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Feel Good Philosophy

Submitted by on October 28, 2009 – 8:26 pm 119 views No Comment

I recently started reading The Truth About Everything, An Irreverent History of Philosophy.  I have to say, for a critique and history of philosophy book, it has been a very (wildly) entertaining read.

I found one particular paragraph that stood out to me.  Being both the idealist and compulsive categorizer, I often wonder what drivers philosophers to, well…. philosophize.

From page 119:

“Philosophers begin by sensing a transcendental need, either in themselves or in others.  It is the need, loosely speaking, to feel good, or to feel at one with the world, and it usually stems from a sense of alienation, a belief that one is alone, unwanted, or useless to the world.  The philosophers propose to meet this need philosophically.  That is, they typically provide sets of arguments, summarized in a doctrine, to the effect that there is no need to worry, because all is one anyway, or something of the sort.  Whether or not this kind of quasi-truth therapy works in individual cases, it is by no means a sure-fire cure.  After all, it is just talk.  It is a set of reasons (or non-reasons) for viewing circumstances differently, but not a chance in the circumstances themselves.  Philosophical error occurs when the philosopher confuses this sort of general talk with a change in circumstances.  Plotinus, for example, seems at times to think that his various doctrines concerning the emanation from and return to the One not only show how one might become one with the world, but actually create this unity.  It is a form of Free Communion: One has only to state it, and it comes about.  Would that it were so easy.”

What is The Principle of No Free Communion?  It’s a philosophy that takes the union of man and universe as its goal and that conceives of this union as something other than the act of doing philosophy itself cannot achieve this goal by philosophical means.

The proof?  Essentially all philosophy takes the union of man and the universe as its goal, though this project may be expressed in a variety of ways.  The union of matter and mind, for example, is essentially the same thing.  In aiming for such a union, the philosophy necessarily begins by positing a difference.  Man and universe, or matter and mind, must be grasped as distinct if they are to be united.  Insofar as philosophy is mere description, it has no power to overcome this difference.  It cannot merely state the union, any more than it can state the union of peanut butter and jelly.  A possible exception is that philosophy which understands itself, that is, the act of philosophizing, as the union between man and universe.  This view, however, leads to absurd statements like “I, Socrates, am god,” which are known to violate familiar syllogisms.

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