A philosophy is the total repertoire of moves a mind knows how to make in its efforts to make theoretical, practical and moral sense of the world, to enworld itself.
A well-designed philosophy choreographs these moves into some kind of cohesive and enduring whole that renders life itself intelligible, manageable and valuable. In other words we have a sense of what is true, possible and good for us in the world.
To do philosophy is essentially attempting to acquire new moves, usually by way of tackling a perplexity that feels relevant or urgent but which resists thought. We move guided only by intuition in a region of inconceivability (“here I do not know how to move around”) in order to conceive a new way to navigate it.
The moves themselves are not directly perceived or grasped, because these moves are, themselves, perceiving and grasping. To try to understand them is like trying to see sight or hear hearing. We know what they are by what they do.
Imagine if we humans could acquire new organs of perception that allowed us to experience new, previously undetected phenomena in the world around us.
The miracle of philosophy is that we can, and routinely do, acquire new faculties of conception that allow us to experience new, previously undetected truths, possibilities and value in reality.
And these faculties engage intuitions in ourselves that we frequently dismiss, deemphasize, marginalize, suppress or even oppress. We have no idea what to do with them, so we neglect them, ignore them, push them out, relegate them to insignificant noise.
In a very importance sense, when we learn what to make of our world, we simultaneously learn what to make of ourselves. When make new sense of the world, we make new sense of ourselves, too. The reverse is true as well: when we make something new of ourselves by welcoming marginalized, suppressed intuitions and integrating them into our philosophies, new possibilities of the world open up for us: new things we can understand, new things we can do and make and say, and new things that can matter to us because they are good, beautiful or momentous.
Likewise, if our world feels bad to us, if it is chaotic, irrational, unmanageable, doomed, evil, oppressive or worthless philosophy gives us a completely new response. The unphilosophical mind takes (with its limited repertoire of conceptions) its ugly perception and interpretation of the world as a direct perception of an ugly reality, and selects from the handful of possible responses its limited repertoire of conceptions can imagine, and these responses are saturated with valuations tinged and constricted by its limited repertoire of values.
The philosophical mind, knowing the degree to which our experience of reality is conditioned by philosophy, knows that philosophical inquiry can call any belief into doubt if it examines it with sufficient intensity. Skepticism is a universal philosophy solvent, that can be used to break down any understanding and dissolve it into perplexity. Perplexity clears ground for new philosophy.
Between the destructive power of skeptical critique and the constructive power of philosophizing, we have much more space for changing our shared world than most of us realize.
One thought on “Conceiving a better world”
“Now I myself, Phaedrus, am a lover of these processes of division and bringing together, as aids to speech and thought; and if I think any other man is able to see things that can naturally be collected into one and divided into many, him I follow after and walk in his footsteps as if he were a god. And whether the name I give to those who can do this is right or wrong, God knows, but I have called them hitherto dialecticians [aka philosophers].” — Plato
Those who are skilled at applying the universal solvent and the universal adhesive that is philosophy are like gods.