Problems of Philosophy

  1. If it is illegitimate to ask “Why be reasonable?”, it must be vacuous to recommend reasonableness.  [I am not assuming any logical similarity between actions and beliefs here.]

One might say that it is illegitimate to ask the above question because it is question begging.  It is question begging because the asking of the question and the demand for a reason require the context of reasonableness.  One could not ask the question without assuming a context of reasonableness.  In other words, there is no reason outside the context of reasonableness to be in that context.  If one is outside the context and demands a reason for entering, then he is presupposing that context and is not really outside it.  Any recommendation to reasonableness supported by reasons would only count as a reason for reasonableness for one who was already reasonable.

This procedure points to the uselessness of the term “reasonable”, if it is just used to mean “having what is offered as reasons”.  Certainly this broad usage of the term prevents the question discussed above, but it also prevents one from applying it as a negative value term:  “But that’s unreasonable.”  Nothing counts as unreasonable.

But this is just an example of a highly artificial situation.  One can significantly say  “Why be reasonable?”, where one means “Why be reasonable in that way?”, where one is asking for reasons that do not presuppose the context in question but rather presuppose the genuine context in which the question operates.

2. Why be consistent?

This question here is meant to apply to beliefs, not actions.  It is equivalent to “Why not have contradictions?”  This could be quite simply answered:  to believe both P and not-P is to disbelieve what one believes and this can’t be done.  It is only an illusion of a genuine conjunction and is based on a misunderstanding of the word “belief”.

Of course there are philosophic contexts where it is legitimate to assert both sides of a contradiction, where those propositions are meant to be understood in different senses.  This may not be “only deliberate obscurantism”.  There seems to be no reason to suppose that one’s language is always going to be adequate to one’s insights.  We are all sometimes “at a loss for words”.

The understanding of such apparent paradoxes might even depend upon having had the same insights and thus it would seem to be illegitimate to say, on the basis of such statements, “This is obviously contradictory!” (hence philosophically disreputable)

3. Epistemology — What can I know?  What do I know?

Unusually conservative philosophers sometimes say things like:  “Although we can’t gain knowledge in metaphysics, we can gain valuable insights.”  Others, like Ayer, will jump on this as trying to sneak a different sort of “knowledge” in under a new name.  “Either you can know or you can’t.”  That’s alright, but it isn’t clear that one can set up limits and say that propositions inside the limits count as knowledge and those outside are not.  How could anyone have reasons acceptable to everyone for setting the limits at any one point?  This gets into the problem of what is to count as a validating experience of a claim and this seems to be either a highly subjective thing or something that a group of people have agreed upon.  One must ask:  “What is the basis of legitimacy of these sorts of claims?”  Presumably these people have reasons for setting the limits of experience where they do, but why do they accept what they do as reasons?  Perhaps they have intuitive notions of certainty about what would count as knowledge for them.  The objective stipulations that they formulate and defend with appropriate reasons only form linguistic models of what they, in some intuitive sense, are willing to count as valid.  Another question that arises here is:  “Why the enormous prejudice in philosophy against this sort of conclusion?”

4. “Philosophising about”….

Philosophers are supposed to be “formulating descriptions to account for the phenomena”.  Several questions arise:  “Which phenomena?”, “Why?”, “What counts as an account?”  Certainly there seems to be no reason why the answer to the first question shouldn’t be:  “All the phenomena.”  Also, one might want to do this formulating for its own sake, as one of man’s peculiar activities of learning about his world.

What counts as an account would seem to be very subjective again.  It might be the point where one stops asking “And what causes that?”  Perhaps it’s only an aesthetic thing.  If in fact this is true, then we should be willing to let much more in as a valid account than we often are willing to do:  e.g. Thomistic metaphysics, pantheism, idealism etc.  Other people have different ground rules.

This brings up the problem of what we can reliably philosophize about.  The increasing mushiness of concepts in linguistic philosophy and the apparently heavy emphasis on mere public agreement have contributed to a collapse of the rigid public certainty vs. private illusion cleavage for me.

It seems that one can reliably philosophize about very “subjective” sorts of phenomena.  We might attempt to form maps of personal and interpersonal space, just as in much other philosophy we try to discuss impersonal space (“How do I know material things really exist?”)  This sort of procedure seems to me now to offer great promise in the areas of ethical and social philosophy as well as in clarifying a lot of the real foundations of our other beliefs.  It’s all based on and about the sorts of intuitions we live with most of the time when we’re not playing the more artificial philosophy game.  Although of course this procedure or study is not offered as an alternative to that other philosophic task.

Undated (but probably 1971 and related to above essay)

Reason is descriptive of relationships between any two or more things.  It assumes simple location as a necessary working base.  One who denies the use of reason denies relationships between himself and other things.  This state is impossible and a deception.  Thus one can only think he rejects reason.

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