knowing what Jung said about the irrational unconscious was Education for her at that time, and the logicking we were getting from our lecturers simply wasn’t!

I was amazed too in the opposite direction, when other students whom I had dismissed as unsophisticated and unimaginative dullards (whom I rolled my eyes up to heaven at) took to Philosophy like ducks to water, while I was left scratching my head. They even did some philosophizing themselves!  They were better than I was!  Yet they weren’t exactly the sort of people who read Jonathan Swift or Anthony Trollope.

Philosophers’ thinking on language (like that of Russell, Quine or Kripke) somehow doesn’t seem civilized or educated to me, while something on the modest level of Fowler’s Modern English Usage somehow does

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Unbelievable quality of philosophers’ problems and of how they solve them

To get back for a moment to Descartes in the early 17th century and the quality of his argumentation:  He couldn’t convince himself he existed till it occurred to him that he was thinking, therefore he must exist!!  Did he really think as an adult person that he couldn’t believe he existed until the logic of words proved it?

But in a later phase, and this is relevant: He resurrected Anselm’s unbelievable argument for the existence of God which went as follows: ‘We think of God as the greatest.  Existence is part of being great.  Therefore He exists.’

On the basis of now believing in God and thus believing in the organs of sensation that God had given him, Descartes could now trust his senses that he, Descartes, existed and didn’t need to start with ‘I think, therefore I am’!

Another brilliant argument that contributed to this proof of the existence of God may have come from Aristotle or Augustine: That if one has an idea of something, then there must be a cause of that idea at least as real as the idea itself! (What unbelievable quality of argument philosophers do produce!)

To mention another amazing problem of Philosophy, there was the one of Universals which Plato started (see my later chapter on him).  I scratch my head as to what the problem was:  a Universal like ‘cat’ or ‘green’ is surely simply a matter of conceptualizing things in the world into generalities inside one’s head.  It took me time to realize that these Problems were typical of what philosophers were seriously expounding.

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Philosophers’ mistakes in language

For me, Philosophy constantly and from the beginning has always consisted of obvious misunderstandings in the use of language.  This was so in today’s classroom, as well as in Ancient Greece.  These mistakes seem so obvious and basic, at the very roots of thinking what to say before one even opens one’s mouth, that I found them impossible to express.

Philosophers’ mistakes in language may simply be part of their lack of human sensibility to human life.

Russell and Wittgenstein did go some way to exposing these mistakes, in showing that many of the ‘problems’ of philosophy were due to the non-expression of logical steps: and finally in Wittgenstein arguing that words like ‘Truth’ aren’t entities but verbal devices. (See my later chapters on these philosophers.)

I wanted to say to the philosophers: ‘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 feel that my astonishment at what Philosophy amounts to, is 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.

‘Philosophy’ should be regarded as having always been a hobby-horse of logicking for people of that cast of mind.  The logicking of Philosophy is very difficult, like Science is; but neither of them is Wisdom.

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‘Philosophy’ should be called what it actually does, whatever that is

I am not a philosopher.  What I have written against Philosophy in these chapters is not up to the rationalistic standard of Philosophy by philosophers.  Of course it isn’t.

A consequence of not having a philosopher’s mind is that I found it impossible to read sources where the seniors of philosophy talk philosophy to the juniors.  These are all people with the same cast of mind, and they come from the global department of philosophy that has been growing for two and a half thousand years.

That cast of mind is summed up as the ‘rationalist mind’.  Philosophers themselves aren’t shy to dismiss other kinds of Philosophy from their own as bunk.  Bertrand Russell called Hegel’s Idealism ‘poppycock’ (in his History of Western Philosoph, I think).  And Quine, and other analytic philosophers, protested that Derrida represented pseudo-philosophy.

‘Philosophy’ has always been considered to be the Love of Wisdom, the Search for Wisdom, the Study of Humanity and of the Universe, the Foundation of Western Civilization, the Uniqueness of the Western Mind.

Philosophers should find a name closer to what they actually do.

Surely, I felt, they must be saying something higher and deeper, but which I was failing to get hold of.

Descartes for example (see my first chapter on him) couldn’t convince himself he existed till it occurred to him that he was thinking!  Therefore he must exist!  Cogito ergo Sum!  Did he really think as an adult person that he couldn’t believe he existed until the logic of words proved it?

It took me a long time to realize that philosophers’ arguments as I understood them were actually what in all seriousness they were saying.

Was I perhaps failing to appreciate the contemporaneous current of thinking that each of them was arguing against?  But even when I tried to think myself into each philosopher’s time, I still couldn’t rid myself of disbelief at what he was saying.

For my taste, they have minds like those of infuriatingly bright schoolboys who are precociously brilliant at mental arithmetic and at chess and at undoing puzzles made of squiggly stiff wire, and who keep asking Why?

In fact, many of them did start off in mathematics, and even contributed to it later.  Others, writing a different kind of philosophy, were theologically-minded, like Hegel for example.  Heidegger did both

I am sorry to be disrespectful to a lineage of people going back to 580 BC whose thinking is of a highly rigorous standard, and of not letting anything sloppy past them. They are impartial and tolerant, and able to appreciate other world views.  But, but, but. . . they don’t deal in Wisdom.

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I am a stickler for Logic

I get infuriated by people whose words make no logical sense after I have concentrated on them.  But for philosophers to take logic onto one level of abstraction after another above concrete experience, in order to explain all kinds of things, is simply wrong-headed.

Language without logic lacks meaning and therefore doesn’t do what it’s meant to.  Choosing your words right and in the right order so that they mean what you intend – that’s all logic is.

[According to Hegel, logic deals with concepts robbed of their empirical content.  Logic is simply an examination of the process without the contents.]

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Keats on Negative Capability

Here is Keats’s approach to Philosophy as Wisdom:  He criticized Coleridge for putting the philosophizing of the German Idealists of his day into his poetry.  Keats recommended being content to live in the world of the senses, and not to try and ferret out the ‘fundamental truth’ of things ‘by step-by-step reasoning’.   Keats called his rejection of truth-seeking, ‘Negative Capability’.5 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_capability).

‘Negative Capability’ is a pretty good term for the anti-philosophical attitude, to add to ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concreteness of human life’.

Here is a passage (from a publication, perhaps by E.R. Dodd, that I now can’t trace) 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.’

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Russell and Wittgenstein wanted to abolish Philosophy

Bertrand Russell (see my chapter on his Logical Atomism) and Wittgenstein (see my chapter on him) looked promising that they would abolish Philosophy and turn it into a sub-department of Linguistics for curing language mistakes.

They started with their Logical Atomism which broke down the statements that had always worried Philosophers into their hitherto hidden logical sub-statements.  This procedure clarified the statements.

Then Wittgenstein became temporarily very strict and sterile in saying that the only meaningful statements are about verifiable facts in the world, which stirred the Vienna Circle into founding the Logical Positivism Movement of the 1920s.

But he then changed his mind radically and reverted to the unphilosophic person’s regular opinion that words simply have their meanings in what the speaker intends them to mean (you don’t say!) in front of an audience who understands his meanings (you don’t say!)  Words may not refer to verifiable facts or even to entities!  The speaker’s statements may refer to untruths!  He called each act of speech a ‘language-game’, but I feel this was unnecessary.

He said that many of Philosophy’s big words, such as Truth, Beauty, Courage, and the Good, don’t apply to specific entities, let alone verifiable facts.

[Plato had 2500 years earlier gone so far as to say (see my chapter on him) that these were such real entities that they existed in all realness in some kind of heaven!]

Wittgenstein felt that Philosophy had been wasting its time and should stick to curing its mistakes of language.

So, in the 1930s, he turned Philosophy into Linguistic Analysis in half the Western world.  But it was still listed under ‘Philosophy’, and strangely enough became even more lacking in ‘human sensibility to human life’.  One only has to look at philosophers in the tradition that followed Wittgenstein like Quine (see later chapter) and Kripke.

But the problem with words for me was even more basic.  Words, I dimly felt, were only pedestrian ways of expressing what came to Man long ago via his senses and in his knowing of his own thoughts and feelings.  So words and their logic are a poor stammering second, but the philosopher puts them first in his verbal-logical search for Truths.

Amid these verbal conundrums they have tried to solve, there are perhaps some that are part of the mystery of being human.  But these mysteries are imponderable to logic, and I suddenly can’t give any examples of them

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The bookshelves of a philosopher

I remember long ago being at the home of someone interested in philosophy, particularly on ethics.  He was wont to get up on his hind-legs and lecture on it.  I was amazed that his bookshelves contained nothing but human and social sciences.  There were no novels, by Anthony Trollope or by anyone else.  My immediate feeling was: ‘These books on these shelves contain nothing but small de-humanizing generalizations about human beings; they’re not about human beings as they are.’  I think that in my ignorance I was touching on what is meant by ‘abstractionism’ and ‘reductionism’, which are at the other extreme from the concrete irreducible reality of human life which this fellow lacked.

He was a great chap for science and for saving lives in his profession, which are no mean achievements. But he was a rationalistic 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 concrete wholeness of human life’

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The philosophically-minded show no awareness of the darkness and depth of the human self.  It is as if portals of awareness to human life aren’t present on the outer surfaces of Philosophers.

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 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’.

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One discovers via one’s senses that one can sometimes be fooled by one’s senses, but to think that logicking is better, is crazy.  The only world we know is what comes to us in our senses.  Then to question by logicking with words whether, for example, the external world is really there, as Descartes did in 1637, is idiotic.  One of the things our words do is to try and convey this world.   And trying to turn human life into something logical is absurd anyway; it’s the way to death.

From my first exposure to Philosophy, I have always felt that words are rough and practical things we have picked up from jostling in the market-place.  Just look at the way many of our present words with their present meanings have come to us — such as ‘logic’, ‘convention’, ‘culture’, ‘paradigm’, ‘state’.  They didn’t come to us from men in libraries.  The way they came simply wasn’t serious and logical.  It was from human life.  With words we try vainly and imperfectly to express what comes to us in our senses.  One has to bulldoze one’s way through with words.  To then make inferences from these words to give us reality, has, for me, always been contradictory and idiotic.

Wisdom is learning the truth about what we get up to, how we justify it to ourselves and deceive ourselves, and how the rest of humanity does so too.  Having a canny understanding of oneself, including what a salty old sinner one is, and a canny understanding of others too, is Wisdom.  This includes not only people as individuals, but people moving ponderously as nations.

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I can remember being saddened by someone I had been working with switching into scientific methodology instead of carrying on with his human intelligence.

I also remember being astonished that an old acquaintance of mine, who had been to ancient boarding school and then Oxford, had eventually taken up a career of science and technology, as if he had come from a concrete grammar school like I had.

I had found lectures in this profession unbearable, and had regularly absconded.  Instead of attending lectures, I wandered up a central shopping street of the urban wasteland, towards the countryside which had disappeared in the 18th century.

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ODDMENTS:

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 in question.

 

I still can’t fathom how Newton reached the truths he did in the 1690s.  Many of the achievements of science save us from suffering and from early death.  One can know them, and still be a pedestrian fellow in human sensibility, probably necessarily so.

 

Philosopher Christopher Norris wrote that good philosophy of science is relevant to modern physics by warning scientists to stick to the empirical and be careful with words13.

And, 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.

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‘Rationalism’ has a special meaning in Philosophy in referring to the Classical Greek belief that one can reach the ultimate Truths of Universe and Man by way purely of deductive logicking from axioms, i.e. self-evidential truths.  So they sat in their armchairs and thought! This Rationalism raised its head again with Descartes and Leibniz.

 

 

For me, the word ‘Rationalism’, in its general usage today, refers to an exclusive occupation with logic, maths and science as the way to understanding people.  The image of Bertrand Russell rises before my eyes.  It also means an overlooking and disrespect of the emotional and irrational in Man’s opinions, positing instead the rational:

I can remember my cousins laughing contemptuously at the baby born to the Shah of Persia and his wife Farah Diba in the 1970s.  There had been so much media puffery about her and this heir to the throne, and here was a cartoon showing the new prince shitting on his potty with flunkeys nearby waiting to clean him up.  That was the reality that people should recognize, rather than the royal dreamworld that they gave their allegiance to!  But I instinctively thought poorly of my cousins for not realizing that this irrationality underlies much of what keeps societies relatively decent and at peace.

‘Rationalism’ also means the lack of human intelligence, the lack of human sensibility to human life, in people like Bertrand Russell for instance in his metallically squeaky ideas on educating the young rationally into Rationalism; and in Western people in general not recognizing that peoples from different cultures, like the Arabs or the sub-Saharan Africans, are different in their ways of thought, behaviour and values that determine their politics. There is not just one form of total Rationality but different forms of irrationality that contribute to making us human.

‘Rationality’ for me is something different – it includes human sensibility to the wholeness of human life.

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REFERENCES

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraclitus
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductionism
  3. https://explorable.com/scientific-reductionism
  4. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/reduction-biology/.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_capability
  6. https://iep.utm.edu/quine-an/
  7. https://www.britannica.com/topic/analytic-philosophy
  8. http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/russ.htm
  9. https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/analysis-philosophical
  10. leavissociety.com Leavis – Life and Work
  11. https://www.uv.es/fores/PoesiaUK2005/1TLeavis,%20Frank%20Raymond/Thelastcritic.html
  12. https://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Science/
  13. https://philosophynow.org/issues/82/Hawking_contra_Philosophy

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