the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
THE SEMI-REGULAR DOGMATIC, 1
Today I light a candle for dogma, decree of opinion. The word ‘dogma’ is used disparagingly by persons who believe there is some sort of alternative ― knowledge, understanding, epistēmē. I dissent. Existence is full of problems, though, so we cannot simply opt out of the debate. I advocate dogma because I believe the only way to solve problems is through free dialectic. The dynamics of dialectic requires that opinions be stated frankly and honestly, and that the dialectic be allowed to range unrestricted over the possibilities, even those not yet considered. In the midst of frantic motion, solutions will work themselves out.
The Greeks used the word ‘sop‛istai’ for wise persons, sages, especially that indeterminate group of seven sages whose statements were constantly being referred to for any wisdom they might hold. Socrates, who professed ignorance, promoted the use of ‘p‛ilosop‛os’, lover of wisdom, as a term that could apply to anyone, and was specially suited to those who, like Socrates, made no claim to be wise and indeed were suspicious of those who did. Their devotion, p‛ilosop‛ia, sprang up as the alternative during the fifth century to that of the new practitioners of wisdom, known, due to the nature of the ‘-ist-’ suffix, as ‘sop‛istai’. The sop‛istai travelled about the country selling their instruction to rich young males with public pitches demonstrating their profound levels of knowledge about all things, especially skills that would bring money and power. Many Greeks grew disgusted with this practice, and, with the additional factor of Socrates’ martyrdom, made ‘p‛ilosop‛os’ the word of choice. It wasn’t long, though before the p‛ilosop‛oi forgot what it was that their name was supposed to signify. P‛ilosop‛ia took on a nature of discovered truth, and just two generations after Socrates one of its direct intellectual descendants purported to have figured everything out. Aristotle, probably the most revered figure in p‛ilosop‛ia, laid the ground work and set the rules for what we in Yankeedom today call ‘philosophy’.
Philosophy is not the p‛ilosop‛ia of Socrates. It is sop‛istikē, the practice of wisdom. It is a business and a profession. It sleeps with the academic world where it finds its sanctuary. In return for paying philosophers to carry on their battle of journal articles, philosophy makes the rest of academia feel legitimate, even going so far as to allow academic institutions to confer the title ‘philosophiae doctor’ (teacher of philosophy) upon their highest honorees. In fact, philosophers have themselves come to regard the Ph.D. as a sign of worthiness, as if somehow those honored are from the fact itself qualified to teach philosophy, while those lacking the degree are not. Aspiring philosophers go in for years upon years of ridiculous academic study, where the philosophiae doctores have free reign to indoctrinate them into the conventions of the system. The first and most important rule: do things our way.
So what is the way of philosophers? It is the method of Aristotle. Anything you can put in syllogistic form will pass as true. Of course, other philosophers are free to attempt to syllogistically demonstrate why the former syllogism is invalid. So they speak of their assertions in terms of arguments and make pretensions of proof. “Don’t come to us with your opinions.”, they say (especially to me). “We want an argument.” The thinking is that if they can conclusively demonstrate their opinions, disagreement will end. Why hasn’t it?
It would be fruitless to try to find fault with their arguments. They have raised symbolic logic to the status of godspeak. Any philosopher can modus ponens and modus tollens the layperson into a state of conviction as second nature. Symbolic logic works fine with ‘a’s and ‘b’s and ‘c’s, but then that’s not what wisdom is about. Wisdom is about nature and knowledge and consciousness and existence. Those concepts can’t be translated into symbols and manipulated at will because there is no agreement about what the postulates should be. We can’t agree on the postulates because we haven’t the slightest idea what we’re talking about when we say ‘nature’ and ‘knowledge’ and ‘consciousness’ and ‘existence’. All understanding is a blurry mass of nondefinition.
I believe that I am hopelessly confused. I believe that is universal. That is dramatically underlined when I admit that I am unable to explain what is meant by “I believe that I am hopelessly confused.”. I challenge anyone to explain it to me. But you could reply that my inability to understand is due to my own mental deficiency, and you would of course be partially right. Instead, try explaining it to yourself. Don’t leave out any details. And don’t explain it in terms that you are also unable to understand.
I feel confident that you cannot. When I try to work my concepts down to their components, I end up with a handful of abstractions that I am supposed to have made from experience. They are not “clear and distinct”, as the standard goes. Rather they are cloudy and muddled. The very basis of my thought, my speech, every other person’s speech, and I find it completely elusive. Apparently I carry on day by day by some sort of intuition, which is a lot like saying “I don’t know how...”.
I have had to abandon three religions ― Christianity, science, philosophy ― because they will never be able to provide the answers I am looking for. I am left with an eclectic and constantly-developing plan for finding those answers. I realize now that the search, and any answers it may turn up, are strictly personal. The inscription at Delphi commanded the followers of Apollo ‘gnōt‛i sauton’ (usually rendered ‘know thyself’). I heed those words not because I worship Apollo but because I am hopelessly confused. When exposed to dialectic, which is to me the process of bringing forth differing ideas in response to one another, I immediately lock onto certain of them and think “I believe this.”. In fact, it always seems to me during such moments that I have merely discovered what it is that I have always believed, as if I have gained some insight into the person I already was. I don’t understand this phenomenon. It may just be the way things misleadingly seem to me, when in actuality this is only a system of interpretation that happens to work for me. If so, I highly recommend such a system to others, who will find that it yields all the wonder of philosophy without the pomposity of believing in proof.
I apologize for taking up your time. Of course, if you “do philosophy”, this will be but a trifle. I could bullshit for pages and pages, but it would not further the process of dialectic. All I assert is opinion, not truth; being effusive would only amount to an attempt to obfuscate that distinction, and I am not in the business of making ruses. That is another business entirely.
© BISHOP FORD
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