Friday, March 9, 2012

What is it to Philosophize??

Why? Why do I have to raise questions? Why do I have to seek answers? Why do I have to think about anything what so ever? Why???

You can never have a totally neutral starting point when it comes to doing anything. You can never start from a point at which you have no belief what so ever. Lacking any sort of belief to start with will leave you incapable of gaining any. You will stay where you are enclosed in silence incapable of stating anything or moving in any direction.

One might think that to start philosophizing about something, one has to start from a position at which he stands neutral to all possible beliefs. Neutrality to all possible beliefs might seem as an essential requirement for a fair process of thinking. But this doesn’t work as a starting point in philosophizing. Neutrality in such case is itself a belief. Being neutral to it would lead one into questioning it as well. This assumption of importance of neutrality leads to one of the most vicious circularities you can ever think of. It will leave where you are, incapable of moving any forward. Neutrality to all possible beliefs is itself a self negating belief. One can’t hold on it if he is to be really neutral at heart.

Therefore, we should drop this requirement. The right place to start in philosophizing or to do anything, to state any claim, or to move in any direction is to have a set of beliefs which you take at least initially to be basic and unquestionable at least for the moment. This line of argument that I have offered so far bears a clear resemblance to the school of skeptic thought intiated by Descartes centuries ago. Descartes too thought that the right point to start philosophizing is take a skeptic stance, questioning all sorts of beliefs and in effect standing neutral to all of them. He attempted to break free from this vicious circle of neutrality by arguing that this process of thinking, going on in his mind while being skeptic to all sorts of beliefs, is itself an evidence for a belief that one has no option but to accept, namely one’s own existence as a thinking entity. He therefore, raised his most famous claim “Cogito ergo sum”; “I think therefore, I am”. But, it is obvious that concluding the Cogito can’t be reached unless one takes lots of beliefs to be basic and acceptable prior to the Cogito itself. One has to hold on beliefs about the rationality of our thinking, how something can stand as evidence for something else, and that what we are involved in while being skeptic or neutral to all possible beliefs is itself a form of thinking. Why shouldn’t we be skeptic about those beliefs just as well if we are really committed to Descartes’ skeptic program? Descartes’’ methodology in philosophy is infected with vicious circularity just in the same way as insistence on neutrality is. Following his school of thought will leave us exactly as we are, having nothing to start with.

Again, we can’t move in any direction unless we take some beliefs to be basic at least for a while. But what those beliefs might be? I think a set of beliefs which can mark a starting point for philosophizing or for merely moving in any direction can be minimally summed into the following:

· One’s own existence

· One’s ownership of the faculty of thinking

· Existence of beliefs, at least this initial set, as a starting block for the process of thinking

· One’s ownership of a variety of motives including the motive to move or to act at least intellectually.

But are those beliefs really enough? Those beliefs will be void of content if they can’t be explained by another set of beliefs. It is not enough to hold on those beliefs. One must have in addition, beliefs about what existence is, what thinking is, what beliefs really are, and what it is to be motivated to do anything. This set of additional beliefs must as well be accepted at least initially to make us capable of moving forward. Beliefs specifying the content of the other basic set of beliefs one must hold on to start moving forward, will make up an ontology in which you can have your starting point. Throughout human history, different ontologies have been created. Some persisted and some perished. Anyway, one must have a particular ontology formed of a set of beliefs taken for granted, again at least initially, to be capable of moving, of doing, and of living.

Holding on ontological commitments is the starting point for philosophizing, for thinking, for acting, and for anything that makes you who you are.

Among, those various ontolgies available for us to adopt, one is particularly interesting. Even though religious and naturalistic ontologies seem to be the most interesting but it is the solipsist ontology which is really peculiar. This ontology seems to be the most minimal of any ontologies we can ever think of. This ontology is based on the view that nothing exists but one’s own mind and what is going on in it. If ontologies can be stated explicitly in a finite set of basic beliefs, solipsism will provide us with the most limited one. But can solipsism be a successful ontology as a starting point? I will argue not but I will leave this to a later time.

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