Sunday, October 31, 2010

What I've Cribbed from Philosophers

Or: Lessons Learned With Consequence

The first philosopher who influences my current thinking is Socrates. Those before him are interesting to me only in an academic way: Empedocles, Democritus, Pythagoras and Epicurus amongst the rest. Socrates, for many, is the purest philosopher, a martyr for Truth. The shadow-figure of Socratic practice would be Diogenes, who took Socrates' distaste for the shallows of society to a logical conclusion, forswearing home, family, and decency.

Cribbed: An avoidance of cocktail banter, except serving as a means to get to richer stuff; The notion that honesty will be vindicated; Convinced me that applying my cooking talents may not be the best use of my life (from either Gorgias or Parmenides, I can't recall).

Plato was a bit of a rotter. I don't think I'd like his society from the Republic and Laws. Nor do I think it would actually work. Come to think, most of Plato's ideas don't jive with my own. His ideas-forms dichotomy is bunk. I like his gymnasium school, though, educating both the mind and body.

Cribbed: The importance of educating the whole person; Why it's important to avoid false dichotomies.

Of the Greeks the last to be influential for me is Aristotle. Plotinus and the rest don't do it for me. To some small extent I think Zeno the Stoic is sort of useful, but I can't claim to be a stoic. Aristotle, on the other hand, was the best for his passion in studying everything. Yet his desire for theory to overwrite fact was rather disastrous. His logic was a great foundation, even if it took a couple millenia to be built upon.

Cribbed: A partial fluency in Aristotelian logic; An ethics of potential and achievement; Regard for scientific fact and observation being more powerful than theory.

The Romans didn't produce much of note. Likewise the Middle Ages were relatively useless for me. From Boethius to Maimonides to Aquinas I've found little of relevance. The next philosophers for me would be Descartes and his rationalist buddy Leibniz. Descartes' 'Cogito' is rewarding for young philosophers looking for stability. As Russell points out Leibniz was a powerful thinker, who, unfortunately, applied his talent poorly in his writings, seeking expedient fame over philosophical greatness.

Cribbed: Increased appreciation of how theory can get you nowhere fast; Increased wariness of dichotomies, esp. of the mind and senses.

Having read Locke only politically, so too do I categorize Hobbes and Rousseau. Having skipped Berkley, I pass on to the arch-Empiricist, Hume. His ethics are dull. Humean existence, too, is a bit iffy. Since we can't trust inductive reasoning we end up not knowing "what will happen if...". Like the Rationalists causality is very peculiar. All the same his Dialogues are the finest I've read in English.

Cribbed: Many arguments for atheism; A healthy skepticism of the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning; A greater acceptance of Carl Sagan as my lord and saviour.

Kant's ideas initially made me bristle. Now that I'm a duller person I'm beginning to come around to his thoughts. The mind tries to reach beyond itself, and in failing to do so creates a dichotomy. Still, his noumenal and phenomenal transcendental answer to the Rationalist-Empiricist debate had me upset for a long time.

Cribbed: Further need for an ethics that applies to context; A few more good arguments for atheism; Elucidations about the nature of what philosophical inquiry can get you: a look behind the noumenal veil.

After Kant you have Hegel and Marx. These two clowns ruined everything. Hegel's view of history is atrocious. Marx's is not so horrible an image, but equally flawed in reasoning. Lots of structure with little support.

Cribbed: A serious distaste for Marxists and Hegelians.

Countering Hegel and Marx you have Kierkegaard. The poor sad sack was not popular, and verged, I think, on misanthropy. His views of personal religion I don't care much for, but his ideas on society and our role in it are fine. Along with Soren I'll lump in Nietzsche, whose ideas have been profoundly bastardized. These 19th century thinkers were the first to emphasize personal discovery of the truth in a fashion resembling Socrates. It was the beginning of a back to basic questions about existence movement.

Cribbed: Derision for people who misquote and use 'subjectivity' as a cover-up for sloppy arguments; A healthy dose of paranoia regarding the intentions of those around me; Increased moral relativity.

The American Transcendentalists I find to be philosophically not worthwhile. Likewise the Utilitarians had a good idea, but poor support. William James I consider fundamentally to be a psychologist rather than philosopher. Instead I turn to the 20th century existentialists Heidegger, Sartre, and Tillich. Heidegger finally resolved the Rationalist-Empiricist debate without recourse to transcendentalism or elaborate messes of needless structure. Sartre's 'upwelling's are wretched stuff, but his emphasis on projects is dead-on. Tillich's definitions of faith and belief dissolve much of the religious debate nonsense.

Cribbed: Peace of mind regarding the nature of my existence; Calm in the face of death; An understanding of Purpose that goes well with Aristotelian ethics; The weight of total responsibility for one's life and actions.

Out of the Analytical mush of such projects like the Principia there came one good voice: Ludwig Wittgenstein. Eccentric, to say the least, his early logical face lift is not as interesting, to me, as his later post-teaching work on language. Many of the earlier problems of philosophy, he argues, were not, as presupposed, epistemological, but instead were linguistic.

Cribbed: New insights into meaning placed in words and the lack of coherence in many philosophical arguments; Philosophical vindication for the depth I'd read into Alice in Wonderland.

1 comment:

DanielK said...

I love Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein. Kierkegaard's view of religion is very intriguing in the sense that he lets us know how dreadful religion can be. Wittgenstein's PI is one of the finest books I've read.