PHILOSOPHY USES THE WRONG METHODS FOR ‘WISDOM’
Philosophy has for my taste always been pseudo-philosophy, since it began in about 580 BC. It has been an expression of minds that lack that special intelligence and capacity for understanding that human beings have been blessed with Philosophers either lack it or leave it disregarded and fallow.
How on earth can one get wisdom about oneself and other people and humanity through logicking, mathematicking, and scientificking? It has been an absolute stupidity for 2500 years; it is amazing that no-one has objected (I’m not sure without looking it up again, whether Erasmus did to some extent). How can people with minds similar to those of scientists give us Wisdom on human life? It is absurd, a gigantic Category Mistake. (By this big philosophical term in this case, I mean the application of mental methods appropriate to one field but on others too where it isn’t.)
Logic, mathematics and science are or have been the extent to which the minds of philosophers work. They take these as comprising Reason, which leads them to a facile understanding of the life of the human self, and then to using it as a basis for step-by-step logicking into ‘abstractions’ which impress people as Wisdom on human life.
The birth of philosophy was in some ways a massive regression in the wisdom already present in the culture of ancient Greece with its myths and with its tragic sense of life, and has been so ever since relative to the culture around it.
It is a regression to pre-childhood to have to work out logically whether one exists (Descartes), or that ‘tree’ and ‘dog’ exist in heaven (Plato). A child wouldn’t make these mistakes, unless he were a precocious philosopher. Think too of the whole debate whether Mind isn’t just Matter.
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 wipe away what we already know, and go downwards and backwards to do logicking upwards and upwards on what has already been logicked.
An intelligent, reasonable, rational stopping before that point is required. They are misled by the logic of words into a maze of abstractions winding upwards into nonsense, the very opposite of rationality. What they call rationality is a putting aside of the human intelligence already present in our words, and ending up with something silly instead.
That certain something of human intelligence that philosophers lack hasn’t even got a name and is considered to fall outside Reason and Rationality. Their minds don’t encompass it; no-one’s mind can encompass everything. But for my taste, their form of Wisdom makes them the arch-nerds of Western Civilization.
‘Nerds’ is too strong and disrespectful a word for a lineage of people going back to 580 BC, who are rigorous in their thinking, and impartial and tolerant, and able to appreciate other world views, but I can’t presently think of anything better. Their thinking is of a highly rigorous standard of argument, of being honest with oneself in this area of mind, and of not letting anything sloppy past one, and these qualities have made an impression on me. Philosophers have very good minds. They are tremendously clever, like scientists are. I think philosophers teach one to tell oneself the truth, to have high standards of argument, not be satisfied with anything less. Someone else has also said: ‘The most important thing that philosophy can teach is how to respect people you disagree with’.
Philosophers, probably the best of them, also often impress me with their understanding of other casts of mind, of other world-views from their own, and their ability to pigeon-hole them into types.
But, but, but…
Philosophers are like those infuriating schoolboys who are good at undoing little bits of wire from each other, and at verbal and mathematical puzzles.
It feels to me a mechanical intelligence; no wonder it is said that Artificial Intelligence will one day emulate it. Yet, in Western Civilization, it is regarded as what Thought consists of.
Wisdom for me consists of learning the truth about the ways of Man,his darkness, depth and deceptivity. It 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. This includes not only Man as individual but Man as nations moving ponderously, for which other standards of judgment are needed.
Philosophers’ postulating and logicking isn’t the way to understand oneself, or others, or humanity, or any form of life high enough to have a self.
Understanding Adam and Eve, including oneself, is what I call Wisdom, not Newton working out that a ball keeps rolling for ever unless there is something to stop it, or that the sun goes round the earth (or is it the other way round?), or that sugar causes tooth decay, useful as these are. Alright, these examples are from science which brought philosophy to fruition, but they still aren’t wisdom. They are technically useful, many of them doing God’s work of mercy, saving us from suffering. One can know them, and still be a pedestrian fellow, undeveloped in life and in words, in feeling and in understanding.
Adam and Eve have subtle ways and subtle motives, not apparent even to themselves, and knowing them takes other than logicking, mathemarticking and scientificking. Even the ways of honest people aren’t understood by way of logic, mathematics and scientific method.
This kind of thinking and talking, which they call Rationality or Rationalism as if it’s the highest form of thinking, is simply inappropriate to understanding the life of humans, or to any form of life high enough to have a self, including the life of my ancient dog who is just hanging on.
Philosophy should simply be regarded as a hobby-horse of logicking for people of that cast of mind. This issue for me goes beyond the humanities vs sciences debate of the mid 19th century.
Learning about oneself and Adam and Eve is not some kind of objective knowledge that can be argued or demonstrated, and that students can write down in their lectures.
Other people are satisfied that they have gained the Truth by sitting in class and writing down the science that other people have done. For me, Wisdom is not some kind of objective knowledge arrived at by logic, mathematics or science, that one can demonstrate to other people for them to agree with.
For coming to an understanding of oneself and of others, one bases oneself on experience, therefore one could say one is being ’empiricist’. This understanding then has to ring true within me; l have to feel it and touch it within me. Even then it is only provisional, and one has to go on receiving impressions. This kind of intelligence does not come from the same mental faculty as do logic, mathematics and scientific method. It is a strange intelligence indeed with its having to ‘ring true inside one’.
Philosophers are simple-minded on human affairs — the examples they draw on from human life and speech, to exhibit their methods on, lack the subtlety, complexity, concealment, falsity, deception, self-deception, irony, tragedy and comedy, which is what human beings are made of and get up to. This deficiency is inevitable, from their kind of mind. They make, for example, such 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 — which is ‘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, that’s not actually an example from human life or speech; it’s an example from Logic. I will find better examples of philosophers’ simple-mindedness about life for further posts.)
Philosophers were the proto-scientists of ancient times, seeking objective knowledge of the universe as the scientists did later, and one doesn’t call science Wisdom.
Logic is mandatory in our everyday use of words so that we make sense. But it isn’t otherwise separately a source of Wisdom. Philosophers chase the sequential logicking of words, to lead them further up, up, up, into abstractions, far away from what the senses and immediate mental connections give, to the point of absurdity. It is a mistaken cast of mind. 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 wipe away what we already know, and go downwards and backwards to do logicking upwards and upwards on what has already been logicked. An intelligent, reasonable, rational stopping before that point is required. They are misled by the logic of words into a maze of abstractions winding upwards into nonsense, the very opposite of rationality.
What they call rationality is a putting aside of the human intelligence already present in our words, and ending up with something silly instead.
Logicking upwards from one or two certainties like Descartes did, in order to gain knowledge or wisdom, and not to trust one’s senses, leads to absurdities. As I think Ayn Rand (who was an enthusiast for the importance of Philosophy in general) said, one only learns to mistrust one’s senses because one’s senses eventually tell one what the truth is. 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 (see here).
Philosophers use logic to try to solve what are imponderables to logic, but these imponderables remain imponderables by the very nature of imponderables and of logic
Philosophers have defined Man as ‘the rational animal’ in their sense of logicking, mathematicking and scientificking. Our feelings, memories, dreams, nostalgias, imaginations, motivations, hatreds and loves, longings for a life of adventure and life (on top of the two other lists of human faculties I have listed above) seem not to come into it, even though they too are so much more developed than in animals. So someone as idiotic as Bertrand Russell becomes the supreme Man. Oi!
Philosophy is of a kind and degree of ‘rationalism’ that cuts out human wisdom. It is so ‘rationalistic’ that it becomes irrational.
I do demand hard realism when it comes to our thinking on Man, not the sentimental words and melodies of some Romantics, let alone the simple-mindedness of rationalists like Bertrand Russell. The dichotomy between Reason and Romanticism must have been invented by philosophers. I am a rationalist in the sense of realist; and the fancies of philosophers just aren’t rational.
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, see 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 idiots with the optimism that comes from confidence in Reason. This rationalistic sense of life is seen also in scientists with their simple optimism that goodness consists of discovering more science, unaware that we all succeed in making the world just as bad on the whole as it was before the undoubted benefits of science. The idea that science saves us is even more crazy than that Christ does.
Religions, with all their faults such as believing in God and burning people at the stake, are more intelligent about man as a whole than Philosophy is. They do at least deal with man’s lack of fulfilment, his sin, and his yearning for reward in this life and eternity after it.
I was once sitting in a Philosophy class at a university and said something about Jung because I was a confused fellow. Anyway, a middle-aged lady next to me turned and said that that 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, and the logicking we were getting from our lecturers wasn’t!
I was amazed too in the opposite direction, that other students whom I had dismissed as unsophisticated and unimaginative dullards (whom I rolled my eyes up to the heavens at) took readily 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.
(‘Unsophisticated’ and ‘unimaginative’! Those unsatisfactory words are the best I can come up with. They are part of my present incompleteness of philosophical precision in defining my Anti-Philosophy.)
To understand the self, one’s own and those of others, one needs a mind with other mental faculties than logic, mathematics and science. What are they? ‘Imagination’? ‘Intuition’? Inspiration from the gods? From the autonomous and supernatural nature of our selves? From experience of living? Or is it just a je ne sais quoi? One can imagine philosophers making mince-meat of all these ideas.
It helps 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 is a quality of mind educated too by the reading of literature which broadens and deepens the mind by taking one into the innermost minds of entirely made-up characters. Education and Wisdom by way of untrue stories that someone has made up? How can that be? It is also educated by History, Religion, Classics, which broaden and deepen the mind by taking one into the motivations of human selves, and not just by Science which is only appropriate to things.
Why hasn’t Literature condemned Philosophy as simply being stupid and ‘rationalistic’ of a kind and to a degree that deletes human wisdom. It is so rationalistic that it becomes irrational. I don’t understand it. Even the curmudgeonly F.R. Leavis strolled with Ludwig Wittgenstein. (I think someone has suggested that Leavis, though he recognized philosophy as being logico-mathematical, did still misunderstand it. Is this possible? I will look at my notes on him again and write a post.)
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 to try to ferret out the ‘fundamental truth’ of things ‘by step by step reasoning’. Keats called his own rejection of truth-seeking, ‘Negative Capability’. Very good! (See here.)
I came across this passage too: “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.” (I owe this passage to another website, perhaps from E.R. Dodds, but I don’t know which one.) It is a pretty obvious truth about all fictional and poetic literature..
I was amazed when I first came across people who valued more seriously than anything else in Man, his rationalistic side – the logicking, mathematicking, and scientificking, not the mysteries lying within him. The latter was the significant thing for me. The former was purely technical, materially useful as this is. We are the most highly developed of creatures in our feelings, musings, dreams, nostalgias, memories, ironies, longings, motivations, deceptions, self-deceptions and so on, not only in our mathematicking and logicking.
Philosophically naive as I am, I was impressed by a post from philosopher Christopher Norris. 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. It seemed to me very rigorous stuff by a philosopher who knew his physics. Yes, think I, if you are already so abstractly and empirically rationalistic as to be a scientist, then philosophy may well be relevant to you. 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 this modern world.
I haven’t brought my exasperation with Philosophy to a philosophical level of precision because it is not yet completely clear in my own mind. I use rhetorical flourishes in places instead. Also, readers may notice that my references aren’t to respectable philosophy sites. My excuse is that I would need to have the same frame of mind to be able to endure philosophy professors talking at length to philosophy students within the department of Philosophy. Their whole way of thought is what I’m astonished at, and can’t force myself to convert into. Also, some of my references may be to sites that no longer exist because I read them some time ago.
(This theme continues on other posts in the category Philosophy on this site.)