Monday, January 28, 2013

Philosophy: Proximity, not division.

I have a love/hate relationship with philosophy. I suspect 90% of so called philosophical discourse is complete bullshit and consists  of nothing more than agitated debate over grammar, word definitions, language games, all expressed through a series of glorified writing guidelines called logic.  Pure logic simply does not work.  Never has, never will. Refute an argument and the holder slinks off with his tail between his legs to sulk over a scotch and a fire. In the morning he will begin rebuilding his fortifications and develop new strategies for the intellectual defense of his position.

And yet I cannot stay away from philosophy. It's a paradox I've pondered for a while: if I want to understand the world, I should study the core sciences; if I want to understand how to live my life, I should learn economics and sociology because the course of my life and my options are limited by economic resources however much I would like to pretend otherwise; if I want to ponder why I think as I do, I should read psychology.  But why do I still persist with philosophy?

The answer fell into my lap while reading this passage from a biography of Michel de Montaige by Saul Frampton :

For at the heart of Descartes philosophy is the intellectual principle of division,  an attempt to offer clarity in a world made uncertain by religious and political unrest. He thus states that as part of his 'method' that intellectual problems should be 'divided' into 'as many parts of possible' and that we should only accept as true what we can perceive 'very clearly and distinctly' ie separate from other things.
Montaige on the other hand operates with an older, less cutting edge, but perhaps more venerable intellectual instinct: that of proximity.  Rather than defining and dividing things, Montaigne wants to get near them, close to them, not least to himself. ... the search for constancy and certainty strikes him as merely obstinacy in another guise.

Descartes was the supreme rationalist : he sought to apply mathematical methods to philosophy by first discovering irrefutable logical axioms and secondly using these axioms as building blocks to deduce clear truths about reality using only human reason.

Myself and the Father of Modern Philosophy do not see eye to eye on this point.

My concern is dragging the ideas of my age from between the lines of popular culture, to hold them twisting and howling into the light, to examine them, to place their genealogy and to poke their structure and to moderate them. Few things can be absolutely accepted or absolutely rejected: Most are shades of grey.

I am interested in life, not pieces of a life smashed into manageable chunks then molded and battered and curved into a perfectly circular rational worldview mounted like an atlas upon a desk, to be spun and examined when an inconvenient question is raised. I want proximity, not division; experience, not maths.

I don't expect anything I learn to possess transformational powers. This is a form of therapy, nothing more.

"... pose as having discovered and attained their real opinions through the self-evolution of a cold, pure, divinely unperturbed dialectic: while what happens at bottom is that a prejudice, a notion, an 'inspiration,' generally a desire of the heart sifted and made abstract, is defended by them with reasons sought after the event" (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)


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