Sunday, January 4, 2009

The End of Philosophy

What is Philosophy?
Young children incessantly ask, "but why?" to any answer offered by their parent. This continues until the parent tires and says, "go ask your Father." Philosophy is the same. It's the art of inquiry but its art has a unique mode: it is de-creative. Philosophy breaks down concepts through their understanding until the understanding itself is questioned. The understanding is that of the inquirer though, which shows the profound hunger of philosophy's "why?" - the inquiry feasts on its subject matter and then turns on the inquirer.

But it doesn't stop there. Philosophy continues to question until it arrives at its very own activity, "why the why?", where it questions its own motives. So philosophy is always "negative towards itself." Its goal is to remove the want for philosophy. Philosophy's consummation is its own consumption, a serpent eating its tail. Its final act is the unearthing of the ultimate foundation or under-standing, the place where all questions are answered. The Garden of Eden, as it were, where the tree of knowledge is planted.

Paradise Lost
But there is no such garden. This idea is a remnant from a time we believed the world was spoken into existence - when we thought God declared, "Let there be light"; and there was light. "The Word" was identified with what is; with being. Since then, we've assumed the world is made up of sentence-like things called "facts" and the sentences which can be bought into correspondence with these facts are true sentences. The sentence, "there is beer in the fridge" corresponds to the fact that there is beer in the fridge and, because of this the sentence is true.

Language connects us to the world, and through it, we have access to the truth. It's a light that reveals the world to us. Species that command language are thus touched by the divine and are privileged over other species. We're like God. We can speak and have the power to create. We can know the world, ourselves, other people, good and evil. We have access to the tree of knowledge. But why should we believe the world is made up of bits of language or language-like structures? It seems quite ludicrous that my coffee is, in metaphysical fact, the divine word "coffee". What is clear, is that we've mistaken language, the tool we use to communicate about the world, for the world itself. We've mistaken the nail for the hammer.

If we reject the idea that language corresponds to the world, the idea of this metaphysical truth is left out in the cold. In this picture, truth is no longer discovered by us, but made. Philosophy's ultimate foundation bottoms out, not at language as being, but at our cultural language game. There is no ultimate foundation for knowledge, our ideas are a product of time and chance.

There is no more want for philosophy. It's at an end and its death bears no fruit.

Life without Truth
Since there is no good reason to think that language transcends the physical or that truth comes from a resounding harmonic between the two, in a capital-T kind of way, the word "truth" is reduced to the status of an occasionally useful term. Knowledge is reduced to useful belief.

It can be seductive to say this idea is true after the old manner, but it's not true by its own rubric. This doesn't mean it's false though. The idea is either useful or it isn't, and to me, it's been very useful.

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