Friday, September 12, 2014

The Problem with Philosophy (qua Discipline)

The problem of philosophy as a historical practice, or discipline, handed down through institution is that it has a great tendency to lose its problems.  It loses them to such an extent that there are often concerns of whether there are any problems at all in philosophy.  The institution may preserve the name 'philosophy' but no philosophy (as an activity) is guaranteed to be present in it.
The history of philosophy contains plenty of problems (in proposition form), and these seem to be the things that are most easily discoverable.  A beginning course in philosophy always attempts to raise some metaphysical doubts, questioning what we can know to be true, or if there are external things, or if we exist, &c.  But, for those that first posed these problems, the problems only found their expression in propositions after struggling with an anxiety that had to be wrestled into place.  These problems, encoded into propositions, are handed down as the problems of philosophy, however this is insufficient: the proposition does not preserve the subjective state of affection required for the problems: the propositions do not preserve the anxiety that is required to grasp their scope, and the real conditions for their solution (the resolution of the anxiety).
(I do not here make philosophical problems into mental disturbances, but simply note that we cannot notice our problems, or their resolution, without a more intuitive standard.)
Once inheriting these propositions, we seem to find it sufficient to deal with them in logical terms that are only suited to evaluate the consistency of statements, and not help recover the problem (the anxiety) any more.  Those that participate in philosophy have their own anxiety, however, and not connecting their anxieties with those of others, and guided by this personal anxiety, formulate their own resolutions to these problems to their own satisfaction.  Often because the language of the objective world is borrowed (since this language often feels required to relieve our anxiety), these solutions conflict with those of the past.  Dogmatic metaphysics emerges in this manner.
Philosophy will never find its center until it begins to recover those basic problems that run through it, and preserve its real order and continuity, and contain direction for its real truth, that would otherwise pass unnoticed on the surface in the presence of continual debate.  Much of the importance of Kant is exclusively in an attempt at providing future philosophy an understanding of its own problems, and the possibility of its problems (the possibility of the natural disposition to metaphysics).  (Heidegger seems to have taken up this challenge more exclusively.)
Rather than restating philosophical problems from the history of philosophy as if it was obvious that they are problems, beginning philosophy courses should strive to induce the real anxiety required for entering into these problems, and generating the sort of statements off these problems originally that would be required to understand past statements of them.  This way the history of philosophical thought will not just be a wasteland where thoughts are criticized in a quite superficial manner.
(There is a certain concern I have with religious traditions: that the wisdom of the past generation provides formulas that actually prevent the future generations from admitting the problems required for understanding religious feeling.  I believe that this sort of phenomena was treated by Kierkegaard in the Concept of Anxiety with a special concern for hereditary sin, and how this has us overlook how each of us - and not just Adam - bring sin into the world ourselves.)
Philosophy is not the only place where this problem exists, but it may be the only discipline that can't get off the ground and take its proper place as a result.  For example, mathematics has direction for its problems, and has advanced consistently.  However, education in mathematics does not produce mathematicians (who are truly very few), since it doesn't provide a real understanding of the problems of mathematics, and only provides a guide for correctness of results from computation (until one proceeds far enough).  This leads to revealing humor, such as the joke about doctors in math being unable to calculate their share of a bill.  This humor is revealing because the actual problems of mathematics do not start or end with computation.  The joke is on us for not realizing that this humor reveals that what we teach under the name of mathematics is no such thing.
In physics as well we find steady and regular progress, however, students of physics are left to standards of correctness of computations, and application of principles.  Physics is not principally concerned with computation: computation is merely a means for physics for testing and reforming theory.  
The genuine problems of a discipline, which always manifest in anxiety originally, should be a much larger matter of concern to educators that are interested in opening up a field to a student, and not merely running them through the algorithms of correctness.  Correctness is something we demand, but it is not itself a primary goal.

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