Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Honesty as the Criterion of Philosophy

   For some time a consideration of philosophy as dependent only upon honesty has come to feel particularly apt for describing the unique situation the philosopher (and the interpreter of philosophy) finds himself.  Due to the strangeness of this suggestion, and the general merit I feel in developing it further, I will exposit it and develop some directions for further consideration.
   To be clear: honesty is not only required in philosophy.  What I mean to emphasize here is that while other activities, such as science, have their special organizing concepts and principles assumed (even if they are not clear), the philosopher has none of these.  So, while the scientist depends on some special principles and their honesty, the philosopher must simply remain honest.  However, I also want to explain how the honesty demanded of the philosopher is unique.
   Typically we can understand honesty in terms of not lying, and this holds for both philosophy and the sciences.  Being dishonest in a science may involve falsifying or ignoring certain pieces of evidence in order to maintain something that should be abandoned or called into further question.  We can also deceive ourselves by accidentally including evidence that should not properly be considered; this may mean the inclusion of bias or data that does not actually fit within the domain of the science.  There is much more that can be said concerning this, and much more that can be clearer, but I will have this suffice.
   The philosopher is in a different circumstance because there is no settled domain of objects, nor any principles which cannot be questioned: the 'work' of the philosopher is just as much a perennial problem of philosophy as anything else.  Because of this, the philosopher need not worry about including objects or thoughts that are not in the domain of philosopher.  However, precisely because the philosopher has no domain of objects that is settled the philosopher must be wary of all organization of thought that directs us, and must ask again and again into any such organization.  This is where some difficulties in the philosophical life emerge, and which I can only deal with in terms of a reflection on the philosophical life.
   When one opens up all sorts of questions, and strives towards pure contemplation, we typically develop anxieties of various sorts, and these lead to a tendency to end philosophical consideration by determining a principle.  This succumbing to anxiety is how a philosopher can fail to be honest in their own contemplation, so far as the goal is pure contemplation.
   Whenever the philosopher stops asking into the organization of thought or objects, and settles on some organization in order to advance, a science is established.  This is no wicked thing, but for the purposes of keeping science clear in its aim (and to allow philosophy its problematic aim), it is important to see this distinction.  From recognizing this risk of concealing the questionable from view, and considering this a dishonesty, it becomes clearer how particularly the philosopher can lose his way through dishonesty (even if this lose is at the same time a gain to science).
   This sort of honesty where we challenge ourselves to understand more comprehensively whatever it is that we understand can, perhaps, help us understand the Delphic maxim, "know thyself", as well as help the reflection of other attempts at understanding philosophy.
   If we suppose the philosophical lifestyle of contemplation is important in-itself (relative to life), perhaps it is important to consider exactly how we get pulled out of contemplation.  What is it that allows anxiety to emerge?  It is not simply a matter of pure thought, but a kind of dissonance between the world and our challenging of it and our role in it.  Perhaps all our practical engagements are reflections of anxiety that constantly seek for a means to overcome whatever stifles our contemplative life and the world and denies us leisure?  This seems like a productive line of inquiry for future work.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Siding in Favor of Existence as a Problem

   For some months I have been trying to appreciate the question, "why is there something instead of nothing?"  This question is asked by Heidegger in his Introduction to Metaphysics, but I began by considering the question as it is answered by Leibniz, and torn open again by Kant (as well as in some other  reflections).  In my mind I have been working towards a confrontation with Parmenides, who I see as having made some important determinations regarding 'nothing', as he is considered the origin of the principle ex nihilo nihil fit(Out of nothing comes nothing).
   My confrontation with Parmenides has been postponed indefinitely, as I have come to realize the importance that Kant's little belabored treatment of 'nothing' in the Critique of Pure Reason.  Here I want to provide an opportunity to reflect by challenging the assertion: at least something exists. First I will need to frame this assertion so that the difficulties opened up by Kant can be appreciated.
   Even though our experience is entirely of what appears to us, we at least say for ourselves that something more must exist.  Concerning this something, even if we can be completely wrong about its character, we at least know it exists.  But, what Kant shows in his considerations of the 'problematic' is that really we have no right to even make this claim.
   For Kant, to exist is merely a basic determination of object of a possible experience: existence concerns merely the synthetic unity of representations.  This being said, if we want to show something existing apart from experience, we are going to have an impossible time of it.  Even still, we are confident in claiming that there is something that exists underlying what appears.  We may even go so far as to laugh or roll our eyes at those who would deny that at least something exists.
   Kant himself remarks that the very term 'appearance' suggests something that appears, and so already is in favor of this existing substrate.  However, Kant just as much denies that we can apply the category of existence beyond appearances - at least when we are concerned with what can be known by us - and so it is a belief that we assert when we say that there is a substrate of all experience that has the character of a something.
   With the possibility of the 'ground of existence' being the character of nothing we find ourselves at the threshold of nihilism.  However, there is no grounds for characterizing the 'ground of existence' as having the character of nothing, either.  (Here we are perhaps getting at the heart of Jacobi's misunderstanding when he coined the word 'nihilism' in reference to Kant's Critical Philosophy.)  So far, I have implied that there is a character to something as well as nothing; in Kant's thought this character is determined relative to time.  The 'ground of existence' must be understood out of relation to the temporal.  We may be tempted to suggest that the eternal is what evades time, but it seems that this notion is employed with preference for the character of something, and so I will leave it behind for now.  
   Kant's term of choice for this domain outside of time is the problematic, which is not 'something' or 'nothing', but is indeterminate if it is of the character of something or nothing, possible or impossible.  (It is often the case that impossibility is understood through non-contradiction, and with the problematic we find non-contradiction cannot strictly apply.  This is a clue for understanding logic so far as it takes itself to be founded on such principles.)  In Kant's work, he seemingly resolves the problematic as quickly as it opens us.  He does this by illustrating how we side with 'something' as the character of the problematic due to the constitution of our moral life (that is, not as a moral conclusion, but as the very possibility of our thinking morally).  
   I take Kant's work showing the relation of the moral to the problematic to be perfectly correct, but I think more can be said in emphasizing the manner in which the problematic is determined in favor of 'something'.  The importance of such reflections, I believe, are immeasurable.  Keeping the problematic in view helps to show the deficiency in nihilism as well as enthusiasm, while still respecting the difficulties that those views overcome.  Also, showing how the moral life settles the matter of the problematic provides for   endless amounts of reflection on all domains of thought.  In addition, we can also begin to see how language is completely infiltrated with this determination in favor of existence - not in order to reject such infiltration, but to understand it.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Themes in Philosophical Reading and Writing

   There are many attitudes we employ when writing or reading.  Here I am interested in the particularly philosophical attitude.  I have recently written on how I understand philosophical interpretation generally, and here the same subject must be held in mind while addressing the role of theme in philosophical reading and writing.
   A theme is not simply what is written about, but that which organizes what is set down in the exposition.  Even if a theme is not expressed directly there will be something guiding the organization of the exposition, and so an unspoken theme; even when there is an explicit stated theme, it is not necessary that this is what actually ends up guiding the reading.  
   Honest writers and readers are able to tell when the theme is unclear, even when one is stated.  Understanding the theme does not simply consist in knowing by what term the theme is called, but by gathering the exposition around what is called.
   Often, readers complain when a theme is not made clear from the very first moment so that the writing can advance in the form of a deduction or a list of testable facts that can pertain to the theme.  Writers may also despair of themes when they are not clear in advance to the writer.  These difficulties have no place in philosophical reading and writing, but only where a theme has been settled into the principle of a science around which knowledge can begin to organize itself.  Philosophy does not organize knowledge in this way, but must continually work out its theme.
   When philosophically reading or writing on a theme we confess a lack of understanding, yet this lack contains precisely enough understanding to get started, for we at least know that we don't know.  Philosophizing on a theme is an exploration of what understanding we may attain in the exposition of the theme, and this as a practice in understanding generally.  
   Setting down a theme in exposition (a triple redundancy) establishes a center point that brings different thoughts together.  Each of these thoughts, while they guide us to and from the theme, are only guiding because we hold to the theme as the center around which the thoughts are arranged and which the thoughts also clarify.
   Keeping themes in mind, we may set to our philosophical reading and writing with a better orientation to the task, and guarded against disappointments that result from demanding too much in despairing themes that are not already settled.  If we deny all themes that are not established, we deny thought, which has its peculiar work in exploring its inexplicable relation to what we fail to grasp.