Friday, 22 August 2008

Beyond Logic

Of course, what I have recently been primitively grasping at is the fundamental notion Wittgenstein was expressing the Tractatus: I have come to understand that the only truths that matter (and thus, the only accurate aim of philosophy) are the personal; the subjective. The truths of logic (which are what all external, or scientific, investigations lead to) are essentially meaningless: they every one reduce to tautology. Leibniz's A=A. Logic, science, mathematics...all are investigations of different ways of expressing this single principel which is their sole axiom. The arts (in the broadest sense) however, refuse any requirement of axiom. They begin from the individual, that is, life, with all the contradictions and irresolutions that implies.

This is why the philosophy that matters has to be carried out as an art. I want, I need, to say more than A=A.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Religious in Life

Religion doesn't speak about the cosmos: the cosmos is irrelevant. What religion speaks of is the human soul. And this is not some 'thing' which exists in the cosmos, it is something which exists in human life. Thus, religion is not something which is believed: it is something which is done. To live religiously is to prioritise the human experience above the factual qualities of 'objective' cosmology - to say that what matters in life is the living, the peaks and troughs of lfie, and the forging of the 'soul' through our experience.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Popular Misconceptions of Descartes' Cogito

It seems that the true meaning and intention of Descartes' famous principle has been somewhat misunderstood. Some have understood it but I think its true intent has often been obfuscated. I want to examine this.

Cogito Ergo Sum is usually translated as I think therefore I am. This in itself may be misleading. We can see this if we deconstruct it:

(i) think... therefore ...(i) am

translates as

"i" possess the quality/activity "thoughts"... therefore ..."i" am a stateable bearer of properties

It should be obvious that if we accept the condition "'i' think" then the conclusion "'i' am" follows; no further logic is necessary to extract this from the conditional. If it is true that 'i think' then we know immediately that 'i am'. The second half is in fact the hidden axiom upon which the conditional first half is based. In order to 'think', I must 'be'. If it is true that 'i think' then clearly (without any more logical steps), i must be. I cannot think if I am not.

Of course, one needs to understand: if there are thoughts (which we know there are) then the existence of thoughts is apparent. If Descartes is wholly identifying 'i' and 'thoughts' then his logic is secure. Could it be that all he intended to say in the first step was that, these thoughts, these phenomena which are all that I am, exist. Existence is apparent and this I can give the handy label 'i'.

In Descartes' reply to Mersenne, he establishes that existence is not found from thought by any logical proces or manipulation: existence is already present within the axiom of "i think". 'i think' being a self-evident assertion (notwithstanding the separation of 'i' and 'think' into separate ontologies via grammatical obfuscation), 'i' (that is, existence) is already apparent - it has already been stated and does not need to be deduced.

Thus, the cogito ergo sum (much clearer in Latin) is merely an articulation of identity, of A=A.

Thus, I believe that Descartes is not setting out to prove the existence of a mental, cohesive, self...but to establish a criterion of truth. Cogito ergo sum makes it clear that there is, despite scepticism, ascertainable, definite, knowable and self-evident truth. That this truth is contentless is not the issue. The fact is, that truth can be established where there is no room for doubt. This is Descartes' gift: the grounding of solidity and the establishment of a basic epistemological principle. "is". There are thoughts. If there are thoughts, and those thoughts are me, then i am.¹ A=A is not effaceable. If "there are thoughts", then "there is a definite criterion of truth". The conditional statement at the beginning of the formula, "if 'i think'..." leads immediately, without application of logic or any other data, to "then there is such a thing as existence, for existence need not be any (cannot be any) more established than the fact we already know "i think". Perhaps a better translation would be:

thoughts? -> existence

¹Although the cogito can in this way be expressed as a syllogism, we must still understand that its conclusion is not really an extrapolation: it is already present in the first condition.

Post-Script. Since first posting this it has been brought to my attention that Descartes originally formulated the cogito in French, and it does in fact contain the personal pronoun. Perhaps then I am confounding my own intention with Descartes. My point in general however, still stands.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Submission: 2 of 2

"Absolute submission is a form of freedom"

What is meant by this? I will take it to the most metaphysical degree: The Enlightenment mind seeks knowledge, to conceive and understand all truth, and the rules by which reality operates. As such it is seeking a kind of apotheosis: it wants to become, or replace, God. It sees this absolute understanding of concrete reality as reachable, and the attainment as its duty and prerogative. By attempting to acheive objective knowledge of reality, the subject strives to transcend subjectivity. It attempts to place itself, its own understanding, its apprehension, 'outside' of the ontological structure of reality so that it has an absolute perspective which is no longer relative or conditional.

Yet, God is no more free than the human. In fact, less so. God cannot act. Bound by the lower truth of the organisms which make 'Him' up (as the human is bound by the lower truths of society, biology, physics which constitute an individual). In attempting to escape from particularity (the relative truths we as subjects inhabit) we approach the Absolute, which is not only non-material, but entirely determined by the particular. Thus, the 'ruler', the master, is more trammelled than the slave. Although the slave is materially in chains, his actions determined at every point, it is precisely this freedom from action which allows the internal evolution and self-realisation. Humans attempt to escape themselves and by doing this, escape selfhood. The quest for absolute truth is the walking into an inescapable trap, our minds ossified by truths so concrete we can no longer bend within them.

One may then call this a kind of sublimation. Freedom from choice allows that energy to be put into another use. Absolute freedom, by contrast, seems to negate itself the closer it is approached. A kind of purity, a liberation, can be found within the strictures of obedience, and even a new kind of integrity, within absolute acquiescence.

Submission: 1 of 2

I think there's something very healthy for man's spirit in obedience: in submission to a higher will or code. We can often lose ourselves in the struggle for autonomy. At the very least, accepting some kind of yoke on the conscious mind frees our perceptions to concentrate on other things; to take some elements of the world and behaviour on trust - to hand them over to another, preeminent, jurisdiction...this is not slavery. It is a mature admission of our individual imperfection. An acknowledging that we don't have all the answers and that some of our drives, impulses and preferences may be flawed. To accept a code of conduct and adhere to it is not immaturity: it is a setting of context for our own decisions.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Philosophy as an Art

I'm coming to think that philosophy is not so much a science as an art form. The most affecting and effective lessons are learnt not through the precise instruments of logic, but through the sublime expressions of the soul.