Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Determinism: talking about God’s world without God

October 28, 2010

Even though God is dead, as pronounced by Nietzsche, we still cannot avoid speaking about the world as though God exists. Modern Determinism does not believe in a God, but still talks about the world as though it is “caused” and “caused deterministically.” Of course, the cause(s) in this theory is/are not God, but ‘nature’. ‘nature’ should be referred to as “Nature”, because the language used is unavoidably metaphysical. Scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, have no issue with being ‘spirtual’ about Nature. God and Nature are on par metaphysically.

Determinism, like all causal theories, presume a God or metaphysical essence, even though they may not refer to one.

What’s the alternative?Like Terry Pratchett paraphrasing Heraclitus says, “Things just happen, what the hell!”

 

Terry Eagleton on The Meaning of Life

December 19, 2009

Eagleton says, “The meaning of life is a subject fit  for either the crazed or the comic, and I hope I have fallen more into the latter camp than the former.” From this statement, we can expect that his analysis will be superficial at best, trivial at other times. He does not disappoint.

First he misinterprets and denies the question of the meaning of life with some idol worship of Ludwig Wittgenstein*. Then he joins the bandwagon of celebrity atheists in their parody of religious believers. He cites Nietzsche, but buffoon-like, refers to Will to Power (not written by Nietzsche).

Eagelton generally treats the question impersonally, as though it were merely the result of cultural forces. Priority is given to the formative analysis of the question, rather than the exploration of perspectives on its content (i.e. its meaning to different people). Caught in the grasp of Wittgenstein and The Prison-House of Language, he naively presumes that for the meaning of life to be a genuine philosophical concern it must be an objective entity, and communicable according to rules of ‘ordinary grammar’. Later in the book, he turns away from these mistakes, though not admitting their origin in narrow-minded theories of language.

The meaning of the question, rather than its form, is finally explored in the back pages of the book. He even gives attention to the question in the context of the intentional life of the individual. Subjectivity, which should have been there from the start, makes a belated appearance – Hurrah!

After reading this book, I am tempted to generalise that literary theorists cannot qualify to analyse and answer such big questions. Their eyes are too coloured by the parochial theories of literary criticism. Most of them judge subjectivity deficient in some way, yet they don’t see the log in their own eye.

2 Stars (out of 5)

You can get the first chapter of the book here: Question and Answers

*The question, “what is the meaning of life?” is a violation of a prescriptive Wittgensteinian ‘ordinary use’ of language. However, Wittgenstein’s ‘ordinary use’ prescription is ordinarily ignored by ordinary people, on every ordinary day! (Wittgenstein does not have a box or theory for this use of language, he therefore dismisses it as “meaningless” — what a dodgy fellow)! It is individuals who give the question meaning, not narrow-minded theories of language. The question is not confined to any single interpretation and method of enquiry. How we interpret the question says a lot about us as individuals, our values, etc.

Science does not, cannot explain anything

December 14, 2009

For explanation we need a God. Naturalism is a popular God these days. However, science can help us improve our descriptions of subjective experience.

Nietzsche in The Joyful Wisdom, AKA The Gay Science

Cause and Effect. We say it is “explanation “; but it is only in “description” that we are in advance of the older stages of knowledge and science. We describe better, we explain just as little as our predecessors. We have discovered a manifold succession where the naive man and investigator of older cultures saw only two things, “cause” and “effect,”as it was said; we have perfected the conception of becoming, but have not got a knowledge of what is above and behind the conception. The series of “causes” stands before us much more complete in every case; we conclude that this and that must first precede in order that that other may follow – but we have not grasped anything thereby. The peculiarity, for example, in every chemical process seems a “miracle,” the same as before, just like all locomotion; nobody has “explained” impulse. How could we ever explain? We operate only with things which do not exist, with lines, surfaces, bodies, atoms, divisible times, divisible spaces – how can explanation ever be possible when we first make everything a conception, our conception? It is sufficient to regard science as the exactest humanizing of things that is possible; we always learn to describe ourselves more accurately by describing things and their successions. Cause and effect: there is probably never any such duality; in fact there is a continuum before us, from which we isolate a few portions – just as we always observe a motion as isolated points, and therefore do not properly see it, but infer it. The abruptness with which many effects take place leads us into error; it is however only an abruptness for us. There is an infinite multitude of processes in that abrupt moment which escape us. An intellect which could see cause and effect as a continuum, which could see the flux of events not according to our mode of perception, as things arbitrarily separated and broken – would throw aside the conception of cause and effect, and would deny all conditionality.

Compatibility of subjective and objective methods

December 13, 2009

Subjective methods include phenomenology and existential methods.
Objective methods are equated with the scientific method and naturalism.

Only a dogmatist does not see the compatibility of subjective and objective methods in relation to the human.

  • Scientific methods cannot capture and explain the first-person experience of a human, because they are reductionist, abstractionist, and treat the human as an object. They explain things in an abstract model of causes, rather than try to capture the essence of subjective experience.
  • Subjective methods can too-easily overlook the social structures and biology that can influence human belief and behaviour. With the exception of some forms of phenomenology, this is because they lack descriptive rigour and may be limited in scope.

Occasionally, a scientific study has improved my first-person descriptive account of experience. In doing this it has aided my navigation through life. At other times, I have found scientific studies irrelevant to my life, or of marginal significance, such as when I have read studies that have verified things that I learnt a long time ago through subjective experience.

I don’t equate the models provided by the natural sciences with reality as one perceives it. I believe subjective methods are superior to objective ones, because human beings are subjects, not objects. Objective methods are however useful in clearing up the naivety and looseness found in many subjective accounts of experience.

Unfortunately, some simpletons only publicly recognise the validity of objective methods (including half of Academia). These dogmatists (metaphyscial, rather than methodological naturalists) have forgotten that they are subjects, i.e., human beings.

Fortunately, like most dogmatists they are hypocritical in that they don’t rely on objectivity – rather subjectivity – for everyday navigation through life. Just as well, as no one could live that way.

Further reading: Can Phenomenology Be Naturalized?

Public expectations of philosophy

December 12, 2009

A while ago, I discussed public expectations of philosophy versus those of the natural sciences in regard to intelligiblity. My dialogue is below.

Expectations of philosophy are different to esoteric work in the natural sciences because the public has more of an acquaintance with the former. I for one would be hard pressed to give examples of the latter. Furthermore, philosophy is fundamentally concerned with communicating with clarity; ‘true’ philosophy is intelligible.

…why do members of the educated public think that it is an objection to philosophical inquiry that it is unintelligible to them?

That is a silly question when you think about it. Do you have no preference for intelligibility? There is an expectation that philosophy should be relevant to how we live our lives, therefore intelligibility is a criterion. I hope we don’t blame the educated public for the inability of philosophers to communicate intelligibly.

Why should we care about what philosophers devote their energies to, rather than let a thousands flowers bloom, willy-nilly?

That is an easy question to answer: life is short and we want the best out of philosophy for our lives. Priorities and concerns matter!

I still don’t think Academia in general is taking the public’s complaints about its philosophical production seriously enough. There is too much defensiveness, bluster, dodging and denial of the issue, and care for social status when these complaints are raised, rather than serious philosophical investigation.

On objectivity

December 9, 2009

In objectivity, one forgets oneself. The illusion of a detached, fossilised, unconcerned world is created. All the colouring and purpose given to the world by the subject are denied.

As Nietzsche says in the Beyond Good and Evil, chapter 4:

80. A thing that is explained ceases to concern us–What did the God mean who gave the advice, “Know thyself!” Did it perhaps imply “Cease to be concerned about thyself! become objective!”– And Socrates?–And the “scientific man”?

Objectivity is the most popular style in philosophy today. Why? Because it allows philosophers to babble on endlessly about petty things to their hearts’ desire. Prestige amongst fools is the carrot for  Objective Philosophy (OP). The greatest babblers of OP are esteemed highest amongst the OP herd. OP is the philosophy of professors; irrelevant to the everyday life of the subject. It defies committment; it is only a pretentious hobby. In OP, Truth is nothing but collectively believed-in fiction (or common interpretations, according to the language of a communicative group).

For instance, objective-style discourse on ethics involves talk on ethical concepts and systems of concepts which are wholly impotent. Far too much collective human life has spent on this sedentary engagement.  A concept wrung of the intentions of a subject has never motivated anyone to do anything. 2 + 4 = 4 — as if that’s what it’s all about? However, objective-style ethics has rewarded a few with prestige much envied by the rest: Mill and Kant being some of the greatest babblers.

A subjective-style ethics, however, does not concern itself with analysing, logically rearranging, and espousing babble. Subjective ethics must lead to decision and action, because it is concerned with the life and intentions of the subject in the world. Truth in subjectivity is a life lived according to it. This Truth cannot be forgotten, unlike all the past and present fictions of OP, which have fiction at their base.

Short takes on philosophy

December 5, 2009

Here.

Meaning from without and within

November 1, 2009

“The meaning of life is whatever you make it” fails to work in practice, because it does not consider the social/cultural aspects that make up an individual. The individual must first overcome their culture, otherwise whatever meaning ‘they make’ will only be a notion of meaning prevalent in that culture, and most likely superficial and disingenuous.

Meaning, if it is to be true, cannot be imposed by the individual on the world; the world must impose it on the individual. An individual must first learn to see the world with new eyes, then they will see a new world that will infuse them with meaning. Meaning must come from without, it must ‘possess’ the individual.

The meaning of life for the possessed is genuine, i.e., it is reflected in the individual everyday’s actions and committments. This meaning is found through a journey or process of skeptical, philosophical exploration and analysis. The journey comes from within. It will involve questioning, critically analysing and undermining societal norms, values and ‘herd behaviour’. Along the journey, much time will be spent in the desert. A new world will be found at the end of this journey and the meaning therein will possess the individual.

The journey toward the meaning of life comes from within. The meaning of life, when found, comes from without.

Philosophy in a nutshell

July 25, 2009

Philosophy without reference to practical self-reflective  psychology and social psychology is bunk.

This statement goes against much of the philosophical tradition, but in modern times it has gained more currency. There are still philosophers out there who are theologian-like, believing that objects have an existence outside of the mental model they have constructed. What these theo-philosophers fail to see is that they have made things up. They have pulled their theories out of their arses. This applies to their ‘reason’ also.

Reason claims to begin with premises that supposedly needs no justification. Taking the premise, the philosopher makes inferences to a conclusion.

In fact, the philosopher already has a conclusion in mind; perhaps not in detail, but in broad outline/context/perspective. This determines the premises chosen and influences the inference process with bias. The conclusion therefore is not an objective, God’s eye view of the world (which of course doesn’t exist), but a perspective with some formal and quite boring flourishes. I need not give an example of how some philosophers have ‘reasoned their way to God’, when in fact they were just rationalising their pre-conceived perspective.

Reason is bunk unless the mental model/perspective can make predictions that are subsequently useful to the senses, ergo the popularity of the scientific method. However, the mental model being evaluated as useful to the senses doesn’t mean it is objective, and doesn’t mean that other mental models may be equally or more useful. Philosophy is not about finding and justifying the one, true (i.e. useful) mental model of the world through reason, but evaluating, deciding on and prioritising those perspectives that are most useful to human life and living them out. In short, philosophy is about wise perspectives and loving these, living these, because you love life.

Philosophers and those who purport to be

July 25, 2009

An interesting piece by Maverick Philosopher, Philosophy as Hobby, as Career, as Vocation, has me thinking about how unself-reflective those who claim the label of “philosopher” can be. Philosophers like to think of their engagements in the most noble, socially-acceptable terms; that is human (or rather, ape). In this, they abuse concepts, such as ‘reason’ and ‘academic rigour’, by using them as endowments which they can lend to their work in order to grant it divine authority.

An honest assessment would be that most philosophers, especially academic ones, engage in ‘philosophical activities’ primarily out of a desire for social status; a primitive motivation. This motivation is evidenced when philosophers come to think that following formal styles and academic standards is more important than the life-impact of their work.

Perhaps no one can escape the motivation of social status in their philosophical pursuits. If that be the case, at least the philosopher should be honest in recognising it. They should attend more of their writings to the pursuit of social status (e.g. as Aristotle did as part of pursuit of the Good Life), rather than pursuing itself by way of pretentious talk on topics not related to it (in the social status game of academic publishing) and having no impact on how we live our lives.