Where might you be at the end of your part-time Philosophy MA conversion course? What will you have discovered?
While I wait for the results of my exam to see if I will be allowed to take my full vows for the real thing, I thought it might be interesting to see what I think about it all.
What strikes early on is the shear intricate detail of the arguments made in pursuit of a case and a sort of cloud that hides a presumably obvious message as to what is being said. Even articles of supposedly model explication confound me. Kant, while difficult at the best of times, infuriates by throwing in a second proposition before you realised there was a first one *, and ‘formers’ and ‘latters’ send me scurrying back to work out if the point I am looking at is ‘for’ or ‘against’.
No wonder logic is an attraction with its supposedly clear air of precision. But I have to date found it surprisingly irrelevant and more a case of converting arguments into fine-sounding modus ponens for the sake of appearance – at least as far as I can tell.
I realise that I am signing my own death-warrant with these confessions. But while we are at it let’s get to some meat. It is obviously all Descartes’ fault. He started it off – or rather set it off again after many centuries of innocent ponderings. We must sit by a fire and split reality into a subjective ‘I’ and an objective ‘real’ world. We must then spend the next three centuries or so trying to argue against our initial assumption without changing it – the very assumption that we have made in the first place.
No wonder the arguments are intricate; nearly, but not quite reaching their target. Knowledge, scepticism, free-will, the mind-body problem, time, the reality of morality et al, confound and confuse in knicker-twisted knots of ‘formers’ and ‘latters’ and compatibilist compromises.
But if only we had listened to Descartes we might have noticed that only God is allowed to change goals without changing them – if you see what I mean. In our analytic world the goal we have set is firmly bricked across. It is impenetrable to mere mortals.
So why do we persist? And why do we not listen to alternatives as hinted loudly by Thomas Nagel+, and why do we not notice the full blown torpedo in Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’? Why do we not actually look at the hands of G.E. Moore’s before they get entangled in a fancy modus tollens?
I obviously have a lot to learn. But despite my apparent cynicism I still hope I am given the chance to achieve conversion. My interim conclusion is that philosophy is oddly compelling. The question (to the latter point) is “Why?”
* See page P13 of Kant, I. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Gregor, M. (transl./ed) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). We are informed of the second proposition and then take a devil of time working out where the first one is within the previous six pages. (This is obviously Kant’s fault, not mine!)
+For example, “It is the aim of eventual unification [of the subjective and objective] that I think is misplaced.” Nagel, T. ‘Subjective and Objective’, in Mortal Questions, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979) p 213