E’RE all philosophers, even when we aren’t wearing robes. While formal study is optional, in everyday life our least thought or action is ultimately ideological. While we can put off some decisions, we can’t avoid them. Yet we gain wisdom to make better choices through learning, reflection, interaction, and advice from bartenders.
Before accepting any counsel weigh it. Including mine. Especially mine. I’ve no more access to truth than anyone else, particularly on occasion when it’s been awhile since I painted a ceiling.
Of course advice to doubt one’s own advice is a quasi-paradox, in this case an overwimpification of the liar’s paradox— “Nothing I say is true,” or “Everything I say is false.”
Here’s a paradox from the loins of my prefrontal, what I call the lazy man’s paradox— I’ve worked harder to avoid work than many people work working. Okay not a paradox per se, more like a confession. Work avoidance is more engaging than the jobs I’ve had, though the pay is lousy.
Calling all cars! Report to Start.
Wisdom is insight. Indiscriminate accumulation of fact, the amassing of intellectual minutiae for its own sake— when you aren’t booked for Jeopardy!— will, if overtly displayed, at best qualify you for the job of mail carrier on Cheers.
While forms of information range between two poles, they’re comprised of each in various proportions— tidbits, snippits of detail or fact often retained just for satisfying curiosity; and concepts, inspiring us toward higher consciousness, intellectual and spiritual autonomy, and in a few odd cases an obsession with Ayn Rand.
By higher consciousness we’re referring here not to some imposed inertia of inner peace— rather, for the new intellectual, a vibrant, living awareness, as capable of empathetically condoning less mature states of adults as most adults are of children.
Controversies over ultimate concerns offer chance enough for misdirection to wonder why risk even bothering with faith, belief without proof, when we have reason, ascertainment via a combination of observation and logic. That truth obtains solely through reason is one of the four theses of objectivism, but don’t get me started on that.
Nothing’s entirely free of doubt, the acquisition of knowledge dependent upon some previous decision to believe without benefit of surety, extending back to the fountainhead of perception.
In recognition of our selfish— no not necessarily selfish— desire for hope (and at least some certainty about things like heroes or architecture) in order to give meaning to lives seemingly governed by heartless physical laws, even informed speculations become tenable—
Provided such speculations are at least one-tenth as likely as the chance most of us have of ever finding time to make it through the thousand-odd pages of Atlas Shrugged.
Aye Randity. Randity Ayn.
Some selfishness is healthy. It’s possible to be so totally unselfish that overall it does more harm than good. But as a society we aren’t generous enough. Empathy, among other things, seperates us from the meat many of us eat. These days at least we could use more not less charity and love, unselfish or otherwise.
Speaking of which, we now know that emotion as a human attribute is at least equal to, if not above, reason. It wasn’t always that way.
Centuries ago man was thought to be ranked just below the angels, who were believed motivated solely by reason, and just above beasts, who were considered driven entirely by emotion. (Not the beast in Beauty and the Beast. They meant beasts of burden, like oxen. Ugly but docile.)
Electronic brains are in the process of depreciating human rational power to the extent machinery has already done to human muscle power. Certainly today’s computers, while capable of near-perfect mathematical reason, are analytic brutes, void of emotion. Most of us would save Fido over HAL.
Still reason can be used not in contrast to but to guide and inform faith. It can be used to explore— through likelihoods offered by science to the extent available, then (and only as a last resort, pending further knowledge) bald guesswork— life’s greatest mysteries:
Being— Does a supreme entity exist as more than idea, whether as basis of existence, ultimate reality, spiritual essence, or a white-haired guy with biceps? If so, what does such a presence mean in real terms to us?
Purpose— Does life have meaning? Are we obliged to not only fully enjoy but in some way transcend the greatest of gifts? If so, what is that higher goal, and can we get there even if we only have dialup?
Salvor— Could there be a means or process by which our identities, memories, and conscious awarenesses might be preserved, or salvaged, after bodily death? If so, what would a possible afterlife be like? Would everyone have granite countertops? Would it be a lot like Florida, only without hurricanes?
Metaphysics, the study of being and ultimates, is the beginning and end of science, as well as the beginning and end of philosophy discussion groups.
While physics achieves exponential gains building on and protecting an expanding foundation of near-surety, metaphysics remains troubled by old disagreements even on basic issues, its practitioners feigning consensus on fundamentals by mimicking a frontier, marking boundaries of specialization in which to study and write.
This can be as frustrating as singles bars. Where the most is wanted the least is accomplished.
Challenges inherent to any philosophic inquiry include:
Abstraction, inherent in our need for language, with its inexactitude and metaphysically-pregnant loadings, to think about or express more than elemental concepts.
Subjectivity, all knowledge deriving from a particular viewpoint. Fortunately as a rule, the scarier the propagandist the more opaque (thereby identifiable) the bias.
Simplification, our need to streamline complexities enough to understand them, which may be why it’s so hard to meet lovers online.
Supernaturalism, the apparent unreasonableness of resorting to explanations beyond known science, or at the very least chiropractic.
Misconception, limitations on what we can metaphysically discern through reason, entailing an over-reliance on guesswork, yearning, or dogma; with consequent potential for deception, visits from unearthly beings, and reruns of Little House.
Any of these challenges is capable of luring us into Cutty Sarkism, the heresy that if man is alone in the universe he should drink alone (a pattern of well-intentioned albeit misconstrued ratiocination known also to bourbon drinkers as Very Old Bartonism).
We’ll begin by looking at these five challenges individually to analyze each, determine its effect, and decide whether to stand firm or dicker.