How wonderful it would be to be a systematic thinker! One marvels at the Aristotles, the Aquinases, the Descarteses, the Kants, and the Hegels and the Marxes (well, the Karl Marxes anyway), the Freuds – those who know how to approach anything, how to incorporate any material into a systematic empire, those who can see the universe as fulfillments of their own plans. It may sound like I am satirizing them, but I really do admire them: I admire their imagination, their enthusiasm, and their persistence. Chiefly I admire their ability to take their own thought so seriously, since every time I have tried to construct a system, it turns into fits of giggles.
Join 711 other subscribers
Richard Taylor on Approximating post-modernism Huenemann on A fuller explanation Huenemann on A fuller explanation Richard Taylor on A fuller explanation jackleo on A fuller explanation
- 3QD essays
- Fun with Jerry
- Historical episodes
- Items of the academy / learning
- Kant and/or Hume
- Machines / gadgets / technology / games
- Meanings of life / death / social & moral stuff
- Metaphysical musings
- Phonograph records
- Stacks of Books
- This & that in the life of CH
- 221,758 hits
There’s a profound level of taking-oneself-seriously in totalizing systems that (paradoxically) excludes something from those systems – humor. If on page 24,002, Hegel had accidentally scrawled “January 24. Note to self – ate too many cherries. Everybody is avoiding me,” well, I don’t know if that’s a new triad in the dialectic or what, but it changes our trust in the system by exposing an exception. We have to admire system-builders for their bold, solitary seriousness and courage. But they stroll dangerously close to the edge of funny, since at some point the Cosmic Explainer has to tackle the brute fact of the wart on the end of his nose. Improperly paired extremes are always funny.
The fits of the giggles set in during a reach for starry, cosmic answers due to the rising smell of one’s feet. That’s why I love Emerson’s gingerbread cupcakes (or whatever the hell). A sudden – and unapologetic – veering into the real. Low-brow philosophers never get published, and the high-brow ones can’t afford to expose their true earthiness. Occasionally I’ve been delighted to meet someone who sounds more like a wise uncle underneath all the fanciness.
I don’t think I could ever “do” philosophy. The seriousness required to continually ask whether systems are true separates wisdom from play, which is essential. That doesn’t mean I don’t admire the systems – nothing could be more beautiful than an intricate philosophy. (Except KFC when you really, really need it.)
Then again, maybe this flippant attitude is the whole problem with the world. Do we live in a time in which system builders are impossible because so much of our culture has become obsessively egalitarian, and solitary geniuses are frowned upon for all their lofty seriousness? Humor is the great leveler, and maybe we live in a leveled world that prevents great thinkers by reducing them and discarding them as unwelcome guests. Humor could be a tool of intellectual democracy.
There is a dialectic between the system builders and the skeptics/misologues/clowns who poke fun at them – or what Kolakowski brilliantly characterizes as “diggers” and “healers”. Very rarely is the dialectic found in the same person – though maybe Nietzsche and Kierkegaard are exceptions.