Sunday, July 14, 2013

Air so Thin You Can't Breathe

The difficulty of philosophy is that it consists, at least in part, of chopping the world into tiny atoms and then contemplating very simple relations. It all comes back to the basic sentence: xRy. We may suppose that when we engage in this kind of activity we are putting life under the microscope. We are looking at the world very closely to slip past all the messiness and complexity so that we can see the underlying order and simplicity. The presupposition is the world is simple and orderly and that life only perplexes us because there are so many simple and orderly relations sitting atop one another that it creates the illusion of chaos.

Yet, something has bothered me ever since my failed attempt at studying philosophy in college. In philosophy the air is so thin you can't breathe. The more complexity you strip away in the course of forming a picture of some aspect of the world, the less and less that your picture resembles the world. We philosophical types are the ones who have some defect of the brain that compels us to wrestle with these pictures and try to make them into something that we can live by; talk to someone who is struggling to get through an obligatory Intro to Philosophy class and note the way that the pictures being presented to them are utterly void of content for them. They find philosophy to be like offering someone a photo-realistic sketch and then handing them a stick figure.

Of course, stick figures just consist of lines on paper. Philosophy boasts an incredibly expansive vocabulary, esoteric word usages, mountains of primary texts next to ranges of secondary texts, and people who can sit down and actually speak in philosophy. From this the non-philosopher gets the impression that philosophy is deeply sophisticated, so the non-philosopher devalues himself by saying that he just can't understand it. He treats philosophy as something beyond him and comes to hate it bitterly.

What the non-philosopher does not understand is that philosophy is beneath his world. The pictures offered by philosophy are simplifications - that is - fictions. If the pictures bother you, it is probably because you realize you can't live in a world so small.

Even in my own writing this is something I am ever aware of. In my last blog I talked about loving the world deeply. As I re-read it I realized that it was entirely useless information for anyone other than me. My description is small, anyone reading it will picture a small world, no one could breathe that kind of air. Of course the ideas that preceded the blog mean the world to me; they have a deep significance, they are something that I can try to live my life by. The words themselves, though, are a kind of byproduct of a way of life. To someone living differently in a different situation with different values, my words have to be meaningless, it is the only way we forge our own individual lives is by being capable of not feeling the significance of every sincerely held worldview.

If you ever read a worldview that seems so small that you do not see how a person could actually live in that kind of world, one need only remember that someone is, in fact, living their life while espousing it.

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