philosopher for hire. A practical philosophy blog.


The term "philosophy" according to its Greek origin means: "love of wisdom". And this is what philosophy should be. The space for correct, true - that is: wise answers. How could it happen then, that the phrase: "stop philosophizing" in many languages means simply: "enough foolishness"? It is not an easy task to turn a term into its opposite. But philosophers somehow did manage. "Philosophy", "philosophical" became synonyms for words like: useless, worthless, unproductive. And the (post-enlightenment) philosophy truly deserves it. Therefore, I need the adjective "practical" to show a distinction, to return to the original - opposite to the contemporary - meaning.

My accusation made against philosophy is severe. But I've shown already, that it is a common sense one. Now, I'll show that the common sense knowledge is far from being faulty in that matter. At first, a basic, most obvious remark. I suppose, I'm not the only one who struggles to get to the end of a paragraph in a philosophical text. In many cases, reading philosophical essays is like scrambling up through the tangled clumps of textual thickets. Nearly every paragraph is a field of fight with the author, to get the sense of thoughts obfuscated by words, phrases, logical constructs designed especially to show the greatness of the writer. "If it is so hard to read, how hard must it have been to write it, in the first place?! The author must be a real genius!".

Philosophical texts seem to be the opposite of a good literature. A good book is easy to read. One can devour it in one evening. Try the same with a text of a philosopher and you can choke or suffer from indigestion. And it is not about simple language - simple vocabulary. Joseph Conrad's books are written using vocabulary counted in tens of thousands. But when you start reading one, it is hard to stop. With the philosophical texts it is hard not to stop. In this aspect, they are very similar to creations of talentless hacks. Philosophers write books unsuitable for reading.

Some people might think, that the subject requires such language. That the deep, complex philosophic questions cannot be put otherwise. But quite the contrary it is. The depths of the Conrad's thought, the psychological, often philosophical truth of his stories is an ocean's depth compared to the naive, shallow problems belabored thoroughly by many philosophers.

Basically, there are two ways of explaining things: "- Look, how simple it is…"; and: "- Look how wise I am…". Philosophers tend to choose the second way. That's a very serious problem and we have not touched yet the contents of philosophy.

Philosophers of every era were giving answers. That's their job, one could say. But reading "A History of Philosophy" I was unpleasantly surprised how useless and childish most of these 'philosophical achievements' were. Soon, I even found a pattern: one idea, an insight; often objectively true, fresh, nontrivial; had been immediately becoming a base for an entire 'new philosophy'. Usually a general worldview.

The excitement of the philosopher started by his own discovery was usually so overwhelming for him, that the discoverer began to see the entire world through the glasses of his own invention. Intellectual masterpiece constructs were being built. Often leading to total nonsense, but they were fiercely defended - as founded on a great, true insight.

As we look through centuries of philosophical thought, only these discoveries - as hints, remarks - are worth anything. Unfortunately, they are hidden among tons of useless thoughts, concepts, reasoning. Ockham, Kant, Hegel, and many others. They all had hidden some interesting ideas among an overwhelming amount of daft reasoning.

Now is the time to have a look at a few examples of philosophical naivety and pomposity. Let's have a look at Hegel. His philosophy is rightfully considered as the most influential in the history of the XIX and XX century. Echoes of Hegelianism can be found in Marxism for example. The ideology (philosophy) that to a large degree shaped the XX century. And it is still present in the contemporary thinking in many varieties that could be generally described as the post-Marxism.

In the philosophy of Hegel I see two main elements: a concept and a tool. The concept is a very old one: a thought thinking itself, which became the key for his worldview (world depiction). The tool is the overcome of opposites (on higher levels), which enabled his vision building. The rest are just words, sentences, imagination. Great, interesting perhaps. Uncommon, but… they constitute a vision that is pretty much useless, and as such - worthless. Its only value can be seen as an intellectual exercise for our gray cells. If someone needs such futile exercises.

Let's start from the Hegel's thought thinking itself - the Absolute, the Totality, the whole of reality, which is in continual process of an advancing self-reflection, becoming self-aware. This is the Hegel's invention, his 'discovery', which delighted him so much, that he created an entire philosophical worldview, to show the greatness and 'truth' behind his concept. Very typical behavior for a philosopher.

Anyway, Hegel's concept - the Absolute - is in fact nothing more, but a product of a human fantasy. Just like Conan the barbarian, elves of Rivendell or Marvell's heroes. Of course, the language, the phrases that Hegel uses may easily dazzle a reader. The Absolute sounds great. It is absolutely perfect by the very word used: the absolute. And it is a kind of a thought thinking itself. It is the world, it sees itself in the world, and it starts to understand itself through the world (more or less). It all sounds great.

But what happens if we try to figure out what a self thinking Geist (world spirit) really is? "Thinking", "thought" sound great. We, as humans, are very proud of this ability. "Logic", "rationality", "understanding" - everything a wise man values stems from it. But these terms do have their meaning, their definitions. For example "thinking", in order to deserve being praised, must be free. Able to freely change its subject. Now I think of a mathematical proof, later I think of a poetry, I can change and choose the subject at will. I can even stop thinking and just feel the cooling wind on my face in the sun, when I lie on a yacht deck steadily swayed by the lazy waves. And this is exactly the most important feature of "thinking" - freedom.

Could we be so proud of our ability to think, if it would be 'mechanical' - unable to change, focused on one subject, going on without will, awareness; in direction predefined at the very beginning, unchangeable to the very end? Would it be considered "thinking" at all? Or would we rather compare such behavior to a computer executing a program? The very first electric impulse reaching the CPU pins results in executing the first predefined (built into transistors) instruction, which in turn results in executing a chain of ROM instructions and so on, and so on. Without any break, hesitation. Thoughtlessly.

Thoughtless thinking. This is what we have here. The Absolute is unaware of itself. It only "starts" its "self-reflection" through the world history. We have an expectance of a qualitative leap here. From unaware to aware. From unconscious to conscious. The will here is not different from 'a will' of a machine - that turned on starts and keeps operating. Just like the Absolute - turned on at the beginning and destined for "discovering itself". Does it have any choice? No. It is unconscious. We have to believe Hegel that the unconscious will become perfectly conscious at some point. Why? Because Hegel wants it so.

In fact, it is all even worse. Since the reality is the Absolute's thought (or Absolute Thought) - that is the Absolute do exists because it "thinks itself", it "acknowledges itself", its very existence is the process which it uninterruptedly performs; it all means that if it would stop doing what it keeps doing ("thinking itself"), it would simply cease to exist! The same kind of "collapse" would have to happen if the Absolute would "try to think" about something else.

At this point we could notice, that there can be more "doing itself" things. Like a word speaking itself or a light lighting itself or even a fart farting itself. The only difference here is our subjective attitude to the activity which "self-fuels" itself. Thinking or farting. They just continually execute themselves. What their "doing" means in our language is of lesser importance. Because the very fact that the predicate becomes the subject, while still being a predicate leaves every mundane meaning behind. And it becomes a 'miraculous' language construct devoid of any real sense. It's just words. Sounding better or worse.

I know, that the Hegel's conception of the Absolute is so unclear, that it can be denied that the Absolute is a thought thinking itself. But this concept starts from Aristotle and is still vivid in philosophy. So, I think it was worth to deal with it as an example. Philosophy, as any human thinking, should serve knowledge and understanding. Philosophy interested in itself, playing with language, words, concepts in separation from reality is useless. The thought thinking itself is a good example here. From the real terms such as "thought" and "thinking", an abstract concept is being created. Muddling phantasmagoria which sounds nice and easily feeds our imagination, but means nothing and leads to intellectual desolation.

Nevertheless, still, the question is: what is this Absolute? Is it something real? Something, which existence can be seen in reality? Can we find any evidences of it? Anything that suggests, proves somehow, that this Hegel's concept is more real than any other human fantasy? Or perhaps can we use it somehow to explain the world? Explain the reality - the Totality? Well, such 'explanation' is worth not more, than the "eternal conflict" explanation given in the "Diablo" computer game. Any fantasy depicting a god, or good and evil, or immaterial beings and powers can be similarly convincing and 'true'.

The great religions give some objective truths. These truths are confirmed in experiences of millions. That makes them objective, in a way. They are verifiable. If only someone knows how to verify such truths. Which is rather uncommon these days. Yet, it's another story.

The Hegel's Absolute conception and philosophy (worldview) is nothing like that. It's a one human being's fantasy. Any truths there are borrowed from religions. It is a monistic system pretending to be a kind of monotheistic one. At least, some people tried to see it as monotheistic. Nevertheless, at the most general level Hegel's philosophy is nothing more but a pure fantasy. Worth exactly the same as the tales of the middle-earth.

Because, what is this Hegel's philosophy of the Absolute? Theology? There is no such religion. The god-like being - the Absolute - is the world, it is the Totality, everything. This view is the same, as the view of the monistic religions. But the monistic religions do have their own 'revelations'. There is no need for another one. Nobody really needs it. Except, perhaps Hegel himself. Hegelianism happens to promote philosophers - thinkers as the most important beings. The Absolute "beholds" itself in their philosophies, thoughts. What a happy coincidence! A philosopher "seeking for objective answers" invented a worldview in which philosophers are the greatest of the mankind! Uncommon. Nonconformist.

I think, this is enough about the Hegel's concept - the Absolute. Now, it is time to deal with his tool: the dialectic triadic process. The annihilation/unification of opposites is a very simple concept. It was present in philosophies of the East for centuries. It has to be present in all monistic systems. In such systems everything have to be finally unified down to the one fundamental 'force'. Be it the Yin and Yang or Hegel's Geist. This idea, however intellectually tempting at first glance, is in fact daft, useless and leading to nothing. Which I'll show in another text.

Anyway, at this moment we should notice that this tool is very powerful. While the Hegel's Absolute idea had quickly become obsolete, his dialectic is still being used for deconstructing logic, proper thinking and building philosophical visions full of nonsense, which can stand as sane only in the false light of the Hegel's dialectic. For the sake of his amusing fantasy of the Geist, Hegel had built strong philosophical fundaments for a powerful destruction tool. It all seems as if the whole Absolute conception was only a pretext for introduction of this destructive tool into our Western thought.

As a lesson of this story one could say: "Never underestimate the power of daft ideas". Especially, that the entire history of philosophy is full of examples. Ockham had become so obsessed with the God's omnipotence, that he reached absurdity. Kant's fixation was the indispensable effort, overcoming one's nature in order to consider a deed as good. So, he practically reached the conclusion that only Satan can be truly good. As his effort in fulfilling any good deed would be really enormous.

This is, more or less, a recipe for a philosopher: make something a central point - a measure for everything, and continue your philosophizing until you reach absurdity. Don't go back. Stay there. Fortify there with tons of examples and arguments.

I know that many people may see what I've just written as an exaggeration. But is it really exaggeration? Very many philosophical ideas are seen as naive or daft for an objective reader. Such readers often say: "Well, it is a little naive. Fictitious. But the mastery of reasoning is awesome! It was a great thinker!" And such approach is prevailing in valuation of many philosophers. Let's imagine for a while, that we use similar approach in other domains.

Just as Hegel assumed that the entire reality is a single 'absolute spirit', a mathematician could assume that the real numbers are countable. Or he could say that the opposites like countable-uncountable or finite-infinite, can be dialectically removed. And he could found an entirely new, speculative mathematics using such assumption. Wouldn't it be great? Of course, it would be useless. But, at the same time, it could be an awesome example of mathematical reasoning. Apart from this starting assumption everything else would be logically correct. Why the mathematicians don't do such things?

Let's imagine an accountant, whose creative accountancy would assume a company always pays negative taxes. It simply keeps getting money from the tax office. Unreal? Yes. But such company would have great perspectives: it cannot go bankrupt, its shares cannot be overpriced, it could finally dominate the entire economy. Awesome! Why is there so little appreciation for such great, speculative accountancy ideas?

Engineers design longer and longer bridges. Why nobody designs a bridge between London and New York?

In every domain of human thinking conformance to reality (usefulness) plays a fundamental role. An exception is philosophy. Someone curious might ask: "Why is it so?".

As usual in such cases, the answer may be a complex one. But I think, the main reason is in human nature - namely: in laziness. At first, in the ancient times, we had known close to nothing about reality. So we could only make guesses. Better or worse. It went so for centuries. But the technical revolution had made a substantial change. We started to learn a lot about reality. Yet, philosophers had already created so many abstract, speculative ideas. Wondrous toys of intellect. It was very hard to throw them all away. Especially, that the proper way of philosophizing would require learning a lot about the world, first. (As a scientist or science practitioner). And only then becoming a philosopher. For many it was too tiresome. The easier choice was to make philosophy "high level", "abstract", "meta-science". Disconnected from reality.

Modern philosophers are in many cases just philosophy historians. Spending years on learning what Aristotle, Plato, Schopenhauer, Fichte and many others had to say on this or that subject. And then developing further this ivory tower of speculative thinking while being loosely inspired by fashionable scientific ideas like the uncertainty principle, parallel universes, additional dimensions, and similar things. Of course, it leads to nothing. But the contemporary philosophers are not alone in their march to nothingness.

Nevertheless, we can learn from this philosophers' failure. First lesson is: we need to return to reality. Forget the shining speculative systems and return to the mundane world. Describing it as it is. Not through the glasses of any philosophy / worldview / ideology. The second lesson is the starting point for our knowledge, given long ago by Descartes: "I doubt, therefore I am.". This first step cannot be questioned. It should be the beginning of any true philosophy.

But is it feasible? Descartes himself had found that it is impossible to move on from this starting point. At least, if one expects to build a system which cannot be questioned. As firm as its first piece; with the quality of a mathematical proof. But this is impossible. Uncertainty is an indelible part of the human existence. Yet, at the same time, people live as if they were sure of their situation. It cannot be otherwise, of course.

So, what we need is the answer as firm as our reality. The answer, which combines everything we know in a logical, consistent, irrefutable picture of the reality. Such answer can be given. Piece by piece. Until the big picture becomes apparent and obvious. And nothing in it can be shown as wrong or incorrect. It would be less a philosophy and more a description. But, at the same time, more philosophical in the aspect of fulfilling what is expected from a philosophy, than all the preceding philosophies.

This is feasible.

This picture would be like a map of an ocean. In an atlas, there are more precise maps of the parts or regions of the ocean on the following pages. But even they do not contain every reef, bay, every beach. In case of an atlas, nobody dares to doubt in what is given there, simply because it lacks so many details. And so many questions of what is here or there are left unanswered. Reasonable people agree that the ocean's map is to give a general view, which is important for understanding what the world looks like. Besides, the scale of 20 miles being the smallest drop, objectively excludes anything smaller from being shown.

In my work, however very similar to creating a map of an ocean (of our knowledge), I'll face a lack of this objectivity. What is one of many minor problems for one person, can be a major issue for another. This is subjectivity. A very important feature of our existence. And reality. But I'll deal with it in my text about freedom.

Here, we need only this practical conclusion: if someone wants to disagree, he will 'find' an infinite chain of 'reasons' to disagree. But this means nothing. Because such opponents will be unable to provide a full, reasonable and consistent picture. They can give no real alternative. They can only say: "Not! Because: not!"

There can be only one true answer. And I'll show it. Rejecting this answer will be like rejecting reality. Insane.


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