I use to say that philosopy is philosophizing or doing philosophy, an that this is an activity. I know, of course, that people do not understand me when I say such things. Therefore today I want to explain this issue which is central for me.
Maybe you will ask: “But aren’t all things that are done by human beings human activities? Philosophy is obviously done by human beings – so what else can it be than a human activity?”
Well, no. I will explain the difference to you.
Academic philosophers do say things like: “The questions of epistemology (which is a branch of philosophy) are: Can we really know anything? What is knowledge? … [and so on]”
This clearly indicates that academic philosophers do not share my idea that philosophy is an activity. If philosophy was an activity, there would be for example us two, you and me, philosophizing. We would then ask each other: “What are you interested in?” And what we would answer then, those are our philosophical questions.
Do you understand the difference? If philosophy was an activity, there would be no “questions of epistemology” or “questions of philosophy” because the discussion would not be about epistemology, or ethics or philosophy, it would be about us.
Seeing philosophy as an activity means that we reappropriate our questions. Those questions might be so called philosophical questions, but they might es well be mathematical questions, biological or musical ones. What makes them to be philosophical questions is not that they belong to philosophy but what we do with them, the special treatment we give them.
What does this special treatment consist in? Here again we can find orientation in the idea that philosophy is an activity. Academic philosophers (who do not understand that philosophy is an activity) will say that a philosophic dispute is about who is right. This is false. Philosophical discussions between two or more persons is not about who has the right answer to the question, but about helping the others and oneself to come to a decision about what one really thinks about the question discussed.
The aim of philosophy is not truth (itself), but it is a decision about what one thinks about a specific question. This decision is a deed, it has do be done, accomplished. This is the reason why philosophy cannot in any sense be theoretical, it is always practical. Philosophizing you are “manipulating” yourself, trying to achieve new convictions and leave old ones behind yourself. The topic of your philosophizing might be theoretical or practical, if you achieve the goal to change your own opinion you have done something. This is why philosophy is eminently practical.
There is one more example that shows very well that academic philosophers do not understand philosophy as an activity. If you read papers in philosophy journals you will often come about expressions like “realists” or “anti-realists”, “contextualists”, “invariantists”, “non-reductionists”, and so on. What are they doing here? They invent names for every possible opinion one could hold about a specific question, and then they situate these opinions in the form of positions in some kind of imaginary landscape or continuum. This landscape or continuum is nothing else than the topic itself. The result will be that knowing something about a specific philosophical proeblem in the academic sense will mean to possess knowledge about all possible intellectual positions that exist in this specific theoretical field.
In short, academic philosophers are analysts of positions. They want to find out why something is, or has become, like it is. They do not want to change anything or do anything, they just want to see how things are.
But if you, like myself, embrace the idea that philosophy is an activity the task is a different one. There might be “realists” and “anti-realists” and so on, but you will have to decide yourself for one position because you are just one person. If you want to decide yourself for two positions, you have to make clear if this is possible at all for just one person. Maybe it is possible in some cases, in others it will not be possible. So, for example in ethics for academic philosophers it suffices to know that there are utilitarianists and kantians and virtue ethicists, and so on. It suffices because they do not want to do anything. But if you are a philosopher for whom philosophy is action your task is to find out whether you, yourself, decide to be a utilitarianist a kantian, a virtue ethicist or something else.
And this is because, philosophizing for you will mean to do something, to make up your mind. You will ask yourself: “Did I accomplish something philosophizing today? Did I arrive at some point? If I haven not arrived anywhere, my philosophical work of today was of no use.”
Did I make myself clear about why not all human activities are activities? (Some of them just try to figure out where we are and have no aim to get us anywhere.)
A question that bothers me very much lately is: how can I stand success?
How can I live with success? Success seems to me to be the worst thing that has been invented by human beings.
When I experience success I eat too much, I would like to be drunk the whole time, and I feel a profound lack of motivation. All the joy that is in my naturally quite joyful character is gone when it comes to success.
I really would prefer to do a thing the way I like it and be happy with it. If I get the occasion to do a thing my way I can get a lot of energy out of it, motivational energy that helps me to complete other tasks. But as soon as I try do make a good thing, somebody comes up and requires that it be a successful thing. Then he/she changes the thing until I do not like it anymore.
That is what success is: doing things you do not like. Explanation: if you liked them, you needn’t call them “success”. The content of success is selling your thing to people who are not interested in it and do not take the time to look at it and understand it.
If you conceived a thought which is new, success requires to formulate it in a way so that the new part of it is invisible. If you conceived a thought which is a little bit complicated, success requires to formulate it in a way so simple that thinking is not needed to understand it.
I think success is really a very bad thing. It should be known more generally that it is a really bad thing. People should bite into their tongues before asking “…but don’t you want to be successful?” The necessity of success can be accepted only under very rare circumstances. And also under these circumstances it should be clear that the price of success is very high, that the destruction produced by success is remarkable. Success makes the world a sad and ugly place.
You look at things trying to see something.
If you can`t see anything distinctive there are three possibilities
a) there isn`t anything to be noticed;
b) you looked at it with too little creativity and imagination
c) when looking at it you didn’t have the right object of comparison (cognitive frame) in your mind.
It is possible that a) is the case, but b) and c) are more likely.
So turn your back to the problem, look at other things in the meantime, go to bed, SLEEP LONG (only persons who are not tired are creative). Then come back and have another try.
I still have to add this: Be prepared if you do phenomenological research that others will call it “unscientific”! They will ask, “What was your hypothesis?” But when one is looking at things, one generally does not have any hypothesis. (It would confine your activity of looking, it would prematurely focus your eyes on specific aspects.
Connected with this reproach of the phenomenological method being unscientific is a more general problem: that of the status of observation in science. New developments in science are gradually edging observation out of science. This is achieved by discretiting some forms of observation, for instance the observation of an individual object.
The advantages of observing only statistically relevant groups together with control groups in social sciences are undeniable. Nevertheless it has to be emphasized that observation is basically the observation of an individiual object by an individual human being.
Thus observation is still necessary in science, but not the observation of an individual human being in an uncontrolled random situation. For many people this may not seem to be a problem for observation, but in fact it is: the human being that is aware of the fact that observation in science only counts if it is performed in groups (of researchers) an on groups of objects (which have to be prepared and arranged previously) will stop to look attentively for himself/herself. Collective observation is the end of observation. (I would like to know what Empiricists say about that.)
Sometimes friends tell me that they feel dragged down when reading one of my philosophical texts. Then they ask me, if I could not write a little more with an ironical smile. They would recommend that to me, because the people who read philosophy, pertain to the educated middle class, and these people consume philosophy in order to be uplifted emotionally.
Well, yes, I know this use of philosophy, and I am not angry about people who read philosophy books because they want to feel educated and sophisticated. The truth is that I become bored very quickly when I read a book or a paper and do not find the philosopher amidst things and fighting with his/her problems.
I know, philosophy is associated with wisdom, and wisdom is associated with being a smiling Buddha. Therefore people seem to think that either someone has problems, than he/she cannot be wise, or he/she is wise and demonstrates it by standing above all problems.
But the problem then is, at least it seems so to me, that the higher the philosopher stands above the problems, the smaller and less frightening the problems become. In the end I ask myself, what is philosophizing for, if all problems a human being can possibly have are so ridiculously small?
And, reading on (while getting more and more bored) in the educated and humorous philosophical book, I ask myself what the author is still going to tell me in the rest of his book. If it is an author of the ‘above all problems standing’-kind, I start to suspect, that he/she in fact will not tell me anymore, and the reason is: because this author has already arrived. All that is still left for him or her to say is a further exposition of his or her standpoint.
I have to admit that reading Schopenhauer is terribly boring for me. Schopenhauer seems to be a man who has made up his mind once in his life. And that was it. When I read his later works (‘The World as Will and Representation’ is different; in this book he really wants to guide the reader to a new philosophical finding.), I tell myself, “Schopi, it’s obvious that you aren’t heading anywhere. You have already arrived.”
The experience is quite different when you read Albert Camus or Jean Améry. There you are wading knee-deep in reality. And sometimes reality reaches up till your throat, choking you. I mention these writers to recall the fact that there are, or at least there were, good writers who did not play the philosopher: “Oh, I am so intelligent! Look at me, how smart and wise I am!”
So, there is philosophy to uplift the educated middle class-reader emotionally, and then there is philosophy that gets into real things. And I really do not think that it is an argument against this (second) kind of philosophy when its tone sometimes gets very negative and depressing. The novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is depressing too – and it’s a great book.
My impression is that when philosophers show themselves as standing above the things (standing above them in a manner so that they can just treat them aesthetically, anymore), in reality they have stopped dealing with them, and it’s a loss of time reading their books.
In my last posts (e.g. “On Truth“, “On Thinking (2)“) I have argued that truth should not be the only goal in philosophy. Some of you might therefore reproach me of irrationalism. Here is, why I think this is not the case:
Nowadays it is possible to achieve truths without achieving them. That is, it is possible to acquire truths collectively without acquiring them individually.
The process I am referring to when talking about collective acquirement of truths is called “science”. Science is based upon two important social principles: teamwork and the social division of labour.
“Teamwork” in science means: You cannot do science alone. You are obtaining scientific findings not for yourself but for the “team”, which is the so called “Scientific Community”.
“Social Division of labour” in the field of epistemology means that some persons (experts) acquire new scientific knowledge and the rest of the inhabitants (the majority of the population) does not.
In conclusion: Science (and this also includes ‘Humanities’ insofar as they are academic disciplines) is a powerful social apparatus to find truths, or to produce knowledge about truths – but this knowledge is possessed by a small group of persons, and it is stored in books and other publications, and nobody else (apart from these small groups of experts) has this knowledge.
Sometimes I also explain this idea in the following manner: Science is based on a big prejudice. This prejudice consists in that scientists tend to say: “We have found…” – and in the next sentence they say, producing, some kind of logical fallacy: “We know now that…” To this I would like to respond: “Wait, I want to ask my mother, if she knows it, too!”
From the fact that some group of specialized scientists has achieved this or that new finding, it just does not follow that now the whole world and all its inhabitants know this new truth and are acquainted with it. But this is just the way we are talking about scientific truth and knowledge.
I think this way of talking about scientific knowledge is the reason why we still haven’t drawn the right inferences from the fact of the existence of the social process of achieving knowledge which is called ‘science’.
The correct inference would be: If we claim truth to be our only goal (be it in epistemology or in philosophy), then as a result we get a social machine like that of science where truths are found but nobody has these truths, where knowledge is produced but nobody knows it. (To make this clear, “nobody” here means, nobody apart from the very experts who have found out and published a specific scientific finding.)
The existence of science faces us with a new fact: Thruths can be found without anybody having them. They are just there, somewhere in the sphere of society. Sometimes they are also in possession of somebody, e.g. in the case of patents. (But it is never the case that science finds out something, and then we all know it.)
The consequence of all this is that the individual human being, in the case that he or she wants to find out truths and acquire knowledge, should not head for truth alone. For it is not only important that truth exists, is there – somewhere – but also, that the individual acquires it, learns it, understands it, has it.
This is the reason why philosophy, according to me, should not have truth as its only goal. For if truth was the only goal, one would not even achieve truth. The only possibility to obtain truth is to strive for truth AND for the possession of truth. And this is how we, by now, have already arrived at a second goal besides truth: the possession of truth.
To this result we have come by the help of a simple reflection on the wonderful social machine of science which produces knowledge which nobody knows in the end. In fact, it is astonishing that there is a kind of department of knowledge in society called ‘science’ which finds out a lot of things and produces knowledge, but this knowledge comes back to us only in the form of technical gadgets and does not make the rest of us any wiser.
Thus the existence of science makes it clear that we, as society, are able to manage it to find truth and establish knowledge of it without anybody of us learning from it.
From that follows that if philosophy is an individual discipline of striving for truth, the emphasis must be put not so much on truth, but on LEARNING. For learning is the way of coming to know the truth for the individual human being. Philosophy is more a pedagocial than an epistemological discipline. It is more about learning than about knowing the truth.
Of course, basically in philosophy teacher and pupil are one and the same person. This is why philosophizing is also only secundarily a pedagogical activity, primarily it is an autopedagogical activity. But that should not worry us at that point of our reflection. Important is: striving for truth means striving for that truth be somewhere existent or available (but not necessarily: existent in the individual human being); striving for pedagogics or for education means trying to bring (available or new) truths into human beings, bring human beings to the possession of knowledge. For the existence of truth somewhere, unknown by us, does not help us any further.
In my last post on thinking I have argued against restricting thinking to fully conscient thinking. The requirement of conscient leads to the result that we will only think about the questions and problems other people ask to think about (namely, those people who slaim that thinking is always fully conscient thinking) and that we will not come up with our own questions and problems. This does not mean, of course, that an idea does not have to pass a process of fully conscient thinking in order to be formulated, before it can be discussed. It only means that activity of thinking as a whole is something more comprehensive, and that without these other elements which rather stay in the dark, thinking will not be able to disengage from the surface of the questions and problems that constitute ist objects.
This time I would like to emphasize that thinking, as it seems to me, according to the classical distinction in ontology, belongs to the sphere of “becoming”, and not to the sphere of “being”.
As you might know or not know, philosophy in Greece started with the question about becoming and being. The greeks observed that things are changing or moving, and they asked for the unchangeable substance behind them. For example, a plant is first a seed, than it grow, than it is big and produces fruits, then it withers and dies. So what IS this plant, if it is always in a different state?
Of course, the Greeks did not aks this question out of fun, but out of insecurity about the future. By finding out what things are per se or eternally, they tried to find a way to predict the future. Different results of the quest for being in a world of becoming (or change) are, for example: Plato’s ideas, Pythagorean numbers, Democrit’s Atoms, and, why not, modern natural laws.
Being in philosophy or epistology means: We are looking for the things that stay the same amidst the whole chaos or moving and changing reality.
If we are thinking and doing scientific in order to get out of the vertiginous reality, we are living in, it is no wonder, that thinking is also commonly conceived as pertaining to the sphere of being. But I think that this is a misconception of being because it confounds being with calculating or computing.
When you are computing a mathematical calculation or draw a logical inference, the whole issue – problem and solution – is already there. There is nothing left to be thought about anymore. On the left side of the =-sign you have the numbers and the operators which tell you what to do with them, whether to add or subtract or multiply or anything else. You apply the (given) rule to the (given) numbers and arrive at the practically also given result (because there is not other result you might arrive at. In a calculus everything is already there from the start, it does not allow to arrive at anything new. This is why calculating, or computing, pertains to the sphere of being.
Thinking is different from calculating. We undertake the activity of thinking in order to arrive at something new. But arriving at something new means to arrive at somehing that seemed impossible to achieve before. And when we have arrived at it (e.g. when we have had a new idea) it seems impossible that there was a time in our (individual) lives, when we were not in possession of that finding.
So thinking is an incomprehensible, mysterious process; as is learning and knowing (the process of advancing from one finding to another). My book “Einladung zur Odyssee. Eine erkenntnistheoretische Reflexion über die “epische Seite der Wahrheit” develops these problems more in extense.
What is the reason for confounding thinking with calculating/computing? It is, of course, our results-orientedness. We do not want to think, we want the results of our thinking. This is why we confuse thinking (the activity) with thoughts (the result of thinking).
What is so wrong about that? Thoughts, if they are good and stable results of thinking, are the end of thinking. The result is good, so there is not reason to think any further. From that follows that nowadaws we confuse thinking with that which is the absolute opposite of thinking: thoughts, results, all that which does not require any further thinking.
And what is the consequence of the present misconception of thinking: Harm is done to the activity of thinking because we think that results (= that which stops thinking) is the only thing that justifies thinking.
That is totally the wrong side around: The real goal of thinking is bringing thinking into action, making it move, bringing it into some kind of energized state where the changes, transformations and movements of thoughts happen more easily, where ideas seem to come on their own.
What happens if people do not think? They arrive at one state of mine, which is more or less pleasant, in which they stay imprisioned for the rest of their lives. There are e.g. those who are not even able to perceive the taste of a fruit, because they have become the smoking & beer-drinking kind of people.
Not that this kind of people would be worse than others, my message is just that as soon as the capacity of mental transformation of a human being is exhausted, life is over. There is still lifetime left, but inside, in your head and in your capacity for experience, you are stuck, you are standing still, you can’t move.
This is why I think it is very important to correct our conception of thinking by emphasizing that thinking is not objective thinking. If we are thinking about objects (things) and do that by producing objective thoughts (thoughts, which are also things), we will become thinking objects (things), and every thing is essentially dead.
Thinking is strongly associated with philosophy.
I think there are more than one misunderstandings about misconceptions of thinking. Here I will talk about one of them.
Thinking is normally taken to be a logical and rational activity which accounts for the logical and rational character of the enterprise called “philosophy”. This does not seem to me to be the whole truth; and as it is only part of the truth it ends up being false.
The reason for that is: if the meaning of “thinking” is restricted to “conscient thinking”, it becomes a cage too small for the philosophizing person to move and develop her philosophy.
Conscient, rational and logical thinking is only possible for questions you already know. It is a part of philosophizing, it is like “editing” and fine-polishing your thoughts. But the more important part of philosophizing is finding out which questions you actually do have.
As I said that conscient reasoning constitutes only a part of philosophizing, you might suspect that the other part is unconscious. This is neither strictly true, nor untrue. I, for example, have become a philosoper by taking the bus. The school-bus is guilty for me being a philosopher. Every morning at 6:30 a.m. I spent three quarters of an hour on my way to school, and every afternoon at 13:48 p.m. (if I remember it correctly) I took the bus on my way home, which for three quarters of an hour. The important issue is that so early in the morning and in the afternoon, after school, I was too tired for thinking. So I spent these 1,5 hours six days a week in a dreamy state of mind. Recent experiences as well as my hopes and fears concerning my immediate future passed through my mind, and my mind somehow took a stand on them. It took a stand on them by discovering a predilection for certain thoughts and a feeling of reluctance towards others. By this means I discovered “my topics”, the topics that make me hot, and in great part also my basic assumptions which had lead me to these topics.
I am telling you this in order to emphasize that not everything that is not fully conscient necessarily has to bi unconscient. My daydreaming was half conscient. It was not even a daydreaming on purpose. In Austria we call this activity “Narrenkastel schauen” – to stare into space. It is an activity where you relax yourself trying not to think anything. And this activity somehow creates the free space in one’s mind where new ideas can appear.
The attitude that philosophizing consists in concious thinking of logical and rational character does wrong to the philosophizing person, for it supposes a philosopher is able to think about different topics with the same fervor. Or, to say it differently, it conceptualizes philosophy as being just a means or an instrument for scrutinizing every kind of topic. This concept of philosopy does not take into account how deep philosophy is rooted in the individual person.
Of course, in the end every thought has to be developed logically and rationally in order to be communicated to others. But if people were aware of the fact that not all thinking is conscient and rational, they would treat these openly stated arguments as just being the tips of an iceberg. An argument, then, would not be treated just according to its being true or false, but as an expresson or a part of a system of philosophy which is currently in development by the person who uttered that thought.
This, of course, would imply to see a philosophical argument as something which is also intrinsically personal. We do not know what another person is working on; and in most cases we, ourselves, do not know which philosophical projects we are pursuing, because most of it stays in the dark of the subconscient and comes to light only step by step.
To understand thinking, as I propose it here, as also including daydreaming and staring into space, results in expressing our respect for the human being as a person, because we can see the person as working hard on developing something which is, by now, only partly brought into existence. (Socrates seems to have meant something similar when talking about “maieutics” – philosophical midwifery.)
On the other hand I would like to warn of conceiving thinking as an foremost logical and rational activity. The consequence of this attitude will not be to arrive at logical and rational results, but to think that which seems to be logical and rational from the outset. But that what seems to be logical and rational from the outset, of course is not logical and rational, but it is just a superstition.
The conception of thinking as logical and rational is nothing more than a self-censorship. If the normal course of thinking consists in (1) thinking freely, (2) sorting out those thoughts which are logical and rational, rational thinking pretends to manage this task by restricting itself to the second part of described activity. But the first part is the creative one.
Rational thinking therefore must end up either in mental infertility, or it could also be the case that people just pretend to think rationally (and the do the creative part secretly, trying not to talk about it). However, the pretension of rational thinking in my opinion contains a considerable amount of disrespect for the human being as a person as it requires that all thoughts be already grown up and rational. The pretension of rational thinking does not respect the mode of functioning of the human mind which needs to conceive new thoughts in a more relaxed and playful atmosphere and let them grow for some time until they become strong enough to be questioned rationally.
What happens normally where the Interpretation of thinking as being rational is practiced is that somebody careless (because he is not even interested in what the others person thinks) questions a very valuable, but young and still undereveloped thought of another person, thus treading down a very indefensible Little plant with the heavy shoe of logic.
On such occasions I tend to think that there is nothing more stupid than rational thinking! And that there is no bigger misunderstanding than that the human being is a rational thinking creature.