Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Scruton, the death of philosophy, and some musing

I won't be blogging all my notes on this book, but the first chapter was too good to resist. No sooner had I gotten past the third page of A Short History of Modern Philosophy, than I encountered a provocative statement. "The nature of philosophy can be grasped through two contrasts: with science on the one hand, and with theology on the other." (emphasis mine)

Scruton goes on to describe how the scientific endeavor gives rise to questions, some of which are beyond it's ken. Consider a question of the form, 'Why did event x happen?' Scientists fire up their machinery and go to work answering it: "Event x happened because of preceding event y and condition z." But then the question arises, 'Why did event y happen?' and so forth.

This seemingly endless series of events ultimately prompts a different sort of question: 'Why should there be any events at all?' Machinery of a different sort is needed here, and thus is philosophy (though not exhaustively so). It makes sense to me why the average person disdains philosophy, since philosophy operates at the limits of human understanding, and deals with things at the most ultimate and abstract level. Those who say 'philosophy is dead' would do better to say that 'philosophy is stagnant.' Personally, I might accept that it all boils down to Plato and Aristotle, but I don't accept that it doesn't boil or shouldn't be boiled.

A possible future world?
Perhaps philosophy will die with the love of wisdom. When we finally reduce ourselves and the world around us to the real fundamentals. When all the special sciences and their generalized conceptions of things become mere visual aids for the finite mind. When only a computer can hold the true conception of fundamental reality. And yet even then we find that most simple and elegant formulations are only slightly better than quantum mechanics, which was only slightly better than classical mechanics. In an ironic deus ex machina, the universal laws themselves are reduced to mere neural structures in our skulls that happened to correspond with the the external world to whatever degree that we attempted to detect it.   Elegance is a grand illusion, there is no pattern.  The universe played a cruel prank on us: a dance into a dark room. We've no one to thank and no one to curse. That would be quite a world. And yet the pragmatist leans back to stretch, and says "yeah but it still works."  Perhaps metaphysics was the first act in the Theatre of the Absurd, and pragmatism will follow intermission.


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