Philosophy is acidic. It eats away at everything it touches, including itself. Acids dissolve, but they also cleanse what has become unclean. What I mean by this is that once the spectre of questioning is released, without a container or horizon in mind, the dissolving begins. Without “common sense” and a sense of self control, philosophy destroys instead of cleanses.
Why not add a container, then? Why not have a “philosophy of football” or “philosophy of cooking” and contain the questioning within the scope of a particular subject matter?
Because philosophy then becomes dogma. A “philosophy of education” for example would question everything including the effectiveness of education and whether we need education or not. Usually, when people answer the question “What is your philosophy of education?” the answer is mostly a dogmatic response based on the buzz words of the day, that person’s experience, all the while blunted by what is seen as acceptable in that particular environment. It’s not a philosophy (ie. an all encompassing digestion of how all things acceptable and unacceptable are related to or brought into the scope of that topic or view). Our “philosophies” are usually thought out perspectives that don’t take “the whole” into account.
But human existence is nothing but living life from a particular view established by uncontrollable “accidents” like gender, age, culture, and so on. If humans philosophize, then isn’t all philosophy within a horizon, as Nietzche put it?
If we’re true to ourselves, we can’t answer that question in any final way…I propose. Plato, Nietzche, Kierkegaard and so many other philosophers used “characters” in plays and dialogs to flesh out this problem.
In a sense, the author (re: authority as writer…re: god) of the play or book has the ability to give an account of “everything” within the scope of a horizon (the book) so that there can be an attempt at a final answer. But, since this is done in a false world, the final answer itself is a possible final answer within that realm. We can still question the author, when they were born, to whom they were born to, and so on. However, through the vantage point of a fake god (author) we can begin to see the problem of “knowledge of the whole”. The book offers answers to problems posed, not by reality, but by the author’s view of reality. Walking through that process and struggle, though, can help us attain a “higher” perspective and, possibly, some tools on how we can try to achieve clearer answers to the problems philosophy forces us to face.
In many of Plato’s dialogs we find people talking while they have been drinking or while they are sitting in the dark or while the sun has gone down. All of these allude to a blunting of the senses or a darkness. This darkness alludes to an absence of senses while further alludes to an absence of the body. The truest type of philosophy must negate the body and the senses that we are trapped by. In this example, Plato uses darkness or drunkenness to achieve a state that allows for the questioning of everything. After all, Cephalus, who represents tradition (and means ‘head of the family’ in Greek), leaves the conversation in The Republic when tradition is being questioned. Tradition and the body must be negated when questioning everything. Otherwise, a reordering cannot occur.
However, the fullest life one can have must be a complete life that takes into account the body and the soul. Philosophy cannot simply escape our mortal coil on this planet and play in the stars. We are not stars.
So philosophy and reason must be tempered with something that is not philosophy or reason. Emotion seems to fit here, but emotion is short sighted and tends to want to be satisfied immediately. In other words, emotion tends to focus too much on the body in one fashion or another.
At the end of Plato’s Symposium, the drinking party ends with three people still awake late into the night. Aristophanes (the comic), Agathon (the tragedian) and Socrates (the philosopher) are the last three. Aristodemus, the narrator of the story (who is, in turn, commanded by Plato the true author), falls asleep at this point (another type of darkness) and awakens to Socrates being the only one left…completely sober. The comedian (emotion) and the tragedian (emotion) can’t climb to the heights of conversation that the philosopher (reason?) can. They need shirpas and Socrates doesn’t.
Socrates then leaves and makes his way to the market place to talk to the common folk.
Somehow, the comic and the tragedian eventually fall victim to their bodies (need for sleep…re: need for limitations to their horizons). Socrates gets up, after drinking all night, and goes on to talk to, not experts, but the common folk.
Socrates’ philosophy encompasses the high and the low. He cares about the opinions of the expert and the common man. He is somehow outside of this interplay, but is also somehow part of it (he is eventually put to death by an Athenian jury of his peers). He allows the high to be high and the low to be low as he questions them.
Socrates never claims to know too much. This is because a true philosopher questions himself even more than he questions others. He is always evaluating his own efforts even as he is questioning others. The acid eats at itself.
Philosophy is acidic, but is also necessary. It is destructive, but in it’s lower form can also lead to building (re: Declaration of Independence). Philosophy forces us to take the shattered and splintered experiences we daily collect and make an attempt at a good life. But philosophy also questions the good life and, further, our conception of “good” and “life”.
We all have a philosophy in various categories (a dogmatic approach, I should say). A philosophy of education, of marriage, of health, of everything…but we all don’t sit down and try to put those pieces together to see what our PHILOSOPHY is.
It might be helpful, in the name of honesty, pursuit of Truth, and consistency, to cleanse your thoughts. Cleanse your thoughts, habits, and processes with philosophy. Take a second to scare the poop out of yourself by being honest and taking into account what you do and why you do it. Then wash away the unnecessary and keep the necessary. Repeat when needed 🙂
Socrates was the master of philosophy and said that he knew nothing. If someone who knows nothing can question himself, I’m sure those of us that are more clever can too 🙂