I’m thinking Philosophy as such.

I’ve even bought Anthony Kenny’s masterpiece and started to plough through it. Those ancient Greeks were oddly smart. What happened?

That said, I am getting annoyed by The Partially Examined Life. It turns out that they have all sorts of parochial US liberal academic biases and pore lovingly over Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Sartre, Žižek and other ghastly people whose ideas have had stupendously ruinous consequences. I mean, Heidegger was an actual out-of-the closet Nazi:

The rectorate was an attempt to see something in the [Nazi] movement that had come to power, beyond all its failings and crudeness, that was much more far-reaching and that could perhaps one day bring a concentration on the Germans’ Western historical essence (sic). It will in no way be denied that at the time I believed in such possibilities and for that reason renounced the actual vocation of thinking in favor of being effective in an official capacity.

But hey, he had some cool ideas about metaphysics, so that’s the main thing.

What the PEL folks (and as far as I can tell most philosophers) constantly skirt around (perhaps it’s too ghastly to contemplate) is how far anything they are talking about is pure tosh: nothing but elaborate intricate word-games.

Take chess.

Once the fairly simple rules of chess are accepted, the game as all sorts of unexpected possibilities based on intricate patterns of logic and (for players) insight. Never leave home without staring in amazement at The Game of The Century. Bobby Fischer (13!) saw options beyond extraordinary:

Yet all the positions of chess can in theory be listed if you have a big enough computer. There is a finite albeit impossibly large number of possible chess positions and ways of getting to each one. They are all ‘there’ and in one way of looking at it real, even though we can’t see them.

What does that tell us about the meaning of chess or anything else? Nothing. It’s simply a vast self-contained puzzle whose outcomes depend completely on the rules of the starting position and the way the pieces move.

Philosophy as expounded by the PEL Americans seems quite like chess. You take a few metaphors (consciousness, mind, identity, reason etc) then build all sorts of elaborate logic-castles on them. These castles seem to tower high and proud and mean something, but what are they other than pile upon pile of metaphor whose foundations are arbitrary noises emerging from our mouths and the rules we have proclaimed on how those noises link together?

One difference is that words are how we describe and analyse literally everything, so they are or feel ‘attached’ to our very existence more than the formal abstract rules of chess.

Haha so what then EXACTLY is everything or indeed anything?

We seem to be pretty sure that stuff exists and interacts with other stuff in predictable ways: drop a heavy stone on your toe a few gazillion times, and it starts to be clear that your toe and the stone and pain and causation ‘exist’ for all human practical purposes.

But, then, if stuff exists what is it? And, no less important, what isn’t it?

What about something like ‘consciousness’ that also exists but in a much more elusive way? Is that ‘only’ a function of the atoms churning around in our heads, or is it something else entirely? The closer/deeper we look at what is ‘really’ going on in anything, the more mysterious it all becomes?

Some consciousness researchers see the hard problem as real but inherently unsolvable; others posit a range of options for its account. Those solutions include possibilities that overly project mind into matter. Consciousness might, for example, be an example of the emergence of a new entity in the Universe not contained in the laws of particles.

There is also the more radical possibility that some rudimentary form of consciousness must be added to the list of things, such as mass or electric charge, that the world is built of.

Quick. When in doubt invent a new useless unproveable idea such as phlogiston or God or Russell’s teapot.

My conclusion?

Start (and do not stray too far from) what we mean by words, and accept their limitations. It’s too easy to get seduced by the towering ponderous logic of Hegelian word-games into thinking that what we’re saying actually means something. That is the route to ideological quackery.

Thinking is all about making distinctions.

A tiger is not a mouse is not a rainbow is not green is not annoyance is not tomorrow is not an abstraction is not chess is not consciousness.

How to THINK or EXPRESS or KNOW that without language to make those subtle distinctions?

So, what can you know more than your words (arbitrary as they are) can convey?

All this opens another Big Issue.

Is there a ‘tigerness’ or mouseness or rainbowness or greenness or annoyanceness or tomorrowness or abstractionness or chessness or consciousnessness that is somehow ‘there’, above and beyond what we see/feel?

Is there an ‘essential’ (ie of an essence) quality to any thing that is separate from any given example of it?

All this soon drives you mad:

If we have made sure it’s a goldfinch, and a real goldfinch, and then in the future it does something outrageous (explodes, quotes Mrs. Woolf, or what not), we don’t say we were wrong to say that it was a goldfinch, we don’t know what to say. Words literally fail us: “What would you have said?” “What are we to say now?” “What would you say?”

… [T]he principal example that we chose was the hero of Kafka’s story Metamorphosis, a commercial traveller called Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to find that he has been transformed into a monstrous cockroach, although he retains clear memories of his life as an ordinary human being.

Are we to speak of him as a man with the body of a cockroach, or a cockroach with the memories and consciousness of a man? “Neither,” Austin declared. “In such cases, we should not know what to say.”

This is when we say ‘words fail us’ and mean this literally. We should need new words. The old ones just would not fit. They aren’t meant to cover this kind of case.”

And so on.