3QD: Don’t be so sure

[By the way, this is my 50th 3QD essay, by my count. I have encountered many interesting ideas and intelligent and gracious people through the site. It’s been a wonderful partnership.]

Luxuriating in human ignorance was once a classy fad. Overeducated literary types would read Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, and soak themselves in the quite intelligent conclusion that ultimate reality cannot be known by Terran primates, no matter how many words they use. They would dwell on the suspicion that anything these primates conceive will be skewed by social, sexual, economic, and religious preconceptions and biases; that the very idea that there is an ultimate reality, with a definable character, may very well be a superstition forced upon us by so humble a force as grammar; that in an absurd life bounded on all sides by illusion, the very best a Terran primate might do is to at least be honest with itself, and compassionate toward its colleagues, so that we might all get through this thing together.

But classy fads fade. Indeed, one seemingly inviolable law of philosophical thinking is that any forthright declaration of human ignorance will be followed by a systematic explanation of that ignorance, decorated with special terms and diagrams. We just can’t let it go. Aristotle began his Metaphysics with the claim that all men by nature desire to know, and we would be right to quibble a bit: maybe some men do and some men don’t, and maybe some women also desire to know, and some don’t, and perhaps the most sensible thing to say is that many people like to pretend to know — which would have made for a much more promising beginning to his treatise, come to think of it. But we weren’t there, and Aristotle chugged on ahead as a man who desired to know everything except his own limits.

Read more here

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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1 Response to 3QD: Don’t be so sure

  1. Alex says:

    “reading the old pessimists is so much more interesting than reading the new zealots.” What a great essay. Scholars in the humanities today forget that social justice movements are rooted in really old tragic examinations of knowledge and language as limited and conditioned by power, biography and context. Today everyone criticizes philosophers by drawing on cheesy identity politics about racial or gender points (wasn’t Nietzsche that white bro guy? Fuck him!) that we miss contributions many wonderful old farts made to real immediate causes. Today’s humanities thinkers don’t seem excited to read Plato, but rather quite ready to murder Socrates, only to loudly proclaim themselves saviors of women’s rights or spokespeople for abortions or anti-tyrants. (I’m onboard, but people, actually read the Republic please FFS.) Those old knowledge pessimists are worth going back to and keeping on the shelf. I imagine there will be a great and filthy war and more terrible world events without any possible moral explanation soon, then people will become pessimistic again and go back to reading old shit. Another cycle of rationalism followed by a cycle of disaster and a check for hubris and human idiocy in the form of elite knowledge, a renewed appreciation for really ancient literary thought that already did this self-reflection going all the way back to Mesopotamia. Then a faux rejuvenation and a return to earthiness and tragic thought. It goes on, endless wheel of suffering and re-appreciation for old works once chiseled in stone by other sufferers from another time. Sucks for all of us to be living through *this* part, the boring ‘naive optimist’ intro lineup we all know is followed by a third act of tragedy.

    Like

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