October 1, 2012


Enough about academic philosophy. Like all institutions it has its good and its bad. It is easy to focus on the less than perfect features of anything, and keep harping on those features as if one is fighting a great battle. But this can become a bit like running in place, huffing and puffing without getting anywhere.
The more interesting thing is to just think and to try to understand the world.
The point of the experiment is to do philosophy in everyday life. Not to harp about professional philosophy from everyday life. There is much that is good about academic philosophy. It is best to leave it at that, and to focus on the philosophy itself.
The joy of simply trying to understand the world. What a precious thing. Let me not take it for granted.
The desire to rail against professional philosophy comes from fear. The fear that I have lost out on my opportunity to do philosophy. That out here, in this everyday world, I am lost.
There is a lot of this fear. Often I now feel as if I do not belong anywhere or to any group. This blog, for instance. Who are its readers? To most non-academics it might seem like gibberish. What would or can most of my family or friends who have not read academic philosophy make of my reflections on Rorty or Wittgenstein or how classes are taught? Perhaps the blog seems to them as impenetrable as picking up Kant's First Critique or a random philosophy journal article. I imagine them thinking, "A lot of noise. But to what end? What is the point?" And to most academics the blog might seem like the ramblings of a disgruntled soul, someone who couldn't make it and yet can't let go. Can they relate to the blog as a space for seeking the kind of knowledge they seek? That the very same intelligence which I might have channeled into a journal article is channeled into the blog. I imagine them thinking, "But why does he have to do philosophy over there, in that way? Why not here, the way he used to? This is just confusion."
The fear of being stuck in between. Lost to both sides.
And what if something happens to me? What if I get sick? Or struggle financially and get lost in the efforts to simply survive? Then what? The fear that the experiment will have failed for purely non-intellectual reasons. That perhaps my life would become meaningless. That no one would understand why I chose the path I did. The fear of the remark, "How unfortunate. He wasted his life." The fear of the pain this would cause those close to me. The fear of letting people down. The fear of losing myself.
In the face of this fear, a desperate grasping for any sense of achievement. Any sense of I am doing something rational and good. What is the easiest thing I can try to prove so that the experiment will not be deemed a total failure? Ah, atleast this much: here are the problems with that institution. If nothing else, I managed in my life to show the inconsistencies of that. Maybe that will help future people avoid those inconsistencies. I can contribute in that way at least. Something tangible that I can leave behind, so that my life will not have been for nothing.

If I live out of this fear, the experiment has already failed. Philosophy worth doing arises naturally from within oneself as part of one's growth, and which leads one positively to greater understanding. It is not a tool for fighting with others so as to save face.
Positive philosophy. The kind that expands the horizons. Ennobles the spirit. Provides new understanding.
The experiment is to do that philosophy in everyday life.
To do that I have to channel my innermost instincts for philosophy. The instincts which make me feel that good philosophy can make life worth living. Can be a reason to push through all the pain and negativity which can surface in life. Which can make one say, "Yes, I am alive and I cherish it no matter what life brings my way!"
Is this hoping for too much? It can seem that way. But it is worth hoping for.
Had some interesting conversations with Wittgenstein recently. He makes some good points, especially about whether his kind of philosophy can be professionalized.
But ultimately it is tiring talking to him. He is so persistently negative and tortured. Made me realize that I do not want to be like him. I am not following his path. On his view, philosophy is always bound to be stifling because peace only comes when there is no more philosophy. There is a way to interpret this idea such that it can seem deep: read 'philosophy' as unsettledness of mind and 'no more philosophy' as enlightenment, and his view can seem like many spiritual views. But in a way this interpretation misses Wittgenstein's main struggle, which was with professional philosophy. His view of philosophy seems to me to be not a grand spiritual statement, but more an expression of pettiness and bickering, kind of like Michael Jordan using his hall of fame speech to take pot shots at people he still harbors grudges against. The bizarreness of Jordan's speech is that it showed the dark side of his competitive streak, which while on the basketball court seemed like the fuel of his transcendent skills, off the basketball court seems hollow and vindictive. Similarly, I often have the feeling that the seeming depth of Wittgenstein's view and his way of life are undercut by the dismissive and tortured attitude which persisted throughout his life.
I see philosophy not as a negative endeavor, but as a positive endeavor. One which brings positive understanding, which in turn brings peace to the mind and the soul. Such peace requires forgoing constantly thinking about others, and focusing on clarifying one's own ideas and seeking illumination with a positive spirit. Peace is not the end result of overcoming philosophy. It is a marker for whether one is on the right path.

No comments:

Post a Comment