Monday, January 09, 2006

Inaugurating A Dark New Year

This site is more a personal notebook than a blog. I don’t write easily or often, and I fuss too much about the English. My writing, such as it is, is more like a completed crossword or sudoku than transcribed speech; and I have been told that figuring it out is more like solving a puzzle than reading a paragraph. Meanwhile, the content, at least the non-political content, is also hermetically repellent since I write on the far side of a lifetime of mostly solitary thought and research and pursue questions and obsessions that only accidentally coincide with the interests of others. A real reader who matched up the implied reader of these pages would be a rare bird indeed and should perhaps seek professional help. The fundamental problem, however, is that I practice philosophy.

I’m not bragging. A philosopher is not somebody who possesses a special kind of knowledge or skill, though those attributes might define a good philosopher. As I use the term—and it has many other historically warranted and reasonable meanings—a philosopher is simply somebody who puts an unreasonably high value on truth without expecting the truth in question to begin with a capital t. Philosophy so defined is incurably anarchistic and probably deserving of hemlock, though the authorities have long since discovered that ignoring it is a better way of neutralizing the threat. For most people, perhaps rightly and certainly inevitably, thought is the least free of activities, policed as it is by employers, governments, religions, public opinion, the emotional blackmail of friends and family, and most of all by the hopes and fears of the thinker. To be a philosopher is to disregard all that, not in some operatic fashion or as a spiritual exercise, but as a matter of bureaucratic routine.

This assertion of principled philistinism probably sounds paradoxical. After all, Philosophers are often satirized for maintaining utterly incredible ideas and not just by op ed writers and other lumbering ungulates. Bob Fogelin, himself a professional philosopher, once wondered aloud in my hearing whether J.P. Sartre ever actually believed what he wrote in Being and Nothingness; and I’ve had more than one occasion to look up from the Monadology with similar incredulity. Years of reflection have convinced me that the apparent goofiness of philosophical ideas is something of an illusion, however. That is, the various philosophical ideas are indeed wild guesses, but they are as sensible as a dictionary compared to common sense. Anyhow, philosophers are obliged to make leaps because they are people in a terrible hurry. While the most credible self-understanding the universe will ever achieve takes place in the essentially social form of the sciences, philosophy is about how much of the world can be comprehended by an individual in a single lifetime. With a goal like that, you care a lot about probabilities and nothing whatsoever about plausibilities. You aren’t in the business of contriving likely stories—achieving verisimilitude is only important in the realms of courtesy, politics, and marketing.

Having enunciated (or confessed) my principles, I return, however sporadically, to blogging.

No comments: