Creative Energy I: The Problem With Philosophy, A History Boy, 06/12/2017

I’m getting back on my wander through What Is Philosophy? with a few of his difficult ideas. Gilles Deleuze’s approach to philosophical thinking showed me what I thought was the best way to deal with the whole tradition.*

Like looking for pictures in the clouds. I can see a pattern of light
that suggests Deleuze's face, as water flows over two rocks at the
centre of the frame, by the bottom edge.
* Traditions. Only one thing bugs me about Deleuze, that he makes philosophy itself a Western creation. Western philosophy is one tradition of a general feature of human society that develops anything you could call a tradition of wisdom. Creating frameworks for understanding the world is much more fundamental to human thought than this one contingent Hellenic vector.
• • •
I felt like I had to get that note out of the way. It was bugging me all the way through reading this book. That was the biggest difference between when I first read What Is Philosophy? and when I read it again this Fall. 

A man develops a way of thinking about philosophy that makes it central to some peculiar essence in humanity itself – the wisdom that separates us from the animals. That makes us an order above the other animals.

One man, steeped in the left-wing politics and intellectual environment of a country coming to grips with the loss of its empire – the spectre of radical equality. He’s also a keen mathematician, a careful student of sciences that depend on calculus – he understood intimately how fundamental dynamic differentials were to reality. 

A pure materialist who understood how profoundly stupid that metaphor of the clockwork mechanism really was. One of the very few. So he roots humanity’s remarkable nature in our ability to develop frameworks of thinking self-consciously – we can build intellectual machines to change our instincts. That’s the power of philosophy!

One man, steeped in profound ethnic national
culture, with deep feelings of connection to land
and soil, as if it were in his blood, understands
his chosen field of thought, philosophy, in the
same way – mystic wisdom of a people who
speak with the voice of being itself, revealing
its nature through the prophecies of a sage. A
sage we now call philosophers. This, he
thought, it what makes us an order above the
Deleuze's dark and terrifying mirror.
Yet it begins in Hellenic Greece. Like we wouldn’t have been doing that for the hundreds of thousands of years it took us to diverge from all the other hominids. 
• • •
There’s such a strange paradox that I see in philosophy. Maybe it’s just from my own experience, which is unlike anyone else’s. Maybe my experience is more typical. I’d like to know whether I’m on to something when I say this.

Side A. Here’s my experience of philosophy as it tends to be taught. You analyze texts to understand their arguments, you critique that argument using the different rules of reasoning. Has Descartes made a good argument that we cannot trust our senses?

Side B. The key works in the history of any tradition in philosophy are not always all that concerned with point by point rebuttals back and forth. But it’s very tough to get to the intensity of thought where you’ve built such a profound conceptual mechanism that you influence the character of your whole culture’s thought for centuries after.

Too many higher education programs teach philosophy as if it were training in argumentation. Now, that’s important, but it shouldn’t be taught as the primary skill, as the essence of the discipline.

The problem is that when you hear the professionals talking philosophy – the professors, grad students, nerdy upper-levels – they’re all arguing. It’s professional, it’s clinical, it’s sometimes a little too cold, it’s expert, it’s insightful. But it’s all the back and forth of argument, critique, counter-argument.

We’re not doing what the people we talk about did. Next couple of posts this week, I want to work out some ideas about what we should do to fix that.

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