The Oasis Reporters
November 30, 2019
Commemorating 2019 World Philosophy Day in honour of Jolayemi Adesoye, who spent his life promoting knowledge, understanding and collaboration among people.
A professor delivered an inaugural lecture, the title of which parodied a biblical verse—‘my people perish for want of knowledge’. His title reads, ‘my people perish for lack of philosophy’. This cannot only be false, in the light of the general perception of philosophy, including among practitioners and students; which invariably influences how its teaching is conducted and the outlook which committed and brilliant students might have of their role in the world with others: Philosophy is also destructive, completely immobilizing and generally inimical to the growth and flourishing of the human soul and the universe in general, when viewed within the prism of amateur learning, which produces nothing but what I call fundamentalist logicism.
Fundamentalist logicism only sums up the approach to reality that philosophy in the amateur school deploys. Fundamentalism says ‘this and nothing else’, while logicism says ‘logic [even devoid of culture] is the only way’. But what is this amateur school? It says, in one form or another, that philosophy is a normative science, and, if that means anything, it is that philosophy pursues what ought to be; and as such, philosophy, and the philosophical, properly distinguished from other intellectual inclinations, is identified through its focus and search for what ought to be, rather than what is. The struggle to unravel the structure of reality therefore is only a journey toward knowing the true and ideal state of things which, by and large, is the perfect version of things, and is what ought to be and should be made to be.
Working with this outlook, philosophy looks for the ideal nature of things. Its recommendations for life and social institutions and practices are therefore ideal pictures which could be far beyond the material, social and cultural capacity of society in its present organic state. Let us mellow a bit. Philosophy, outrightly, has not been taken publicly as the construction of political ideologies. But, at the basic, it is the construction of ideal principles, for instance Rawls’ twin principle of justice – as fairness – , based on the discovery of the true, real logical structure of being and reality. Its vision therefore is idealistic, and its satisfaction stems from ideological commitment than ordinary discovery of the nature of things. This is particularly dangerous. Anyone who follows this spirit of philosophy to the letter is certainly up for ruin, for such must live alone in his ideal world and excise himself from the actual world of people and things.
Simple logic. You are not born into an ideal world, you were born into a real, imperfect and corrupt world. You were not born into what ought to be but what was, and already is. This being the case, upon being born, you are already a real embodiment of imperfection, actual and corrupted being, rather than an ideal, perfect entity. Therefore, you cannot live an ideal life. An un-ideal being cannot become an ideal person by his acts, because his will too, must, by definition, be un-ideal. If one cannot create an ideal self for oneself, one cannot create an ideal, perfect system—so one cannot create a perfect society of flawless institutions. Now, tens of thousands of you cannot. Even if people have good intentions, their intentions cannot be good enough because they cannot be ideal and perfect.
Ideals don’t fall from some ethereal place over our heads, their seeds are sowed and nurtured in the conscience of individuals and communities as they bump against the tall walls of human finitude from time to time. They are disappointments, frustration mixed with audacity and resilience, and the capacity of taste; producing preferences couched in literary, intellectual tones and idolized. Recorded history has a rising table of ideologies, which spring basically from ideals. Modern history has seen massive distribution of ideologies, even as the Western culture made inroad into Asiatic and African destinations, causing disruption and conflicts, and invariably, reactionary theories among educated indigenous elites. Gender-based outlines of human imperfections are well drawn in the long anti-patriarchal doctrines of modern and contemporary times. Feminism, lesbianism, and other manners of constructions that are preferences morphed into ideology, and then into ideal, or from ideal. Ideologies are therefore as many as are human populations, and varied as there are times and periods in recorded history. A little wonder the ideal of Locke is democracy while that of Plato was a powerful aristocracy (Hobbes’s ideal was Leviathan, an absolute government!)
On another level, the only way one could live an ideal life or live in an ideal society, is to be born into a society that has been made ideal before one is conceived in the womb. For you cannot have taken two or three steps into what is – your mother’s womb inclusive, and hope to ‘see’ what ought to be. Or you must undo the two or three steps, which you cannot. It is therefore part of your world. Forms you at an early stage, and shapes your view of the world. Your world is a mix of what is, possible imperfection and preferences, aspirations. You will leave the world imperfect and other generations will step into it again. Who can then separate himself from the imperfect world, even in the imagination? The best creation of the mind is the word ‘perfect’ which itself has no counterpart in the realm of human possibilities.
Something seemed revealed. The ideal system and the actual world, what ought to be and what is are not to be seen as diametrically opposed but as entirely separate, closed worlds where nothing can cross from one to the other. No channels for such crossings, because man cannot determine such channels.
Many philosophy teachers in our world work not only as if such a crossing is possible but also like it has happened several and several occasions before. This is a grave mistake and very pitiable that those who claim to study the nature of things don’t seem to grasp the nature of their frameworks. The result is doctrinal fundamentalism, the thinking and manifest behaviour that one’s own school of thought explains it all and it is what must be followed. This puts the self-destruct gene in logical positivism, the Vienna Circle’s movement of 1920-30s. The greatest achievement of philosophy in its history is how it has always met a wall at every turn, thanks to school arrogance.
Whereas the world is here. We live in it, not in the ideal world. Philosophical living therefore cannot be and is not an exile from the real imperfect world, but rather involves taking one or two visions from imagined ideal world—so called, and applying them in rearranging one or two things in an imperfect world, so that the imperfect can be shifted to suit our yearnings better. The lesson in shifting is humility. We are not actually replacing the world, we are shifting it. History is the history of shifting the world. This kind of philosophy I presently call societics. It means seeking to understand present realities and the dynamics of present society with human survival as one’s basic principle; living an active life in the real imperfect society while constantly adjusting and readjusting it. Means a philosopher is at most a great historian and at least a student of history.
A second major lesson is some version of Sartre’s notion of involvement. It is getting involved in existence rather than brooding about how existence out there is corrupted. It consists in laming alienation of oneself from one’s only world. It is basically not living in dreamland. “The only hope is his acting and…action is the only thing that enables a man to live,” declared Sartre. “Man,” for Sartre, “is nothing else than a series of understandings, …he is the sum, the organization, the ensemble of the relationships which make up these undertakings” (Jean Paul Sartre, The Humanism of Existentialism).
If this is philosophical living, what then is philosophy? I have no space to catalogue definitions (which all attempt to get technical and pin some generic distinguishers – stuff like critical, logical analysis, clarification, scrutiny etc.) We should be comfortable with philos sophia, love of wisdom: there are no wisdoms beyond and outside philosophy. The so-called revelational knowledge can themselves be scrutinized in revelational ways! Philosophy is nothing therefore but the act of seeking understanding, and understanding should be taken to mean a continual expansion of human awareness. If there is an error in our discovery, awareness has been darkened. It is a black wall drawn over our mind. Philosophy therefore is the elimination of errors in human discoveries of the universe and being, in order to have a clearer, expansive and unifying vision of things.
Being the case, the ultimate goal of philosophy is understanding, not the best world. If philosophy we take as primarily normative, we risk imposing our preferences of alternative life forms (casual, frivolous and even primeval) on the process and product of understanding. This won’t be philosophy but “sentimentology”. Philosophy, even it can, seldom produces ideal nature of things. Why should we think that things in nature are not the perfect versions of themselves? Could not our idea of the ideal chair be more perfect than the actually ideal chair? If so, where comes the margin?
A construction of our own mind!
More often therefore, our ideals are our “jargonized” best wishes and do not have to resemble the best forms of things. When ideal principles become the target of philosophical exercise, colours get in the way of understanding. Thus, though he may be familiar with Adam Smith and the free market, a philosopher must not confront Marxism with a commitment to free market, otherwise he has gotten his result before the enquiry. There is the talk of historical context of philosophical works and the value neutrality of science. Philosophy as understanding cannot beat these drums without caution, otherwise it is just an unending boisterous conflict of sentiments.
The goal of philosophy is understanding, not the pursuit of our personal egotistical preferences fraudulently masked as ‘what ought to be’. The effective philosophy will therefore, by virtue of its explosive rationality, promote love, we mean love, not just the general affection usually desired among mankind and sentient beings [unfortunately nowadays often commercialized by humanitarians and NGOs], but even romantic love. Philosophy begins to make sense when it discovers the primeval bonds of mankind, rather than separating people and things by analysis.