This being the one hundredth post on this blog, I thought I’d take the moment to publish some musings I’ve had on the function of the non-professional philosophical essayist, which is how I identify myself – and this is how I identify the scribes of many of the blogs that I read. I read blogs by professionals as well, of course – professional philosophers, professional scientists, even professional novelists. But I still read many blogs by writers who, like myself, are not seeking professional credentials or financial remuneration for their writing, yet still pursue their interests in philosophical readings, philosophical questionings and discussion. But why do they?
Reading some of the more technical literature in contemporary professional philosophy, one would think that the history of philosophy forms a kind of closed system, with professionals engaged in filling in details rather than pushing forward the philosophic project – the human seeking after wisdom. But this is not really the case. Basic questions remain, and some basic questions will always remain, because they can never be answered once for all, but only in a limited and contingent way within a given cultural and historical context.
So, whatever the future of professional philosophy, there will always be a felt need, among the educated and intelligent, to ruminate on questions of deep concern to human beings, in a philosophical manner.
So, in a sense, although philosophic lines of thoughts seem to reach either final conclusions, or sometimes simply dead-ends, those of us who feel the urge toward greater wisdom, are rather challenged to renew the search for it, rather than throw up our hands and surrender to the “conventional wisdom” (ideologically approved variance of opinion) of the day.
So: We are going to begin again. Philosophy always begins again, philosophy is the art of rational beginning.
There is no market place for ideas. Ideas are not commodities. One does not consume ideas. ‘Ideas’ that sell well – i.e., punditry, soundbytes, memes, on the web, on television, even in books – are not necessarily of any value other than they make the consumers feel good about themselves. What good idea could possibly make a human being feel good about a self? About having a self? about being a self? Ideas do not make us feel one way or another if they are any good at all. A good idea, an ideal worthy of thought, should be pure thought, and never touch the heart. If the end is producing good feeling in one’s audience, then that is the skill one learns. Ideas have nothing to do with this, only rhetoric. Thus what passes for thought is merely a professional writer at work manipulating the heart of the reader and not probing the mind. That is a production of professional rhetoricians at work, certainly not of seekers after wisdom.
All this is made obvious by the glamor, the celebrity, of pundits and commentators (having no more to say than what they are paid to say), thus increasing the likelihood for employment, as well as providing them with connections necessary to increase their productivity. Why has this not been noticed? It’s because it appears in countries that have become religiously committed to the development of modern industrial-based and investment-based capitalism; and by “religious”, it must be understood that, this is intended literally: we are talking about the continuance (in economic form) of the Reformation, the rebellion against the Church of Rome and all its theological and ideological biases. But not a rebellion against its institutional power; power, in fact, was the object of the contest all along. Consequently the media construction of knowledge – of what can be known in the current social context – has always been directed – intentionally, in the sense that a a certain class of this society as always preferred a certain social environment over possible others – directed towards turning the development of human intellect into a profitable business.
As the battle has raged for the social future of the West, a few thinkers have made various attempts to remove the task of thinking from the market place, recognizing that thinking, when confronted by the demand to produce profit, to produce profitably, must surrender itself to the whims of those collecting the profit, and thus cannot be free. They have not succeeded, yet their continuing inheritance remains a source of hope. Philosophers – not simply in the professional sense, but in the sense of those seeking greater wisdom – have always offered to a society its greatest hope for self-recognition. A society that will not take this hope as given cannot progress; has become stagnant; has entered a stage of self deluded barbarity. Society begins its struggle toward civilization by admitting its faults and flaws. The ancient Chinese of the Han dynasty undertook the construction of a meritocracy [with all its risks and uncertainties] because the stability and security of Chin tyranny proved bloody; painful; and oppressive. A stagnant culture with its threat of indefinitely duplicated hours and days – the same dull work, the same dull pass-times – reduces human experience to less than that of other animals, since our experience derives from the human animal’s rationality, its insatiable desire to learn. Suppression and regression in the effort to think clearly denies us even that which is essential to our animal nature, since this nature – human nature – is rational in its teleology – in its capacity to construct its own teleology – and has only rational discovery as its telos. The fundamental difference between dogs and cats is this: to manifest anxiety cats arch their backs; yet, for the same expression, dogs lower their tails between their legs. Humans express anxiety in words, e.g.: “I worry”; and then seek and address the cause as a goal to accomplish [“I have done this and doing this I have meaning”]. There is nothing to fear in being a human, the fear lies in the possibility of not fully realizing our being human before we die.
So, we begin again. Do we begin looking in at “the thing”, as Hegel did? But why did he think he could do this? Aristotle started with logic. What is the use in that? Why bother with the structure if you have not the material with which to build?
Perhaps we should begin with us; we humans. Confucius began with the ‘just man.’ He only knew that real wisdom is found in how we really do relate to other human beings. But he misjudged how to get other humans to relate to us. As a civilized thinker he could not imagine that any human beings could desire anything other than civilized agency as an end, necessitating a civilization, which, by necessity, is a collective of decent civilized thinkers.
Some, unfortunately, prefer to arch their backs and lower their tails between their legs even though they have no tails. Such choice itself damns them to the pathetic recurrence of endless days of same-old same-old, as human beings who have denied their active lineage as developing intellects.
But accounting for these thus becomes the necessity of any new philosophy in an era of post-literacy and post-modernism; of squabbling celebrities pretending to be politicians and economists; of reduction of ideas to commodities, and reduction of life to recurrent banalities of media defined lives. And we thought we were human but perhaps we are not even dogs and cats.
So we begin again. Perhaps it is just this that makes us human. Cats and dogs never begin. They just are, and then – they are not. When they are, they are perfect cats and dogs. They just arch their backs and lower their tails. Humans have no perfection, exactly because, unlike cats and dogs, they have an inner intuition of perfection. This cannot be achieved, the effort always fails. Thus they must always begin, they always begin again.
But of this, enough; our task is now, at this time, to proceed, again; we rake the coals to light a fire.