Diggers and healers

Leslak Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial, pp. 135-6:

“My general attitude may be thus expressed: What philosophy is about is not Truth. Philosophy can never discover any universally admissible truths; and if a philosopher happened to have made a genuine contribution to science (one thinks, say, of the mathematical works of Descartes, Leibniz, or Pascal), his discovery, perhaps by the very fact of being admitted as an ingredient of established science, immediately ceased being a part of philosophy, no matter what kind of metaphysical or theological motivations might have been at work in producing it. The cultural role of philosophy is not to deliver the truth but to build the spirit of truth, and this means never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious or definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense, always to suspect that there might be “another side” in what we take for granted, and never to allow us to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it. All the most traditional worries of philosophy – how to tell good from evil, true from false, real from unreal, being from nothingness, just from unjust, necessary from contingent, myself from others, man from animal, mind from body, or how to find order in chaos, providence in absurdity, timelessness in time, laws in facts, God in the world, world in language – all of them boil down to the quest for meaning; and they presuppose that in dissecting such questions we may employ the instruments of reason, even if the ultimate outcome is the dismissal of reason or its defeat. Philosophers neither sow nor harvest, they only move the soil. They do not discover truth; but they are needed to keep the energy of mind alive, to confront various possibilities for answering our questions. To do that they – or at least some of them – must trust that the answers are within our reach. Those who keep that trust are real diggers; and although I cannot share their contention that by digging more and more deeply they will eventually reach the Urgrund, the foundation of all foundations, I do believe that their presence in the continuation of our culture is vital and indispensable. They are utopians and we need them. Next to diggers, however, we need healers who apply skeptical medicine in order to clean our minds from prejudices, to unmask the hidden premises of our beliefs, to keep us vigilant, to improve our logical skills, not to let us be carried away by wishful thinking. Philosophy, to survive, needs both diggers and healers, both reckless adventurers and cautious insurance brokers. They even seem to prop each other amidst their never-ending squabbles. The trouble is that whoever says so while being himself interested in philosophical riddles and thus involved in the conflict in one way or another cannot avoid the risk of antinomy or contradiction: he is not capable of taking sides in the conflict, and he asserts something that would ultimately compel him to be at both extremes simultaneously. We can escape the contradiction only by trying to place ourselves outside philosophy, to suspend our interest in the issues and to climb up to a vantage point from which philosophy itself appears part of the history of civilization. The trouble is, however, that to reach this point we almost certainly need some premises and some conceptual instruments that have been elaborated in the ambiguous realm of philosophy.”

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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One Response to Diggers and healers

  1. ganselmi says:

    “We can escape the contradiction only by trying to place ourselves outside philosophy, to suspend our interest in the issues and to climb up to a vantage point from which philosophy itself appears part of the history of civilization. The trouble is, however, that to reach this point we almost certainly need some premises and some conceptual instruments that have been elaborated in the ambiguous realm of philosophy.”

    This immediately made me think of Marxism, which approaches every philosophy as a form of ideology which, consciously or not, reflects the internal contradictions and social enmities of its time and place. The trouble with is that precisely this seemingly “meta-philosophical” stance is scaffolded on Hegelian idealism. (Post-)structuralism has similar troubles in the sense that one has to accept some of its philosophical assumptions (about the concept of difference, for example) before it can properly operate as a critical discourse.

    Like

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