Oct 6, 2007

There's no kind of way out of here
Why impossible philosophical problems are the only philosophical problems worth thinking about, and how we can come to giving up on philosophy

Incomplete thoughts on philosophy on the weekend

1. Across eras, genres and schools, the attempt at escape persists through philosophy.
2. Escapes are attempted both personally, like Hume and Wittgenstein trying to "give it up," and formally, like Descartes and Aquinas, Augustine and Wittgenstein, trying to methodologically reach a plane where the methodology passes away.
3. There are no accounts of successful escape, except through death.
4. Escape through death, such as Socrates' example of voluntarily drinking the hemlock, serve to enforce, affirm and even actually found the system that allowed dreams of and prohibited the escape. Socrates refused physical escape, because it would undermine and counter his methodological work towards escape, but accepted death because it affirmed, etc., his work. His death, however, also established philosophy as an escape plan, without the actual exit, and reaffirmed the authoritative system refusing escape. Aquinas, likewise, escapes through a revelation that everything leading him towards the escape is "like chaff," but then he is struck silent, disallowing him to construct anything counter to the chaff, and dies. In death he is sainted, ensuring the work proclaimed worthless will endure.
5. The other mode of escape via death is even more futile, self-undermining and self-reestablishing, in that it is death in media res, with the escape plans still in process but the exit never having been accomplished. Example: Descartes died from a cold caught while teaching philosophy.
6. Participation in the creation of the problem through attempts to analyze the problem, contain it and escape it, is a reoccurring fear. "What if the true Evil is not the X dynamic, but the attempts to extricate ourselves from it?" A few recent philosophers on the Continental side of things -- I'm thinking Girard, Derrida, Zizek, and also Neitchze, and Wittgenstein (again again) -- have emphasized that problem, making theory of theory key, and making that contributing-to-the-problem problem central to their thought. It is possible that this fear is characteristic of the school.
7. Some problems, like the mind-body problem, are entirely made up of showing why the problem isn't a problem.
8. The less likely a problem is to be perceivable by untrained people -- e.g. no one has ever expressed having a mind-body problem themselves -- the more likely the trained people are to be attempting to escape. Contrast to ethics. This matches the ivory-tower libel of philosophers and the tendency of philosophers to seek escape through "normal" and "human" activities, such as love, war, work, art and games. Even though philosophy is founded on proclamations that rational analysis is what makes someone human, more than animal, it is practiced with the half-coded idea that rational analysis makes one more than human, e.g. Nietchze’s superman or logical positivist attempts at new, better language.
9. Philosophers fail at "normal" "human" activities -- love, war, work, etc. -- because they perceive the problems-in-need-of-escape in those activities, feel the failure of continued participation in the problem which they want to exit or abolish, and thus move into the philosophical attempts to analyze, contain, escape, etc. Those attempts are also futile, distancing the philosopher from humans, re-strengthening the problem, and continuing the cycle of self-undermining and self-reestablishing.
10. "Escape" may be achievable through the admission that escape is impossible. Acknowledging participation in the problem and the impossibility of rising above it may be the way to "give it up," the way to not do philosophy by doing philosophy. This end leaves us in the squalid and filthy mess of things, able to be ethically human but with a diminished portion of "rational" and an over-size remainder of "animal" in our rational-to-animal distribution.
11. This end is the St. Paul/Martin Luther/John Calvin beginning: An inability to save oneself and revelation through the realization of ones' own full participation in depravity. I am the chief of stinky shitters. If, however, we expect the reception of total depravity to separate us, elevate us, deliver us from the plight of the rest of humankind, we would be dreaming of escape, a dream which means the realization of the inescapableness and our participation in the problem was not adequately realized.
12. Realize ones' participation in the problem and also realize the inescapability of participation and also accept it. Abandon communes and claims to election, elevated elitehoods and visions of ladders leading upward. Give up schools for philosopher kings and secret sanctum conspiracies and with Gnostic imaginings.
13. To lose the attempted escape and accept that loss is to come to rest with humans.