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 The Value of Philosophy

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PostSubject: The Value of Philosophy   Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:35 am

Philosophy stands as the discipline of all things human and as the means by which man searches for meaning and understanding in a universe denying him both.
As such it is a curious amalgamation of scientific curiosity and artistic expression that attempts to uncover, indirectly, things that can never possibly be made aware of in a direct conscious manner to the human senses or that can be fully expressed, through words and language, to the human mind.
Science has been thought, in this ‘scientific age’, as the forerunner of all human progress and the primary tool of human exploration. It has served man well, thus far, and has saved human kind from the overindulgence in and surrender to mythological and religious pacifiers that threaten to limit mankind to the confines of his own prejudices, self-interests and fears.
But science itself is beginning to reach the limits of its effectiveness, where its probing eye, is itself, affecting the results of what is being observed and is making the scientific ‘dream’ of absolute objectivity, an improbability, at best, and a complete illusion, at worst.
This inter-relation of object and subject, described by Schopenhauer, has uncovered some uncomfortable realities about the extent of human knowledge and places doubt about the very likelihood of knowledge itself, as a whole; a subject tackled by epistemology in the philosophical discipline.
Science is like trying to shed light in a dark room that will be changed by the very light you cast. One can never be sure that, in the dark, things remain the same or that the light used is powerful or precise enough to make everything visible.

Art also faces its own restrictions in its endeavour to describe transcendental ‘truths’ by utilizing human imagination to shape sensual interpretations into metaphorical symbols.
Here feeling, instinct and imagination is unleashed in the place of critical thought, reason and empiricism and the underlying, unseen reality or the transcending ‘truth’ of existence is expressed through color, shape, tone and all forms of sensual interpretations.
But art cannot give direction, purpose or create life strategies and rules by which a human being can live or find power in; it can insinuate and guess, it can paint approximations and try to achieve precision through indirect means but it remains restricted to individual limitations of interpretation and understanding and is seeped in an allegory that leaves much room for misunderstanding and lacks the precision to quench the minds thirst for answers.
Art is like trying to describe a dark room by walking through it with the lights closed and feeling the movement of your body through the objects in it, the effect of the air upon you and the overall sensation you receive and then mimicking it to the best of your abilities for all to see.

Philosophy bridges these two attitudes of exploration by combining the scientific desire to cast light on everything and the artistic disposition of gaining insight through instinct and emotional comprehension.
Gustave Flaubert says on this matter: “As a rule the philosopher is a kind of mongrel being a cross between scientist and poet, envious of both.”

One may even venture to claim that philosophy is the source of both science and art and is related to both as a tree, rooted in the human mind, is related to its branches, breathing and gathering sunlight on its behalf.

But even philosophy has fallen on some hard times and is now faced with the spectre of nihilism and the denial of life itself. Centuries of human philosophical thought has guided us to the brink of human desperation and the precipice of nothingness. This mental exploration of ‘all things’ has uncovered painful facets of mans place in the universe, his purpose, or lack of, and his relation to sensual information gained through imperfect instruments and forever entrenched in subjectivity and speculation.

What therefore is the value of philosophy?
Many take philosophy as this pool of subjects by which they show-off their mental abilities or indulge their need for deeper conversation to pacify their boredom and occupy their minds with mental puzzles that can never be answered adequately.
There are those that take philosophy to be the mere reassessing of previous opinions in this unending interpretation and reinterpretation of what others have thought or believed.
They feel they are ‘philosophical’ or ‘intellectual’ just because they can mention the multiple schools of philosophical thought, quote from previous works and take a position on abstract ideas formulated by previous minds.
Here is the very essence of what it means to me a sophist.
A mind that has not suffered or struggled for its opinions feels a distance, a cold-hearted indifference towards their validity and so expresses them as if reciting a poem he hasn’t written and therefore not fully comprehended. For him a philosophy is not part of him but only something he knows and so can easily replace with another. His only attachment to it is in regards to his ego and not wanting to prove his judgment wrong for ever having believed in it.
Beliefs gained by reading books or by adopting another’s viewpoint without personal effort and analysis of the world directly are truly worthless and utterly without consequence on any individual life.
A philosophy that isn’t ‘lived’ is only a candy suckled on by those wanting to believe they are in that instant thinking…deeply.
A sophist participates in philosophical discourse knowing beforehand that no answer will be given, no conclusion reached and the inevitable result will be a smile, a handshake and an agreement to disagree. He will then leave the debate table non-the-better and non-the-worst. No change, no gain, no difference will have been made and this suits the sophist, just fine.
This Christian attitude of wanting to equate all opinions and respect all viewpoints so as to not insult or hurt anybody for holding on to the most ridiculous belief, is a direct result of the current psychology of equalitarianism and compassion that negates all possibility of superior and inferior opinions and participates in debate only when no clear victor is to be crowned and no belief will be totally discredited.
A sophist will only include himself in a conversation when he does not feel threatened by exposure and so prefers to discuss matters that can never possibly lead to a result and that have no personal ramifications.

But philosophy is meaningless if only this attitude is adopted and no real-life consequences are looked for.
Philosophy is not only about a recitation of dead ideas and dead peoples opinions in an endless regurgitation of ‘what was meant’ or ‘what was said’; it is a battle between two, or more, personal viewpoints and the destruction or alteration of the weaker one for the purpose of achieving a higher ‘truth’ or a more worthy state of mind.
The world of ideas is subject to the same rules of physical existence and evolutionary methods of progress.
Philosophy is political in that it must lead to real-life results and the formulation of life strategies for the attainment of goals in a given environment.
Philosophy is artistic, in that it uses metaphor and allegory to describe what is indescribable and speaks to the imagination where reason is incapable to comprehend.
Philosophy is scientific, in that it uses sensual phenomena to deduce and induce bigger phenomena and empiricism to find arguments for or against interpretations.

What is the value of something that will not have a consequence upon our being and leads to no practical result?
A philosopher opens his window, his eyes and his mind to the world and only uses past opinions as inspirations and guidance tools to his own, personal explorations. Books and philosophical treatises are resource material not goals, in themselves.
It is preferable to have an incomplete and weaker opinion that was gained through personal effort, than to adopt more perfect and complete ideas in which you had no participation in and the only work done was memorization.
As a result of this personal effort, ideas and opinions become personal and the individual in their defence becomes passionate.
It is true that emotion must be kept, as much as possible, out of the formulation of opinion but the expression of such a formulation, once made, can be emotional and passionate because it then becomes a life position with real life consequences and far reaching results.
Philosophical debate can and must include everything of human interest even the things that are unavoidably beyond his ability to perceive. But if philosophical debate does not also include discussions on subjects that offer an opportunity for personal growth and empowerment, if it does not have consequences in the everyday living of an individual, if it remains non-political then it becomes castrated and impotent in any real sense.
It becomes a game for the sophists wanting to remain as they are and only desiring a perspective on opposing beliefs that they can discard, as useless, using personal interests, prejudices and fears.
A sophist is like a fight spectator; he chooses sides and then yells for his man in support but, in the end, for him the result of the fight has no real results and so win or lose he will leave intact and unscathed. He therefore remains distant and cold, which comes off as confidence or superiority, but is in essence the indifference of non-participation. He can therefore laugh and cheerfully exit the stands without passion or risk, embracing the ones that opposed him in his choice. The extent of his participation is in utilizing his judgment to pick fighters. His only stake is one of ego.
For the sophist all fighters are noteworthy and respectable- he may have his favourite but all are his superior- but he can never feel the ecstasy of being in there or pay the personal sacrifices needed to enter himself.
The philosopher, on the other hand, is the fighter himself. He enters the arena to defend himself and to prove his worth by testing it facing another of his kind. For him the preparation required discipline and effort; blood and sweat was put into his ‘exercise’, his askisis and now he gets into the rink risking both health and limb in order to become better. For him the fight is personal since it has direct consequences on his being and his beliefs and he’s invested much time and effort in reaching fighting fitness.

In the end though who benefits more from a fight; the spectator or the fighter himself, win or lose?

If philosophy does not lead to personal growth and change then what is it good for, in mans ephemeral limited existence?

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