Wednesday 13 March 2013

Moving from 'therefore' to 'and yet'; Overcoming the lust for victorious arguments

Philosophy is dominated too much by the conjunction 'therefore' – as if truth is merely deducing conclusions from premises.  Philosophy, I think, should be more concerned with the phrase 'and yet.'

 - We never encounter the world itself, only representations, models or simulations of the world; and yet we navigate the world expertly, reliably, reproducably – at once all at sea and yet sure footed.
 - Science is produced out of local, particular networks; and yet these knowledges are consistently applicable to previously unencountered phenomena – at once particular and yet 'universal'.
 - Every existing thing is unique, evolving, divergent, following a singular and individual trajectory; and yet there are structural homologies that occur between things of little common ancestry, highly similar patterns found in highly different beings – at once sui generis and yet uncannily similar.

Most contemporary philosophers myopically militate for either one clause or the other in a fist-pumping, ball-swinging dialectical ballet born from lusting after victorious arguments.  They always make the same mistake: beginning from an observed fact and deducing a truth from it by a series of 'therefores'.

 - 'We only encounter representations of reality not reality itself; therefore, all representation is self-referential and relates only to itself.'
 - 'Our techno-scientific apparatuses work; therefore, our knowledge is true since it would be a miracle if our machines worked otherwise.'

Et cetera.

These arguments – and many others – can be made with startlingly complex and rigourous reasoning.  And yet (!) they miss the point: the role of philosophy should be to investigate the paradox, the way in which both sides are both right and wrong – the 'and yet' of the situation.