Monday, 26 March 2018

My philosophy of existence

     I don't have a philosophy of war and peace, or human bondage to irrational desire, or the greatest happiness for the greatest number, or the liberation of the proletariat, or any other fancy conceit. My philosophy is me. I am my philosophy. My sole interest is in the fact that I exist — and what means or what I can do about it.
     I'm not saying I'm not moved by Wittgenstein's mysticism in his Tractatus and 1914–16 Notebooks, or Russell's romanticism in 'A Free Man's Worship', or any other display of concern for the human predicament or the fate of the human race. But I call it 'displacement activity'.
     This is my philosophy, this is what I teach: The topic you should be concerned about is you, and only you.
     And what of me?...
     I'm not a god, looking down in pity on the world and its creatures, or a Jesus or Gilgamesh looking to sacrifice myself for the benefit of all humanity. I am more remarkable than any of these, not less. It is massively more improbable that I might have existed than either a god or a christ. I have no reason to exist at all. And yet here I am!
     Now, what comes next?
     The hardest thing to shake free is the feeling that I should be doing something important. Instead of frittering away my time, playing computer games or listening to 80s pop music or watching TV sitcoms. For what benefit? Does it make me happy? If not, then that is a reason for looking around for something better to do. The only valid reason.
     The only thing I have that is truly mine is my libido, the flame of my desire. Wanting something, or wanting to do something, or do something to someone, is the only reason for existing. (I kind-of want to be writing this, but am not exactly heated up about it, it's just least irritating activity I can think of for the moment.)
     Do I really want nothing? Is that it? Not at all. I look forward to the things I know I will enjoy. And after I have enjoyed them they are not nothing despite what Bradley says (desires as 'perishing particulars', Appearance and Reality). I take pleasure in the thought that I was pleased. But then again, I'm no hedonist. I see through all that. After a certain point, pleasures begin to irritate me. I'd rather have nothing than to be irritated.
     What I would really really like to do is write something down that was the true measure of all this. A universe with me in it. Unthinkable without. But I can't. Every attempt is lame, beyond belief. Clowning around, when I know that no circus would ever hire me. (Not that I care whether the others are laughing, with me or at me.)
     'The thing you thought you saw, out of the corner of your eye, do you see it now?' I have the same feeling I had back then. That there is something. But I just can't get a fix on it. I can't get it into focus.
     I accept the person that I am. I embrace the person I have become. How could I not when my being here now, my Doing, is the ultimate reality? This is all I have to work with. Palette, brushes and paints. There's nothing else, nor could there ever be. (Which is not to say or imply that the task is somehow 'artistic' or 'aesthetic'. That's way more than any mere facts could justify.)
     Talking about the 'person I have become', I was telling my daughter yesterday about an incident from my early childhood. Impossible to give a date, although I could have been 7 or 8, maybe 9. Snuggled up in bed in the dark with our German au pair girl, she telling me about the fire bombing of Dresden and other German cities in World War II. The terror. How liquid phosphorus fire poured down basement stairs burning everyone cowering inside to embers.
     You'd think that would have some impact. What else happened between us? I have no recollection at all. Just that one memory fragment. I don't even remember her name, although I when I try to see her I picture a roundish face, long blonde hair. We had a number of au pairs, French, German, Austrian, even one Greek. I remember them well. But not her.
     Something else happened yesterday: the ninth anniversary of the death of my wife June. I wrote this epitaph for her web page June Wynter:
Every human being
Successfully navigates
The course
Of his or her
Own life
It's the one journey
With a guaranteed
     Taken from my Filofax notebooks. The thought came to me, maybe a couple of years ago. It's kind of depressing yet also liberating. I laugh in the face of 'success' or 'failure'. June was racked by remorse over her failure to realize her artistic ambitions. I regret nothing. I see through it all.

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Friday, 16 March 2018

Not knowing

The single thing that drives me to distraction is not knowing. I don't know what it is I don't know. I can't even imagine it.
 (Life or death)
I happen to believe that it is possible to give an account of ultimate reality without invoking the appearance-reality distinction. If you want to know how, well that’s something I’m currently working on...
(Ask a Philosopher: Questioning the appearance/ reality distinction)
     It's time to play my cards.
     Ultimate reality resides in the here-and-now. — There, I've said it.
     In some sense, that is something I have always believed, right back to The Metaphysics of Meaning. For the longest time, I thought the only way to describe this was as a 'triadic movement'. A 'dialectic of illusion'. You start with the here-and-now. Then you fall into 'metaphysical illusion' (the 'illusion of detachment'). Then, heroically rescuing yourself from metaphysical illusion, you return to the here-and-now, but this time with a philosophical 'understanding' you didn't have before. — Exhausted but happy.
     As I remarked in Life or death, 'It isn't enough.'
     Then, what?
     Yes, metaphysical illusions (plural) are part of it. I'm sure there are more than the two illusions I chose to look at (the ego and truth illusions). However many illusions or wrong steps you add to your inventory, the 'negative way' (via negativa) can only get you so far. You have to turn around, look, find the positive.
     It will take discipline. You keep hankering after impossible 'knowledge'. Imagining that you can sneak a peek and catch it unawares. But there's nothing to catch.
     There lies the ultimate illusion.
     We don't 'not know' the ultimate theory of everything (in the physical sense) because the regress of 'wheels within wheels within wheels...' is never-ending. Or else at some point you come to a screeching halt. (Superstrings, or whatever.)
     We don't 'not know' the ultimate purpose or meaning of life because every attempt to describe the ultimate meaning ends up as some variety of 'family story' (Nous, Great Architect, Loving Father, etc.) And then, 'Is that all there is?!'
     Science is great, we should keep on doing it. Let's pool our resources, build a super-large hadron collider the size of Switzerland if that's what it takes.
     As for religion, 'believe what you like, it makes no difference'. But if you come up and tell me that I must do so-and-so because the Great Thingamajig commands it, I will laugh in your face.
     I do believe that I know lots of things. I'm no sceptic. Knowledge is possible. There can never be a reason for not pursuing knowledge. But as for the unknown unknowns, there's nothing to 'say' or 'believe' or 'pursue'. Just a surd. And I have the free choice: to keep harping on about it, or not.
     That's the discipline.
     Kant talks about mapping the limits of human knowledge to 'make room for faith'. As if faith only belongs on the other side!
     Faith is the biggest thing in my life. The only thing in my life. It is faith that keeps me going, keeps me doing this, pouring endless words onto the internet regardless of whether or not I receive any response (a rare enough occurrence). Not faith in a 'Great Thingamajig', not even faith in myself. (I know my own limitations only too well, I may be more than a few brain cells short of what's required, but so what? what are you going to do about it?)
     What is faith, or what do I mean by it? — Here's a simple example. I have a computer, an old Windows machine recently upgraded with a moderately faster processor, whose sole task is grinding out calculations for CERN and the SETI project. I am helping in my small way with enterprises I 'believe' in. The difference made by one extra Pentium 4 chip is vanishingly small. But I deem it 'worth while'.
     Just as I deem this. Even if my short life will make no difference whatsoever to the history of the human race. The problems grip me, and I am doing something about it. Call it 'satisfying my curiosity'. That'll do. That's all there is, all that matters.
     Ultimate reality is the here-and-now. And what I mean by the 'here-and-now' is the Doing. Nothing is 'given', nothing 'appears', nothing is 'real'. In the Doing there is no distinction between 'what is' and 'what seems'. There is no 'what'. There only the point of action, the 'issue of my existence', which I decide from one passing moment to the next.

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Friday, 2 March 2018

Perils of freedom

Sneak out the back...
Make a new plan...
No need to be coy...
     After my YouTube video Metaphysical Journal: life and death yesterday — my first video in over a year — thinking about what I'd said, 'I just want to set myself free,' the words of Paul Simon's hit song came to me.
     I was wondering what I would say to that unnamed academic watching the patch of sunlight creep along the wall. 'Walk out, and never come back.'
     You don't need this!
     Start again, start a new life...
     But that's exactly what you did, Jerry. They found your body in a wooden hut in a forest outside Los Angeles...
     Escaping isn't enough. You need a good plan. 'I'm just going to sit here for a while and think about it,' isn't enough. Ian, you couldn't see any way out even though it was right in front of you. You were too clever for your own good, you saw through Jerry's easy non-escape.
     Of course, this is all wrong, because I'm talking about this as if it was just a matter of thinking or reasoning. You can't think or reason yourself out of depression. No, but if you have the wit to realize that you're seriously depressed, that any thoughts that come to you are distorted by your mental condition, not to be trusted, certainly not to be acted upon, then there are steps you can take.
     Steps to get help.
     And this is my case against philosophy. Being a professional philosopher is a permanently distorting 'mental condition'. You come to believe that whatever the fix the power of reason alone can get you out of this, somehow. And if you can't see a way, that's down to your weakness, your incapacity as a thinker.
     So wrong.
     Then again, I can't talk, because I've never taken that fateful step of going for help, never needed to. And I know the icy, deceptive tentacles of depression well enough. But I seem to have an in-built tendency to bounce back. My best quality isn't intelligence — I'm certainly no genius — but more like an animal-like resourcefulness. When backed against a wall, I've always somehow found a way to escape.
     Resourcefulness, and maybe more than a small does of egotism. We're all different, right?
     Look, I could tell you stories that would make your hair curl...
As I gird on my armour, squinting in the sunlight, I feel a sense of lightness, the slightest nudge and I would begin to float. I am floating. Bathed in warmth, waiting to be born. Indeed! The weight of years is falling away — at long last. The harsh twine around my wrists and ankles has withered away, the soreness almost healed. The memories are less painful than they were. A dull ache, the occasional pang. The incidents in my oddly uneventful life are laid out as in a comic strip — no lurid colours, just tasteful shades of grey.
(Hedgehog Philosopher Day 41)
     'Oddly uneventful,' well that all depends on your perspective, right?
     (I like the bit about 'tasteful shades of grey'. So true.)
     That's what freedom means to me. I've never found better words, not needed to. Certainly, armour is a necessity. I may be baring my soul, but it's still protected by bullet-proof glass. Try as you might, you can't hurt me!
I've been made to feel guilty — by crippled manipulators who could find no other way to make up for their own inadequacy; by bombastic pedants and critics with hypertrophied moral consciences — but my conscience is clear.
     — So much for 'the others'.
     Don't listen to them.
     Don't let their self-serving, asinine opinions control you.
     Your cowardly diffidence, the tugs of 'conscience' are just wheels in your head...

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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Life or death

     'Why hasn't philosophy changed my life?'
     You gasp at the absurdity of a question that seemingly came from nowhere. You don't know whether to laugh or cry.
     It's Monday morning. Pale February sunlight trickles through a drafty second-floor window that rattles whenever a bus or lorry goes past. On your desk, a disorderly pile of ungraded assignments threatens to topple onto the floor. You came in especially to do this, to catch up. No lectures or tutorials today. You snuck past the Departmental Secretary while she was on the phone. No-one even knows you're here. The time is yours.
     On the landing outside, you can hear the muffled sounds of a conversation:
     '... I heard Williamson's giving a paper on scepticism at the Joint Session.'
     'Any idea what it's about?'
     'Don't ask me, I don't know ...'
     Laughter. Then quiet.
     It wasn't supposed to be like this. Years of study to get to where you are now. To be sitting here. Black telephone with an extra row of buttons. Your name on the door. And yet it seems your life is in the same place it always was. Outwardly conventional yet inwardly directionless and confused. By a roundabout route you are back where you started.
     Searching for meaning.
     Where there is none.
     You didn't know that then but you do now.
     The one thing you do know for certain is that nothing is going to happen today. The assignments will remain unmarked. You are going to sit. And wait. Watch the patch of sunlight creep along the far wall, along the faded titles in your book case. Wait for who knows what ideas to come...

     Two of the people who taught me at Birkbeck College back in the 70s subsequently committed suicide. I've talked about this before so I'm not going into details here. It's a question that has never completely gone away. Why. What is it about this job that could make two young philosophy lecturers with their lives ahead of them go and kill themselves?
     Logically, one has to consider the possibility that it isn't philosophy — or professional philosophy — that drives individuals of a certain disposition to suicide, but rather that the job attracts persons of that sort.
     But there's a larger question. Surely, philosophy ought to make a difference. Of the three co-founders of the analytic tradition in philosophy, Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein, two were deeply concerned about the point and value of philosophical thinking. Russell's essay 'A Free Man's Worship' is a classic of atheist literature. Wittgenstein's 1914–16 Notebooks, written in the trenches while he served in the Austrian army, contain profound reflections on life and death and the search for meaning.
     Frege, the logic-obsessed mathematician is the oddball. And yet, from the perspective of present day English speaking philosophy, he seems the perfect model of what a 'philosopher' should be.
     Philosophy made a difference to my life because I finally found something I was good at. I was a dropout, a no-hoper who pulled himself together and learned the value of work. I remember as a first year student staying up until past three in the morning solving a logic problem — because my life depended on it. It was that simple.
     The lecturers who taught me, they hadn't been through what I'd been through. They were the academically successful. Top of their class. Glittering prizes. I aspired to be like them. But how could I be?
     How did I get here?
     The answer is simple. The investigation has led me to this point. To this precise place. I just followed a line, followed Plato's advice, and the argument brought me here. It hardly seems I had any choice in the matter. But I am not sorry.
     Then why is my life not better?
     There is no answer. I used to say, 'Metaphysics is without consequences, save for the consequences of rejecting a false metaphysic.' That was my 'philosophy of life'. All the problems of life and meaning arise from metaphysical illusion. Solve that and your life will be fine. It will be great.
     It isn't enough.
     So here I am, with the latest version of my story: a new idea, 'life as a game'. Nothing has fundamentally changed. I found some new words, a new way of looking at the same old question.
     'Everything that has happened in my life was necessary in order that I should become the person that I am.' And the single thing that drives me to distraction is not knowing. I don't know what it is I don't know. I can't even imagine it.
     I can only keep going, try to manage my changing moods as best I can. Ignore the fact that every day I am a day older.
     Keep working. And hoping.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Existentialism squared

     I am absolutely an existentialist. There is no other label that fits. This isn't some new fangled philosophy or theory that no-one has ever conceived before. All I am doing is following through.
     With simple consistency — something existentialists so-called never quite achieved.
     Last time, I aimed a barb at Sartre. But, he's OK. Being and Nothingness would do as the one book you took to a desert island. (I've commented before on Heidegger's contemptuous dismissal, 'I'm not reading that dreck.' Bloody Germans, they thought they had philosophy taped, look where it got them.)
     My comments on what 'they say' or 'they believe' could have been taken straight out of Heidegger's Being and Time. Certainly. But Heidegger only half gets the point. How could he, when he's so focused on 'Being'? There's no Being and there are no beings. Nothing exists. Nothing that is said is 'true' or 'false'. It's just 'something said', just things humans do with their vocal chords, or pens, or typewriters.
     As I am doing now. Except that this isn't really 'saying anything', just as Wittgenstein understood when he wrote the Tractatus. You have to see, see through the words, the scrawly scribbles on the page.
     Macmurray (the 'English existentialist') is worth reading (The Self as Agent, Persons in Relation) if you can get past his religious agenda. On the other hand, as I recall he shows sensitivity to discoveries in depth analysis (especially Klein) in his account of 'parent and child' and the 'rhythm of withdrawal and return'. There is an urgent question there about what human beings want. Macmurray thinks it all has to do with 'friendship'. To me that sounds too narrowly focused, altogether too cosy.
     Then there's Stirner (The Ego and His Own). He writes more like a journalist than a philosopher. Racy. Vents his spite and contempt on all those weedy socialists and anarchists — and had spite vented on him in return (famously, by Marx in German Ideology).
     How's this for a quote:
The web of the hypocrisy of today hangs on the frontiers of two domains, between which our time swings back and forth, attaching its fine threads of deception and self-deception. No longer vigorous enough to serve morality without doubt or weakening, not yet reckless enough to live wholly to egoism, it trembles now toward the one and now toward the other in the spider-web of hypocrisy, and, crippled by the curse of halfness, catches only miserable, stupid flies.
     Could it really be true that Stirner died (in 1856) from a fly bite? Or was the legend somehow provoked by what Stirner wrote? (You see, I can still talk about truth, no problem with that!)
     Then... what?
     I know what I want, and I also know that this has nothing to do with what I want. My wants change over time, sometimes randomly. Everyone has his or her own 'wants'. Some of us want the same things, so what? You can want anything in the universe, even a 'saucer of mud' (pace Anscombe).
     Doesn't this need a name? If Hegel's idealism is called 'Absolute idealism' then maybe I should call this 'Absolute existentialism', though somehow that just sounds wrong. Neo-existentialism? The whole idea of labels seems ridiculous. The last thing I want is to tell people how to read me. 'You've got to make up your own damn mind.'
     Then again, the notion of consistency, 'simple' or otherwise, seems suspiciously logical, and as I said last time I'm past that too.
     Then Again... how can 'existence come before essence' if nothing exists? These hands don't exist. This keyboard doesn't exist. And the molecules and atoms and electrons etc. etc. They do. They are free to do what they do, even if the opportunity for making a 'choice' only comes up relatively rarely. Unlike me, they don't have dreams or desires, their 'choices' are rather restricted compared to the things I could do — whether I 'wanted' to or not.
     Or, maybe, something, not they, is doing the choosing, or the Doing. (The evil demon?)    
     This is all way too premature.
     It's understandable, you feel lonely, you'd desperately like to be part of some camp or school. A wolf is so much more effective in the pack. Alone, you're just a target.
     Freedom is the thing. Or 'radical freedom'. I need to say something about 'Hume's dilemma' (humans are either clockwork or roulette wheels) and how it doesn't apply if nothing exists. Freedom is the only reality. The Doing.
     I need to say something about happiness and pleasure (recalling Slartbartfast, 'I'd much rather be happy than right any day,' Philosophizer Black Edition, Appendix 1st February 2017). You can never be 'right' if there is no truth, right? I'd be happy to give up 'happiness' if I could just hold on to that groovy feeling ('butter in the pan', etc.) which is something philosophers have yet to 'analyse' (and when they do, you know what'll come of it).
     Double meh.
     It really doesn't matter how I feel, or what I feel. When you're onto something, feelings are irrelevant. You just do.

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Monday, 12 February 2018

All in the game

     Many a tear has to fall
     But it's all in the game

     The play's the thing wherein
     I'll catch the conscience of the king

     They think it's all over...
     It is now!

     Only a game?
     Remember what Wittgenstein said — think of all the things we call 'games'. That was about the endless variety of language games, and also by implication how 'bad examples nourish bad philosophy' (thinking too narrowly, being overly selective in your examples to bolster your case).
     Then what do I mean? I know what I mean and I'll leave you to guess!
     The ultimate game: me and reality, one-on-one. Or me and the evil demon. Same difference:

This isn't about a Berkeleian virtual reality game, the conjurer behind the scenes tirelessly (reliably) keeping up appearances, for no purpose (the demiurge of nature). When I picture the evil demon, I imagine all the eyes and faces of all the people who have ever existed. The others. No sacred Other, no partner in ethical dialogue, no Thou (nor an It), just all of you.

(Hedgehog Philosopher Day 22)

     No more will I judge myself through the eyes of others. 'O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us./ To see oursels as ithers see us!/ It wad frae mony a blunder free us.' Others are useful. They notice things that you might have missed. (For example, a louse, in Rabbie Burns' famous poem.) So, of course, you need others for that extra perspective that a mirror won't necessarily give you.
     For me, this is all water under the bridge. In Metaphysics of Meaning and also in Naive Metaphysics I contrasted recognition of the 'authority of the other' with the mere use of others as my measuring instruments — the way you use a thermometer, or a ruler, or a microcope as a source of information about the world, including information about yourself. I said then that the very possibility of truth presupposes acknowledgement that the other potentially has the power to override my judgements. That was my take on Wittgenstein's argument against a private language. It seemed convincing at the time.
     But now truth is out the window. That's what I mean.
     Truth is what 'they' believe, or what is 'to be believed' (which amounts to the same thing). Truth is merely the asymptotic point of convergence. Playing the language game by the agreed rules. I'm past that now.
     This is what freedom looks like. It's not a cliché. You have to be alive to every possibility, not just those on offer, the ones handed to you on a plate. It's not easy thinking sideways, upside down, every which way except the straight and narrow. (The road they want you to go along.)
     I'm not seeking approval for what I do. But I like to see my actions having effects. Who doesn't? I would like more people to read my books, my blogs, etc. Who wouldn't? That's the game this is, or one of the games at any rate.
     How high you can 'score'.
     But ultimately that's a side issue, mere entertainment. Like looking at funny cats on Facebook.
     As stated in the Dedication to Philosophizer (Black Edition) — This is 'For Myself'.
     What egomaniac dedicates a book to himself? You misunderstand me. I am simply recovering what is mine. The people I care for, or the things I care about, that's my affair not yours. And I do care about you, even though we've never met. I want you to see what I see.
     I want you to free yourself.
     Of course, one can see the logical thread going through all of this. (Truth depends on such-and-such, but no such-and-such, therefore no 'truth', etc.) But I am past logic too. Or, rather, there are many kinds of 'logic' just as there are many kinds of game. 'The hardness of the logical must' (Wittgenstein). It all boils down to a subjective sense of the compelling. We are all more or less in line with regard to 'the compelling'. Or, we're not. Both alternatives apply. Wittgenstein couldn't disagree with that.
     The 'whirl of organism' (Stanley Cavell). Yes, I can see how that fits too.
     Like the two readings of Hume: the internal (the system of 'ideas' and 'impressions') and the external (doing a Newton on the 'laws of human nature').
     I could go through a whole list of philosophers, but why bother? Sartre, for example, and his Parmenidean 'In Itself'. Why does he hang on to that archaic notion? Because he thinks he must be doing something ontological! Didn't you hear? Ontology is dead, man. You can't do ontology if nothing exists!
     The air is so pure and clean up here. Looking down, down on the clouds. (One of my earliest memories, watching an endless carpet of clouds inch by from the window of a turbo-prop aeroplane, the sound of the engines throbbing in my ears.)
     But like many moves in philosophy, you realize that at the same time that when everything changes, it can seem like nothing has really changed. 'It is as if before everything was up and now everything is down.' (Quoting from myself, long ago.)
     If this was the equivalent of The Truman Show (1998) you wouldn't see any change in my behaviour (apart from the words appearing here). Or, maybe, if and when you do, there will be a hundred different possible 'explanations'. What specific actions are explained by the heavy weight of self doubt or even bad conscience lifted from one's shoulders? All sorts!
     — This is just the beginning. Now let's follow the expanding ripples, the line of falling dominoes. The virus of radical freedom, once it takes hold, infects everything.

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Saturday, 10 February 2018

There is nothing but the Doing

     Nothing exists
     Nothing is the case
     There are no facts
     There are no values
     There is nothing but the Doing

     — Do I believe this? It isn't a question of 'belief' because belief relates to existence, or what is the case, or facts, or values. You believe that something, e.g. that there is life on Mars, or you believe in something, e.g. social justice for the underprivileged. And all the other shades and variations of belief including 'belief in God'.
     To appreciate, grasp, accept that 'there is nothing but the Doing' is another kind of mental attitude — sui generis if you like — that is more akin to seeing than believing, provided one doesn't take the term 'seeing' too literally. It's more like 'the meaning of the dialectic'. What you end up with after a series of rejections or negations. The only place left to stand.
     I read somewhere (actually, it was a 2008 Guardian obituary for Mark Sachs, author of The World We Found, 1989, which is on my special shelf of books I intend to read) that philosophers are divided between those who believe in 'transcendent realism' and those who don't. Transcendent realism is any theory which says that there is more to reality than merely 'all that is the case', or 'our public world', or whatever. I hold there is more, but somehow the claim 'there is nothing but the Doing' doesn't quite fit. Why?
     The transcendent realist 'reality' is out there, in the beyond, something extra added on to what is the case, etc. Whereas the Doing (from now on I will be using a capital letter whenever I use the definite article) looks like it is somehow less. In this respect, it is more like solipsism. (I don't know, would Sachs classify solipsism as 'transcendent realist'?) But it isn't anything like solipsism, for one simple reason: my doing requires that there is something I do things to. There can't be my doing without the doing of reality. And included under the heading of 'reality' is everyone else.
     And I mean all of reality, not just the bits I am near enough to make an impression on (although maybe that requires some arguing, cf. the 'backdrop world' in my Metaphysics of Meaning, ch. 25 'God and Realism').
     Moreover, the absolutely one essential feature of my claim is that any account that leaves out my subjective world cannot be correct (Naive Metaphysics). If, per impossibile, one could give a theory of a singular 'objective world' — in other words, no 'metaphysical contradiction' between the subjective and objective worlds — then plain, vanilla materialism would be fine, as would the various idealisms, etc.
     Leaving out my subjective world, the claim that 'there is nothing but the Doing' has little force. Say if you like that the world we know is all the manifestation of noumenal Force (Schopenhauer), or that it is 'the world as one action' (Macmurray). Those are just 'ways of seeing', maybe very powerful, compelling ways of seeing but that is all. (Not to forget that I argued in Metaphysics of the Photograph that all metaphysical theories are 'ways of seeing', my bad?)
     'There is nothing but the Doing' isn't a 'way of seeing' reality because it is the only place left to stand once you reach the end of the road — the dialectic. That's a pretty strong claim. Either you accept it, or you don't. But then again, so many philosophies fail (and philosophers too) because of mere faint heartedness, unwillingness to follow though to the only possible conclusion. (As per Sherlock Holmes, 'When you have eliminated all the other alternatives, whatever remains must be the case.')
     (I am not fazed by Hamlyn's criticism of me, 'I can't help feeling that you take Plato's advice to follow the argument wherever it may lead further than is reasonable,' Sophist weblog page 4. Or not too much anyway.)
     Closer to my view would be something like Nietzsche's perspectivism, or even the odd theory doing the rounds of analytic philosophy, 'presentism', according to which only the present time is 'real', a claim Dummett originally made in 'The Reality of the Past' (1968).
     However, all Nietzsche is claiming is that knowledge is perspectival. He isn't doing metaphysics, because in his mind, the whole metaphysical project relates to the 'last fumes of evaporating reality'. (In other words, he understands metaphysics as essentially concerned with 'transcendent reality'.) Nietzsche is making his claim as a psychologist, a 'geneologist of values', a critic of culture. Life is the thing. Ultimately, the only important thing. And the one essential characteristic of life is will to power.
     Presentism is a view I considered and dismissed in my 1978 B.Phil thesis (the original 11,500 word version of 'The Metaphysics of Meaning'). You can say if you like that the past isn't real, or that the future isn't real, or that both past and future aren't real. But the claim is empty unless you can show how that arises through the dialectic. The very fact that there seems to be a 'choice' here undermines any credibility your theory of time might have.
     Above all, 'there is nothing but the Doing' is an expression of nihilism. Let reality do as it does, what I do I do out of my own, unconstrained free creative choice. 'I accept myself and my nature as a given fact' simply means that I am where I am, at this particular moment in time, after all I have experienced and been through, after all the choices I have made. There is no other place for me to be. 'My values are objective because they are mine.'
     Then what is 'the Doing'? Isn't it obvious?
     This is a game. It's been said many times before, to the point of being a cliché, but I mean something more, or at any rate something different. There are only games, and games within games, and games within games within games. Nothing else, absolutely nothing. I am playing reality. Or the reality game. Some stakes are low, some high...
     ... And some too high to calculate, or even contemplate.

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Will

     I wanted to talk about the will. But I don't know what to say about it. I would never have thought there was such a thing as the will, had I not read in some philosophy book (when I was first starting out — it could have been John Hospers Introduction to Philosophical Analysis) that there isn't such a thing. It's a myth. WHAT is a myth? that's the question I wanted to ask.
     I know doing. I am doing it now. Doing 'doing'. Typing these words is doing. Thinking about what I'm going to write is doing. Rubbing the sore spot on my forearm is doing. Recalling half-forgotten memories of books I read long ago is doing. Listening out for the postman is doing.
     This morning, I went through the usual rigmarole of trying to get myself to get out of bed. It's a common experience with many people, so maybe you know what I mean. I thought, 'Now is the time to get up,' but I didn't get up. I had this thought a few more times. Then, I had the feeling, that increased very gradually, in very tiny steps, that maybe I really was about to get up. Then I just got up. I didn't make the decision to get up, because I'd already made that decision maybe 20 minutes ago, but I didn't act on it. I didn't do anything.
     What happened? What was it that made me get up? Well, maybe there was something, something 'noumenal' (Schopenhauer), behind the scenes. But how would that work? We're talking about a second, 'self', unknown to me or anyone else, maybe unknowable in principle, behind or beneath my conscious self. But if per impossible we could take a look at this unknowable 'self' and its actions, wouldn't the same problem arise? How does it get me to get up?
     This all looks rather similar to 'homunculus' theories of perception. We're heading for a vicious regress, or seem to be.
     So, better to say what theorists of perception say, that there is no mental intermediary that 'makes me do'. I just do. Just as there is no mental intermediary between my mind or self, and the external things I perceive.
     However, I'm not trying to analyse the will or action. That's what analytic philosophers do, or did. (Things are changing, times have moved on since Hospers wrote his book. A philosopher is more likely these days to talk of a 'theory of X' rather than an 'analysis of X'.) I could stop at this point and read all the articles on the philosophy of action by Jennifer Hornsby, or maybe re-read Brian O'Shaughnessy The Will (1980) which I've almost completely forgotten after nearly four decades, but that's not the way I work.
     What is there to do, if not analyse?
     On a neo-Humean analysis of agency and causation, things just happen, and we imagine some extra connection. Or as Wittgenstein puts it in the Tractatus, 'the only necessity is logical necessity'. The idea that my 'willing' to get out of bed has some necessary connection to my getting out of bed is a myth. Agency is simply the fact that events in the world related to movements of my body happen after, or immediately after, an event of my trying to make them happen. Anyone who's suffered sleep paralysis knows what it is like for the connection between "trying' and 'moving' to break down. It's only contingent connection, but luckily reliable for the most part.
     My response to that would be that nothing exists and there are no facts. There is only the doing. Of course we talk about existing 'things' and 'facts', but that is just at the level of talk. (As Heraclitus would say.) At the deepest level, doing is the only reality. I mean, my doing — not just what the world does or what people do — because without 'I', the one asking the question, the question wouldn't even arise.
     As Heraclitus would say, or maybe Gorgias? (On What Is Not). Now, there's something...
     Another thought came to me, a rather more prosaic thought, remembering an oft quoted remark by Bishop Butler, 'Everything is what it is and not another thing.' As I seem to recall, Butler was talking about futile attempts to analyse personal identity. What a philosopher would typically say is, 'Oh, you mean that X is not analysable because it is sui generis.' It's a familiar move. But I'm not just 'making a move'. This seems to be the very point and essence of the claim that doing is the ultimate reality.
      But it's not enough to say that. Because I know that there is something I don't know. I don't know what it is, it's an 'unknown unknown'. Otherwise, why would I be searching? What's driving this? Where is this going?
     Maybe not down but up. Instead of digging, or diving, I should be flying. Looking down on all of this. Seeing it for what it is. Doing is all there is, it's all about the doing. And yet, for some reason, we don't want to see it that way. We'd much rather there was some story about 'what is really going on', hidden workings buried deep, or even a cunning conspiracy that keeps us all ignorant and confused.
     Why not just look and see. It's all there, right in front of your eyes!

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Monday, 5 February 2018

Wittgenstein's obsession

There must be a reason.
There cannot be a reason.
     — This is where philosophy begins, here, in this precise place and no-where else. I've talked about my 'idiotic conundrum'. This is it. Here it is.
     You can well ask 'what sort of person' would be gripped, when so many are not. Heraclitus had words to say about 'the many', and they are not kind words. The many don't count, they have nothing to say that is of any interest to us.
     Or, as the great Parmenides put it, 'two-headed mortals, knowing nothing' (or words to that effect).
     The sort of person who is gripped — I hypothesize — is one whose backstory involves conflict and contradiction, going right back to early childhood. I had a loving father who flew into uncontrollable rages. A survivor of the Holocaust but a victim nonetheless. That's something a child of three or four could never comprehend.
     Wittgenstein was tortured by his sexuality, according to one account (William Warren Bartley III Wittgenstein, 1973). I'm not in the business of guessing. What I do know is that my Question is, or was, Wittgenstein's Question, and that Wittgenstein's Question is none other than the one raised by the great Parmenides.
     My Question? As I have repeated often enough, there are two questions, not one: 'two godheads', as Wittgenstein calls it in his 1914-16 Notebooks. (By the time he wrote the Tractatus, he'd realized that that was something that 'cannot be said', 'The self of solipsism shrinks to a point without extension, and there remains the reality coordinated with it' Tractatus 5.64.)
     Like Parmenides, Wittgenstein's solution (if you can call it a solution) set the agenda for philosophy for the next century, plus. 'There must be a reason.' But the reason is the reason why we can't meaningfully raise the Question. The reason has to do with the very nature of language and the 'Proposition'.
     That was an idea that required detailed work. You can't just state, baldly, that 'language doesn't go there' or whatever. And, as we know, Wittgenstein had two goes at this, the 'simples' of the Tractatus, and the 'language games' of the Investigations — two radically different conceptions of the 'bedrock' (PI para. 217) of linguistic meaning.
     The Question is still there, at the back of your mind. But you know, as a competent, responsible philosophizer, that it exists only as temptation. It's somewhere you just can't go. Wittgenstein called it the 'Mystical'. (Ethics is in there too, but that's just another example, Wittgenstein thinks, of what 'cannot be said' because it doesn't consist of facts.)
     Flip the coin over, and you have Parmenides. What is cannot be 'what is the case', because what is the case is something that might not be, or might not have been the case — which is 'unthinkable', if what we are talking about is Reality as such. There is only 'what is', or, 'It is'. If you want to do philosophy, then 'It is' is the only thing you can say. The rest is just 'two-headed mortal' opinions about the 'world of Appearance'.
     According to Wittgenstein, the Question is unanswerable because of the nature of language and 'what can be said'. According to Parmenides, the Question is unanswerable because there is nothing to think about the very thing in question except that it IS.
     Well, if Wittgenstein and Parmenides are two sides of the same coin, what would my response to the Question be? the edge of the coin?
Reality (the 'that') is a doing, and the I-now (the 'this') is a doing. When it rains, or when someone speaks to me, or the atom bomb drops... that is 'reality doing'. For my part, what I choose to do, or not do, is meaningless apart from what reality 'does'. The two are inseparable. And not just 'joined at the hip' either.
 (Conundrum solved)
     There IS (a metaphysical 'is' that has nothing to do with any notion of existence as such) something that comes before 'all there is' or 'all that is the case'. The doing. The doing is the ultimate reality. I believe that the existentialists in different ways thought that too (as I explained, The actual is the issue of my existence) but they didn't quite cap the point. They missed the target, if only by inches.
     The doing. If I'm serious about that, not just spinning some tale, then there has to be more to say than what I've said so far. Maybe (big leap here) this is what Heraclitus was really on about: the Logos that IS reality and the Logos in me, or that acts through me. There are no 'things', only 'doings'.
     There must be more to say about 'the doing', because otherwise it just looks like another version of the sweeping dismissal of the 'Question' or the 'Mystical' that contemporary philosophers find so easy to do.
     More to say. But what to say? That is my new question.

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Wednesday, 31 January 2018


     Here's a paradox: 'Philosophers' so-called don't philosophize. They ratiocinate.
     Ratiocination is something we all do, at some time or other — but especially police detectives, chess players, contestants on Mastermind. Moving pieces around in your brain, calculating, making logical deductions. — I'm too lazy for that.
     My saving virtue.
     Don't think philosophizing is easy. It can be hard on the nerves... waiting, waiting for the ideas to come. Trying to see. We're not just talking about things that are very small, or in the far distance. This is seeing through solid walls. Seeing through this material reality. Looking into yourself, going deep down into the murk. Or trying to capture the meaning of the present moment that continually escapes one's grasp like a moth or a butterfly.
     'The power of flight' (Philosophizer Black Edition Appendix, 21st October 2016). Yes, that is one of the powers sought by the philosophizer. Wittgenstein noted the other power: the ability to dive deep, and stay submerged for long periods of time (Rush Rhees Without Answers, 1969). Doing things the human frame — or brain — was not designed to do. Because we were not made to be able to do them. In defiance of our all-too-human nature.
     — The philosophizer as Übermensch?
     Yet poor Nietzsche tries too hard. He's too hard on himself. He wrenches himself into a knot. All for the sake of his all-too-Christian sense of intellectual... purity? fastidiousness? As I said, I'm lazy. I don't mind a bit of pain, so long as it comes with that groovy feeling. ('Butter in the pan,' etc.)
     (To help this along, my sound track for today is SomaFM Underground Eighties: UK Synthpop and a bit of New Wave.)
     The common perception of philosophers as lazy (the wonderful Shelley 1970s TV program with Hywel Bennett) is not as wrong as 'philosophers' so-called (professional philosophers) believe. As I remarked before, they're so busy, busy, busy (Glass House Philosopher III, page 80). But didn't Russell write In Praise of Idleness? It's a theme. I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before by better minds than me.
     Then again, Russell?? Co-author of Principia Mathematica? That furious ratiocinator? — He was writing for the 'common man', not giving advice to 'philosophers'!
     But time is passing. Am I going to die... still on this road? Why not. Didn't you say that there can't be answers to the questions you're asking (because of the inevitable response, 'Is that all there is?'). Well then, there'd better be some pleasure in it. This marching, or trudging along. Yes!
     I will die on the road. With my boots on. Hooray! for that.
     And it looks like I will still be alone. But that was always on the cards. I'm better off without followers or companions. Better off without all the argy-bargy. I am my best conversation partner, always have been.
     So... back to the plot.
     This isn't just any kind of philosophizing. This is metaphysics. There's a question there (how many other kinds of 'philosophizing' there are) but I'll leave that for now. Except to remark that there are philosophizers who put much more stress than I have on 'living well'. (In my parents' collection of books there was Lin Yutang The Importance of Living. I remember dipping in, and reading his advice on not having a chair that is too high for mental 'comfort'. That always stuck with me.)
     Actually, I would say that a bit of discomfort can be good. Things that put you a little on edge, or just help keep you awake — not too easy a thing to do when you're sitting for hours, staring out the window at the clouds going by...
     Metaphysics. Ultimate reality. The other day, I was walking down to the city centre when the last words I wrote in my previous post came to me, that the only reason why I'm here is to 'figure out the puzzle of reality'. Just then I noticed there was a rainbow. As I continued round the bend in the road, the whole rainbow came into view. Uncannily bright, more than a bit scary. I don't recall seeing anything like it.
     — And me, Noah!

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Monday, 29 January 2018

The road

     My 'leap of faith' — that I am travelling along a road that leads somewhere. I first used the image of a road in Hedgehog Philosopher (where I talk about 'travelling light', Day 33). Although I've enjoyed the rides I used to take in my old Reliant Scimitar, my idea of a road movie is walking — a long, long way. Towards an 'umoving horizon' (Day 35).
     Those who carry the baggage of religion may try, but they cannot go far along that road. They're too weighed down.
     Science, worthy an enterprise as it may be, is on a different road altogether, as are the 'philosophers' (so-called) who hold as a matter of faith that empirical reality or 'all that is the case' is all we have to deal with or think about.
     What is there to think about? I've already said: ultimate reality is a doing not a being.
     I was not the first to say that: before me there was Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Macmurray (yes!). And Stirner: the joker in the pack. But the thing is, you can't philosophize without words, without saying this-and-so. And all you can say is about 'what is the case', as Wittgenstein wrote in the Tractatus, knowing all the while that the very saying of that contradicted his claim. You have to 'throw away the ladder', he thought.
     Wittgenstein was wrong. He assumed, wrongly, that metaphysics aims to describe reality at the ultimate level, to discover what 'necessarily is' — a nonsensical notion, he claimed, because propositions that are necessarily true cannot have factual content (such as the 'fact' that God exists, or that we 'have' free will).
      There is another way.
      We have to find another way to express, get across, convey what we see. That ultimate reality 'is a doing not a being.'
      Here are some ways:
      — Spiritual exercises. Most commonly associated with Eastern rather than Western philosophy, although one could see Kierkegaard in his various pseudonymous authorships doing something similar, teaching the reader how to 'become subjective'.
      — Dialectic. Sartre would be the best example here, in Being and Nothingness, I'm thinking in particular of the paradoxical relationship between 'self' and 'other'.
      — Phenomenology. That would be Heidegger. Dasein is a label that conveys the 'doing' but in the language of 'being'. Hence, all the talk about structural relationships between agents and their environment, the tools they use, etc.
      — Cartesian model. This is the methodology chosen by the British existentialist John Macmurray in his Gifford Lectures (The Self as Agent, Persons in Relation). All we have to do, Macmurray thinks, is begin again where Descartes began, but with 'I do' rather than 'I think'. In Kantian terminology, a 'metaphysic of experience' is replaced by a 'metaphysic of action'.
      The problem with all of these thinkers is the assumption that, somehow, a 'recipe for living' will come out of this, the need for 'faith' (Kierkegaard), or the need to avoid 'bad faith' (Sartre), the importance of authenticity (Heidegger), or Macmurray's principle that 'all knowledge is for the sake of action, and all action is for the sake of friendship'.
      I don't buy that.
      And that's where Stirner comes in. I don't buy the idea that there is some 'way' an existentialist (who isn't a hypocrite) 'ought' to live. There are no oughts above me. Only the existing desires that motivate me.
      'I accept myself and my nature as a given fact' (Glass House Philosopher III, page 28). I haven't chosen myself. I just am. A given fact.
      But here's the finesse: that my nature is a given fact isn't the ultimate reality. All there is, are given facts. The one missing fact is the fact that I am here, writing these words, that I am the one with that given nature. The fact of my doing.
      Looking back at my life, I can see, or guess, how this all came about but that is all water under the bridge. There is nothing I want or ought to be other than myself: 'Everything that has happened in my life/ Is for a reason/ That I should become/ The person that I am' (Philosophizer, Ch. 1 Sphinx of black quartz).
      Apart from all the common everyday desires that any human might have, my over-arching desire is to figure all this out. To figure out the puzzle of reality. That is the only reason why I am here.

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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Faith of a nihilist

     The faith of a nihilist. At first, that sounds like self-contradiction. How can there be faith, if there is nothing out there that moves you, that you believe in?
My values are objective because they are mine, because they obtain for me as agent and subject, in the unique colouring they give to objects I encounter in my subjective world.

Pathways Program E. 'Reason, Values and Conduct' Unit 8, para. 145
     That was the answer I gave back in 1995–7. I still think that it is spot on correct. If I am essentially, at the deepest level, a doing, if reality is nothing but a doing — if that is all there is at the ultimate, 'ontological' (a self-contradiction, on my view) level — then values cease to be irrational 'forces' added on top to 'what is' (Humean 'desire', for example). They are my very essence. Without the things I value, I cease to be.
     What the would-be 'objectivist' (Platonist, e.g.) wants is to put something else, something that is not 'mine', over me. To dominate me, keep me in line, deny my right to be myself. My very right to be. 'Wheels in the head' (Stirner).
     Hence: 'Kill the father' (Philosophizer Black Edition, Appendix 19th October 2016).
     What more do you want than reality itself? An agent must have something to act upon. Hence the impossibility of solipsism. While classic idealism faces the challenge of explaining how there can be 'ideas' which are not 'mine', I have no such problem.
     Or, rather, if we are looking at this historically, rather than at familiar caricatures of 'idealism', then the 'evil demon' of Descartes or Berkeley's 'God' require only a small adjustment, a small nudge — and then they become the very opposite of what they were originally conceived to be.
     The world and I have a personal relationship. One on one. As intimate as you can get. There is no such thing as a 'thing'. Least of all a 'universe' of 'things'. (Ditto 'ideas'.)
     'What you're describing sounds like a computer game — only without the keyboard, screen or computer.'
     What is 'like'? If you've never played a computer game (like Doom or Marathon, we're not talking about abstract games such as Chess or Go) then you don't know, haven't experienced, how easily one slips into an alien universe. There were always books to feed the imagination, but this is something else, interaction, active engagement where you get to see and experience the results of your actions and decisions.
     'But isn't that my point? In a computer game, nothing matters except surviving to finish the level, or killing as many aliens as possible. A game is a game. When you get bored, you can switch off and do something else.'
     Well then, this is the one game that is totally, utterly serious. No switching off (apart from suicide). There's only one 'level' and you never get to complete the game. So you'd better focus and do the best you can. Take aim and shoot when you have the opportunity. Dodge the laser bolts, parry the blows. Run like hell, whether you are chasing or being chased. That's all there is.
     Tell me something that isn't in the 'game' and I'll show you how it is just another feature of the game. (Being 'not in the game' only means, 'being part of a larger game.' On the first level of Doom3, between getting your orders and your pistol and ammo you have the chance to play 'Turkey Shoot' on an old amusement arcade machine.)
     Play reluctantly, or play with gusto. It makes no difference.
     No-one 'wins', everyone 'loses'.
     — So where does faith come in? I am making moves for a purpose. No-one gave me the 'purpose' and there's no-one to tell me if my moves are right or wrong. It's up to me to find out in time. I believe that I will.
     If that is not faith, then what is?

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Conundrum solved

Back to the I-now. It's a starting point because it's undeniable (for Cartesian sorts of reasons). Metaphysics is defined (I say) by the fact that 'I am asking the question'. On the other hand, the One is a starting point because I believe that 'something is'. But what I mean by 'is' is something that could not exist contingently. There must be something necessary because the universe is not a 'game of dice'.

There is this. And there is that. The this and the that seem to bear no relation to one another, there's no line of argument connecting them, other than the sheer fact that each (I say) is undeniable.

An idiotic conundrum...

Questions about the One, 13th May 2017


The night before last, I slept for an inordinate length of time. I didn't get up until nearly eleven, which is unheard of for me. I had awoken with a feeling of peace and beatitude that I haven't known for weeks, or months. I know what my philosophy is. That was the thought that came to me, just like that. I lay there, for perhaps an hour or more, just contemplating what that meant, the enormity of it.

Of course, I knew. It wasn't a surprise. But you can 'know' and and you can 'know'. The important thing is how you know what you know, the feelings and emotions with which you invest that knowledge.

My philosophy isn't the question I'm after.

That's the key point. The question I'm after, the ultimate meaning of existence, has been dangling in front of me for decades. The chances of answering the question, or even making progress, are close to zero. But my philosophy is settled. I have been living it, all this while.

I accept myself and my nature as a given fact.

Glass House Notebook III, 29th November 2015

(quoted in Philosophizer 'A wolf's sense of smell')


'I'm not trying to better myself' (Day 27). — That's the key. This inquiry isn't anything to do with moral goodness or the quest for human perfection, least of all with any notion of eschatology. I accept myself as I am. I'm not looking to change my attitudes or lifestyle...

But I also said I wasn't theorizing and this isn't 'metaphysics'. The time for grand theories has passed. It doesn't work any more, it's just so obviously playing with Meccano and not grappling with the real issue. I can go about my business perfectly well, but I don't believe any of it. It's a myth, a fairy tale.

Hedgehog Philosopher Day 28, 30th January 2011
— I realize now that I was wrong to detach 'my philosophy' from 'the question that has been hanging over me'. Because the conundrum is solved. Reality (the 'that') is a doing, and the I-now (the 'this') is a doing. When it rains, or when someone speaks to me, or the atom bomb drops... that is 'reality doing'. For my part, what I choose to do, or not do, is meaningless apart from what reality 'does'. The two are inseparable. And not just 'joined at the hip' either.

Any theory of 'reality' or 'ultimate reality' as an existing fact cannot include I. That was the whole point (a point I missed more than once). It follows with blinding logic that there is no such 'fact'. There is no ultimate 'is'. There is only the doing.

(There are no 'ultimate values' either — what could such things be but another kind of entity that 'is' — 'queer' objects like Plato's Forms, according to Mackie.)

I can say (I do say) 'I'm not trying to better myself'. Kierkegaard's dialectic of the Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious standpoints leaves me unmoved. Maybe because my stance is so deeply 'religious' that I simply can't see any other possibility?

Religion without God. And not making a 'god' of myself either...

I am only a means to an end. Where did I say that? (Can't find it now.) Something is driving me, call it 'my greater self' or 'the Absolute seeking self-knowledge' — just more 'fairy tales'. I accept as a fact this drive to know, to understand. For no reason, no ulterior purpose or motive. How strange is that?

But doesn't there have to be some point to all this? What use, what function has this 'knowledge', this 'understanding'? What is it for?

The conundrum is solved. But there is still everything to do. Now I can take the first step...

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Saturday, 13 January 2018

The actual is the issue of my existence

     Ultimate reality. That's all this has ever been about.
... philosophy is concerned with the ultimate questions. What is reality? Why are we here? What is the point of living? Is anything really ‘good’ or ‘bad’ except in relation to our likes and dislikes?
     If you ask, What is ultimate reality? it is possible — or even highly likely — that you are asking the wrong question. If ultimate reality is something that 'is', then maybe Parmenides was right and all you can say about it is that 'It is.'
     Consider an alternative possibility. Ultimate reality isn't something that 'is'. Ultimate reality is something that does.
     In everyday discourse we assume that when something is 'done', then something (something that 'is') does the doing. That's a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. But, maybe, the rule doesn't apply at the ultimate level.
     Ultimate reality is a doing.
     I (the ultimate 'I') am a doing.
     Put the two together, and you have, simply, this. The whole shebang. Everything. My typing these words. My getting up just before nine this morning. Having Somerset brie and marmalade on toast with coffee and orange juice for breakfast. And all the rest.
     I am talking about a formula which I first proposed in Naive Metaphysics but never really properly developed:
Then let us say: my subjective world is not an object which my absolute I contemplates but rather an issue which my absolute I faces. The sense I have of the incommunicable uniqueness of my existence is the fact that my subjective world is an issue for me, and for me alone (Naive Metaphysics Ch. 12).
     The formula, 'the actual is the issue of my existence' first appeared ten years earlier in a series of short essays I wrote in 1983. (The first fifty pages were posted here, with commentary, but I deleted them. My writing back then was so clunky.)
     Looking back over my Glass House Philosopher pages, the following stands out:
Ever since Aristotle, metaphysics in one of its guises has simply been about accounting. Think of a philosopher as doing a stock check or balancing the books of the universe. Of course, there is the desire to explain — hence all the heat about the arguments for the existence of God. One sense of a 'theory of existence' is an 'explanation of everything'.

However, before that question even arises, we want to know what the universe is, we want to have an idea of what we are talking about. What is included in the idea of a 'universe' and what isn't? When do you know that your theory — whatever its ostensive purpose — has taken account of everything that needs to be taken account of?

You have probably heard of the three main traditional views about the mind-body problem: mind-body dualism, materialism (material monism) and idealism (mental monism). There's quite a lot to argue about there, but it's still not the first thing, the most fundamental thing.

Or assume for a moment that I'm wrong, and that asking what stuff the universe is made of is the most fundamental question you can ask. What assumption are we making? That when as metaphysicians we talk about 'the universe' what we mean is a bunch of stuff (just what stuff it is, is something we can decide later).

How could that assumption turn out to be false? Well, that's the question I'm asking. When I wrote, 'The actual is the issue of my existence' I thought I'd seen a way to show just that.

The actual is not matter, the actual is not mind, nor is it mind and matter in some kind of weird combination. It is none of these things because it isn't stuff. The great A.N. Whitehead would agree with me there (in Process and Reality he says the actual is events and processes, not stuff). But Kierkegaard and the existentialists have stolen a march on Whitehead. Events and processes are just another kind of building block of the universe. There is something that comes before that too.

Where it all starts, the very first thing isn't components or building blocks that you put together. That's just messing about with theories or concepts. ('Category mongering' I used to call it.) To play that game you have to forget a rather troublesome fact: that there is you, moving the pieces around in pretty combinations. The subject. The one asking the question. The Single One.

Where it all starts is here, now, me. Ever since Plato, the here-and-now was seen as the antithesis of philosophy, the preoccupation of 'lovers of sights and sounds', pathetic individuals lacking in the ability to perceive the Forms. Wrong!

The here-and-now is precisely what we are trying to see, to grasp. I was aware of this when I wrote about the 'illusion of detachment' in Naive Metaphysics. But I still hadn't got it...

Glass House Philosopher II, 14th April 2004
     And now, here I am, a decade and a half later, thinking: 'Yes, maybe this is the way forward after all.' It fits...

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Thursday, 4 January 2018

Principle of individuation (reconsidered)

I might not have existed, everything else remaining the same.
     My mantra. Or first principle, axiom, 'clear and distinct idea'. Call it what you will.
     I don't know why it is true. All I know is that, looking into myself as deeply as I am able to do, I find the principle impossible to deny. I might not have been here.
     Every night, I surrender to sleep, without fear or anxiety. Non-existence is a familiar state for me. The only difference is something that may or may not happen in the future ('waking up').
     (Then there's the argument that death is impossible, because you can never rule out the possibility of 'waking up' at some point in endless future time, cf. my YouTube video What is death? The flip side of which is that I 'die' at every moment, the self does not persist through time — see below.)
     The problem — this is actually a crushing objection — is that when I imagine/ conceive of the possibility of my non-existence 'everything else remaining the same', there are uncountably many 'I's that might have existed in my place. Here, Leibniz's 'identity of indiscernibles' is unstoppable. If you can't count them, then there is no 'them'. You are not dealing with distinct existences.
     However, the thought occurred to me this morning that there is a simple way to do this.
     Start with the familiar idea of the multiverse. Not 'all possible worlds' whatever that would mean (again, the objection over identity, cf. Quine: Questions about the One) but rather worlds produced or created in the form of a tree of alternate possibilities, consistent with a given set of laws of physics. In QM, for example.
     A similar tree can be constructed of the self. The moments in my life are countless (you can divide them as finely as you like) but the conscious decisions I make are not. Writing these words, my fingers automatically find the right keys (I learned to touch type years ago). So I don't have to make the 'decision', e.g., to put my right index finger just here in order to type the letter 'u'. On the other hand, I did have a decision to make about whether to write a post in my journal today.
     Am I in the right mood or frame of mind to make a serious effort, and not just spout the first words that come into my mind? Do I have anything to say? And so on.
     As F.H. Bradley remarks in Ethical Studies, many of the decisions we make are predictable for good reasons, because, e.g., that's what would be the decent thing to do, and I am a decent man. But many other decisions are finely balanced. There are 'good' reasons on both sides. And in that situation (and only in that situation) we can posit the creation of two selves — two entire universes, in fact — the self who decides to do A, and the self who decides to do not-A.
     How many 'alternate selves' are there at any given time? The number isn't actual but potential. It all depends on how many finely balanced decisions 'I' have still to make. (Or not so finely — it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a scoundrel would for once do the decent thing.) But that's OK. I remember arguing for a similar view of personal identity in the case of thought experiments of 'splitting': Retrospectively, we deem that there were two Smiths, the Smith who later became the 'Smith on the left' and the Smith who later became the 'Smith on the right'.
     Unlike the case of QM, I am not saying the every decision must necessarily create two I-worlds. I can't say this, because then there is no way that I might not have been here now. Something contingent had to happen, an act or rather series of acts of free will, in order for me to be here. This makes sense. After all, how finely do we define 'finely'? Are we to say that because a decision is 'logically possible', one of my alternate selves must make it? To me, that sounds excessive and absurd. (Pity all the poor alternative GKs who die in the most ridiculous ways, or commit mass murder, or etc.)
     Contingency, that's the key.
     I will never get to know what happened to the 'GK' who decided not to write a post today. The term 'I' necessarily refers to one particular path through the 'tree'. Which path? That's something I can only discover in retrospect. There is no 'soul substance' that goes forward into the future, only a succession of conscious decisions that cumulatively create the 'I' who is 'this' GK.
     'I might not have existed, everything else remaining the same,' means, simply, that the series of conscious decisions stretching back six decades that led to my writing these words now might not have led to the decision I took this morning, to write rather than not write. (Ditto, with particular decisions about what to say, how to say it, etc.)
     THIS self (there is no past or future 'I' only the I-now) might never have been. I cannot speak for 'myself' yesterday, or a year ago. (Could there still be a noumenal subject? Say this if you like — the underlying 'reality' that accounts for the appearance of a 'self', or whatever.)
     — Do I believe any of this? That wasn't the question. I am drawing a picture, maybe just for my own amusement, nothing more. There was an objection about identity to a picture I drew earlier, but that objection can be met with a bit more colouring in. I am not looking to persuade myself of anything, or persuade anyone else.
     What is not up for discussion is that something is the case. There is Reality. Existence exists. Whether or not these speculations will ever get close to capturing it is moot. But I shall just continue exploring anyway.

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Monday, 1 January 2018

New start

       Yesterday, in Glass House Philosopher, I talked about,
...the sense I have that, despite all the fears and dangers, I am safe in 'my' hands. There is someone in charge who is not identical to my conscious self. I wouldn't use Freudian terminology (Superego, Id, Ego) because it doesn't fit. I'm talking about my 'true' self, my 'greater' self. The one who knows where he is going, even when at times fearful I do not.
      On the previous page, I announced the publication of an expanded version of Philosophizer, titled Philosophizer (Black Edition). From the New Preface:
I don't yet know what is possible — in philosophy. But that is why I wrote my book. I am still searching.
      Still searching. But what to do? Waiting isn't enough. Inspiration needs to be provoked, it won't come of its own accord. But this is where I hit the nail on the head:
If you have a point to make, it should be there for anyone with eyes to see. You shouldn t need to argue for it, the way philosophers incessantly feel the need to do.
      That's where I've fallen down. (In my last post in this journal, for example.) But I am clearer now, about how to go forward. Let the 'philosophers' (so-called) do what they do best. I have my 'philosopher's hat' but only for official business (Pathways to Philosophy, Ask a Philosopher).
      Maybe, this could be seen as 'theology' (60s Protestant, 'God is dead' variety). That's the name Aristotle gave to his 'first philosophy' (the neologism 'metaphysics' is the name the librarians at Alexandria used). Levinas calls it 'ethics'. Sometimes, listening to myself, I imagine that I sound a bit like Martin Luther (swearing, crudity, railing against the Devil). — This is, in a way, a project of Reformation, is it not?
      Academic philosophy is on a road to nowhere. The ultimate questions are the only thing a philosopher should be concerned with. Everything else is dispensable. Underlabouring (Locke), logical analysis, methodology, political theory, literary criticism have a place in the architectonic of human knowledge. Determining that place — the precise place — is itself a worthwhile activity if you are into that kind of thing. But it isn't philosophy.
      But never mind, I'm not going to argue over the use of a word. That's what 'philosophers' do, isn't it? And there's too many of them to argue with. So I will just go my own way, not even glancing once to see if anyone is following behind.
      What do I know?
      What do I believe?
      The stuff about my 'greater self' is belief, useful or otherwise. I don't go in for fairy tales or magical thinking. This is about adjusting my mental attitude (YouTube Return of the evil demon). My way of orienting myself to reality, or more accurately, to the task before me.
      What I know is that the the theory of materialism — first promulgated as a metaphysical theory of the the ultimate units of Parmenidean 'Being' by the Atomists Leucippus and Democritus 2,500 years ago — cannot possibly be true. I know this because:
I might not have existed, everything else remaining the same.
      (Remembering, now, that the theory of evolution is not a new idea — it was first put forward by the Presocratic philosopher Empedocles pursuing a similar agenda: making the world safe for physics.)
      There being I in the world, rather than no-I, is a momentous event. Fantastic, inexplicable. How to account for it? Who is even aware of that question?
      Unlike the 'soul substance' of Descartes, my 'I' is  existentially weightless. It's existence is pure contingency. It can go out of existence, or flick back into existence at any time. (In a way, Descartes is committed to this too, because material and mental 'substances' only persist through time by God's pleasure — which led Spinoza to conclude that God is the only true substance, the only thing not dependent on something else for its continued existence.)
      Do I actually know that my 'I' is 'existentially weightless'? Well, no. Of course not. I am speculating, or else drawing conclusions. Maybe the 'I' does refer to something noumenal, but that is speculation too. Or, at least, requires an argument, and I'm not in the business of giving arguments.
      I need to work on myself. Mentally, I am not in the best shape for this. I don't know how it's done, this 'philosophizing', whatever it is. Attending, focusing, remembering, martialling my spirit and my emotions. It's all new to me. Trial and error.
      — That's what these pages are for...

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