Saturday, 7 November 2009
ON PHILOSOPHY [a collection]
iii) What Can Be Shown, But Not Said
iv) Derrida the Joker
v) Descartes' Prize of the Indubitable
vi) To Know or Not to Know
vii) Nietzsche Dreams On
iii) What Can Be Shown, But Not Said
(A argument between a Platonist and a
sceptical natural scientist.)
A 20th Century Moral Realist:
Moral properties can’t be studied like beans or protons are studied.
There are no microscopes for such things.
Nothing can smash them in a cloud-chamber.
They aren’t open to dissection.
And to claim that morality ‘expresses only feelings’
Is to shovel dirt on something both perfect and necessary.
Such socio-pickings at the moral body rob it of its ancient meaning.
Morality is crucified by psycho-fact; by number-crunching survey;
And by the dirty data that raids its once-supreme land.
You can’t - you mustn’t! - bring it down to nature’s low state.
It is a check on that very thing.
Something beyond it and, at times, inscrutable.
To naturalise is to rob a precious thing of its value.
Grubby little positivist!
Don’t you know that science’s realm is minute
Compared to realms outside of space and time?
So take your clinical hands off all these things!
Things that exist in worlds abstract but real.
All you have is a mere jumble of facts.
I can take you to these worlds.
But firstly, take off your white coat.
Lift up that guard that you call ‘science’- the prison of the soul.
The wall you place between yourself and the transcendent.
A guard you made for yourself against these other worlds.
These worlds don’t need you; or need any of your kind.
You must grasp, and soon, the ‘hard’ fact that you need them.
Without an awareness - a free acceptance – of the abstract externals of your concrete internals,
Your soul will remain a sham-of-a-soul.
A soul drowned within the mud of brute fact.
One so stuffed with data, so blocked with evidence, that it chokes on what it thinks worthy.
You demand evidence for truth which doesn’t show under a microscope,
Or when tested for its reality.
Experiments serve only to muddy the water
Between you and a clear-water reflection of truth.
That vision of the un-testable; the un-quantifiable; the inscrutable and immutable.
Keep your hands off its singular sphere!
You cannot see this transcendent world.
You haven’t the soul to do so.
Don’t force others to be storm troopers for positivism;
And fight its colonial war against the Transcendental Trinity:
The Transcendent, the True, and the Beautiful.
Please don’t snuff out the metaphysics we dare practice in public.
Please keep your white coat within your white laboratory.
Let your dark mind look, with its microscopic eye, at a slab of matter,
Sprawled out, corpse-like, on your clinical white table.
You ask me, and my ‘kind’, to step inside.
To show - not say – these possibles of worlds now impossible to us.
The only requirement? A self-deluding faith and a metaphysics like your own.
Such a faith would help me to leap that chasm between worldly facts and your purer truths.
You imply they’re waiting for me – even me! - on the right side of the divide.
Does this strange world somehow surround you?
Or is it within you?
Can you simply dip into it (whatever it is, wherever it is) whenever you feel like it,
Like a boy plunging into his own biscuit tin?
Who gave you - you self-styled moral philosopher - the keys denied to men like me?
Who let you into this realm of abstract beings, supra-natural properties,
And truths shown, but not said?
Shown only to those with a faith like your own.
I need the faith that’s fit for the vision you, and only you, experience – experience on tap!
The things of which I, and every philosopher, speak, and must only speak, should be said clearly.
But the unearthly and insubstantial things of which you’ve just spoken,
Can only be shown, not said… or so your preacher-teacher said.
That man you so adored.
That genius from Vienna.
iv) Derrida the Joker
Once the joker on the scene.
He philosophised with a smile on his face.
A modern-day Protagoras to our little Platos.
He knew the Tradition’s big joke.
And the big joke that was the Tradition.
To him it wasn’t a joke to take all as a joke.
To joke about the transcendent light of Reason.
The light which lit up the metaphysician.
That sanctified the systems in which many travelled.
Derrida played with the Tradition.
He used a language that played with the sign.
But it acknowledged that play.
And all within the Greek-Jew’s syntax and semantics.
Not even Derrida could transcend symbol-systems that dreamt of Reason’s reign - as if it would someday still come.
He would have had no language with which he could aim his deconstructing arrows.
His own concepts remained purpled by the Tradition.
Remained part of the Tradition.
He knew that the supplementation of system with system would never erase system itself from the Tradition.
The Derridarean technique?
To untie, quietly, the tight strings of each system.
To turn its concepts against its concepts.
To turn one single concept against itself.
And to break logical law with logical law.
Derrida knew the Tradition well.
He knew it enough not to try and overcome it, a la Nietzsche;
not to politicise it, a la Marx;
not to stamp it meaningless, a la Carnap;
not to ostentatiously ignore it, a la Heidegger;
not to naturalise it with physic’s sharp light, a la Quine;
and not to try to free the flies from the fly-bottle, a la Wittgenstein.
The last named, the Austrian preacher, already knew that the flight-from-language and our favoured mystic’s showings, not sayings,
is a transcendence too far.
A transcendence of philosophy itself.
Thus in a language sometimes fuzzy, sometimes flaccid, he spoke to the fuzzy and the flaccid.
And spoke to them of the fuzzy and the flaccid.
The Greek sophist, with whom Derrida was compared, was only an anti-dogmatic; just like Hume later.
Even if a paid anti-dogmatic.
He was still in revolt against Plato’s absolutism.
(Plato the aristocratic didn’t need payment.)
Plato liked his things immutable.
The Sophist bent Plato’s ruse.
He showed the Athenian public that what’s the case on Thursday, is not the case on Friday.
That p and not-p have equal weight.
Derrida too cast off the objectivisms of Western philosophy.
The ones that eternally reoccurred from Plato’s day to our own.
And cut out the lust for system.
For a categorial prison in which the object could be kept bounded and safe.
He saw the primacy given to the Same.
He saw the degradation of the Other – Levinas’s Other.
All the above is magnificently displayed.
Derrida offers us p to chew on.
Then ten not-p’s to wash it down.
And all before breakfast.
He fondles, but doesn’t abuse, the laws of thought.
Laws on which all systems, it was said, depend.
He even tried to argue that A didn’t equal A.
That identity is an illusion of metaphysics.
A nice little fiddle with the law of identity.
But a bogus one, logically speaking.
If A doesn’t remain A, but becomes B.
Then it’s still the case that A is identical to A - it is equal to itself
And now B is identical to B.
Anyway, he showed that logic has been used as a weapon by the powers that be
A weapon against the Un-Same.
His comedic tone, even when displayed with hyperbolic frill,
can be seen in the endless citations that titillate the French philosopher so much.
His philosophic-prose shows that philosophy is literature; and that literature is philosophy.
He didn’t need the tight fit between singular term and its awaiting reference;
or the feigned reciprocity of transcendental signified and signifier.
We get, instead, a giddy lattice-work of citation and citation and citation…
There have been counterattacks against post-structuralist hegemony.
Derrida was seen, by Analytic’s god’s-eye-honesty, to be the villain of philosophy.
Take Professor Hugh Mellor. He is known at Cambridge (even outside it).
Cambridge had been a citadel against all things Continental.
(Or at least the philosophy departments were.)
Its walls were defences against post-structuralist raiders and the pseudo-intellectual viruses they brought.
The date of controversy? 1992.
The prof. tiraded against Derrida with ungraceful, un-analytical words.
He thought the French philosopher ‘wilfully obscure’.
A ‘mystery-monger’ who uttered ‘trivial truisms’ and ‘silly falsehoods’.
Everything he said, in fact, was ‘nonsense’.
Nonsense that even he didn’t ‘really believe’…
The antidote? To develop yet harder-headed analytics.
(Ones who could out-analyse their fellow analytics.)
Only then could he carry out the scorched-earth analyzes he needed to burn such abominations-in-thought.
He wanted to cut out the cerebral infections then finding their place, very quietly, at the Academy.
Oh to be free of Continental pretence!
To be free of Derridarean play!
v) Descartes’ Prize of the Indubitable
The indubitable! Oh yes! What a prize!
(Or so Descartes thought.)
And so one evening, while sitting in the oven, he journeyed through his un-mapped mind.
Why? To find a firm ground on which science and philosophy could securely rest.
What was his inner world like?
A place from which his body was expelled to the world outside his head.
He didn’t give a shit’s worth of respect for the sensory either.
Think here of old Plato who edified the mind in this manner; and long before the Father of the Modern.
Plato didn’t go for the Abode of Sensation.
It was a place where grubby bodies feast without philosophic care -
bodies still desiring yet more of the same.
The only sure thing was thought itself.
His thought or his thinking itself.
His doubting his thinking.
Doubt was the first thing he didn’t doubt.
The thing he needed for all that followed.
The knowledge was the axiomatic point from which beautiful chains of deduction would flow –
all the way to God’s existence.
And then, in time, to that of his body and the world outside his head.
Plato before him needed neither body nor sense to take him to the non-spatiotemporal realm he loved too much.
One which housed the Form of the Good; along with many others.
Descartes needed his clear and distinct ideas to guarantee themselves.
And to guarantee truth and certainty.
His soul craved for the indubitable.
It became the axis around which science and philosophy could rotate.
But he didn’t have the right – the Cartesian right! - to smuggle in the I to the proceedings.
He nonetheless did so.
He also sneaked in God to legitimise his system and give him antidotes against unmitigated doubt.
(And he threw a few fish in the Christian’s direction.)
God as provider of clear and distinct ideas.
They took Descartes out of his internal prison.
So as to place him, at last, firmly in the external world – once forbidden to the doubting subject.
Methodic doubt - hyperbolic doubt - was needed to establish and guarantee the certainties that were later found down the deductive line of epistemic inquiry.
To say again. The Cogito told him that one thing only remains after the ravages of doubt - doubt itself.
Thought or thinking itself.
Thus thought was deemed mind’s essence.
And extension, the essence of matter.
From such scepticism, dualism was born.
(Or from dualism, scepticism was born.)
Nothing could be more unlike than mind and matter.
As with the ancients, Descartes found something of man that lifted him above the material world.
Just as the Soul had saved man, so the mind – the Cartesian mind - transported man from nature to a holier place.
A place a thousand thinkers had already deemed man’s true abode.
And all guaranteed because man’s essence is thought.
Spinoza’s monist continuum - between rock and blasting star, between the virus in the blood and the mind in the head -
was rendered impossible.
And man was saved again!
Not this time by a feathery Platonism or a cloudy mysticism,
but by a thoroughly modern philosophy.
A philosophy in tune with science and logic.
One that clothed itself in the individualist nature of man.
One that could take the self out of the world.
Once free, the sundered soul could float on God’s breath.
It all began when, at Renaissance-end, philosophers dug up the graves of the Greco-Roman sceptics
(left in weedy isolation by Christian thinkers).
The neo-sceptics tailored the ancients to a modern mind that worked its way on science and the world’s very existence.
And because such sceptics had the trump card
(as they always did and do),
the only way Descartes could shield himself from their utter scepticism was by embracing one more hyperbolic than theirs (at least for a short time).
He created a scepticism so deadly that not even his sceptical contemporaries could question it.
One that denied the provable existence of the world.
One that claimed the body’s existence couldn’t be proved and asserted its contingent nature.
All this in the hypothetical scenarios so loved by the sceptics.
Now it was Descartes’ turn.
He gave birth to a demon that fed us lies about the world.
And upheld the possibility that dreams are all we have.
(End piece. Much later, Putnam told a very odd tail.
A tail about men being but brains in a vat.
Brains that floated in a liquid nutriment.
Brains which had pseudo-sensations fed to them through implanted electrodes.
Brains sold a simulacrum of the world.
This time the deed was done by a mad scientist, not Descartes’ demon.)
vi) To Know, or Not to Know?
That’s the question!
It don’t mean a damn thing to know many-a-thing.
Don’t make you feel good. A better person.
Perhaps it’s no bad thing to know nothing.
And to know ten things before breakfast - is that a good thing?
It’s not how much you know; but the things you know. How you came to know them.
And what do you do with your knowledge?
What would happen if you woke knowing nothing? Bad things?
Go on. Fill your head with knowledge - knowing this, knowing that, and knowing the other.
Do you know what too much knowing can give you? A big hurt in the head.
You, like a knowledge-junky, crave for knowledge.
You escape from the Real World; the world we hear so much about.
The world where only others live.
And you, somehow, evade.
vii) Nietzsche Dreams On
Atop a mountain of mist and mystery, in the old style,
The lone philosopher stared into the vast sky.
And out of the mist came a Wagnerian dream…
Mythical beasts are slain and empires arise.
The shedding of blood, the bloodshed, anoints the dream.
Many die in umpteen wills to power.
But don’t let this concern you.
You are beyond the scummy multitude
Which dreams it own petty dreams.
Nothing more than rungs up your ladder to power.
This club-footed bag of nerves was called ‘Nietzsche’.
He sublimated well his sad state with words so macho
They still take weak and inferior souls by storm.
Zit-faced students baptise themselves into paperback-Nietzsche
And find it a better option than terrace rucks or Iraq.
Yes, just like the teens who leaf through Judge Dread
To find a world in which they stand proud.