“Fragments of Philosophy” (or “Philosophical Fragments”) on the Sensitivity and Sensibility of Human Life Towards Transformative Philosophizing (with apologies to Kierkegaard)

[A philosophical treatise approved and accepted for presentation at the International Congress on Person and Society: Perspective for the XXI Century @ the Universidade Catolica Portuguesa, Braga, Portugal, 17-19 November 2005.]

“Truth is subjectivity.” ~Soren Kierkegaard 

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche 

“One should write philosophy only as one writes a poem.” ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein 

“Humanism is centered upon the agency of human individuality and subjective intuition, rather than on received ideas and approved authority.” ~Edward W. Said

Part I: Introduction

LIFE GETS UNEASY when you feel you seem to be at the end of the road. Forces pull you to the wayside—to the left, to the right. There’s no going onward. You tell yourself, the visible reality has done so much to your sanity. “I am here right now because the things I have been doing are within the light of consciousness. I have met lonely events and joyful ones and I have learned lessons from them in the light of that consciousness.” The radical perspectivist Friedrich Nietzsche says:

After having looked enough between the philosopher’s lines and fingers, I say to myself: by far the great part of conscious thinking must still be included among instinctive activities, and that goes even for philosophical thinking. We have to relearn here, as one has had to relearn about heredity and what is “innate.” As the act of birth deserves no consideration in the whole process and procedure of heredity, so “being conscious” is not in any decisive sense the opposite of what is instinctive: most of the conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided and forced into certain channels by his instincts.[i]

Consciousness meets this world of the senses and we hitch our dreams, our aspirations, on it. We shed real tears in the deepest moments of our tragedies. Our laughter echoes in the loftiest moments of celebration. And then, the sober moments of reflection as we consider going on in life. Well, it surely does not end here right now. But my gut-feeling does not intend to give up yet. At least, not now… not yet.

Ideas… ideas… ideas glide into my mind, coming from so many directions. Appeals from the depth of the scientific and the analytic convince the intellect to sing paeans of praises to the comfort and delight bestowed by the achievements of modernity—the wonders of technology, the life that has been made easy by a myriad of gadgets, instruments and equipment that rule households, offices and workplaces, even classrooms and game-boards of the modern age.

Yet, appeals of equal magnitude emanate from the spirit. That which sustains the human in me brings me to the innermost recesses of my being and convinces me that the ocean of feelings is far deeper than the superficiality of what may be quantified and measured, analyzed and captured by the senses in the one-dimensional segments of time… in the three-dimensional character of space. What gives excitement to life, what makes me consider the significance of it, what leads me to an appreciation of the beautiful, the good, and the true, lies deeply in the core of my being. It is solely the depth of my spirituality that has access into it. No instruments of modern technology can ever scratch even the outermost filament of its covering. It is only the authentic me that has the power to embrace the rise and fall of the waves in this ocean of feelings. It is the untaught spirit of life in me that breathes meaning in the celebration of eternity amidst the dances of change, amidst the weaving and unweaving of colors that burst in the skies of rejoicing and fall on the ground of defeat and disappointment.

But life goes on in transcending the here and now. The overcoming continues. After the fall, we want to rise. This is the elan of life. The most primal life-force persists and that’s the drive of life. The single outstanding request brought about by the consciousness that comes out of it is a sincere appreciation of this life-force’s delicate operation in the sensitivity and sensibility of humanity. It is not the scientific and the analytic that have guided us to chart the deepest corners of the realm of the spirit. None of the five senses can access even the periphery of its threshold. But the scientific and the analytic, the spiritual and the emotional are all human. And it is so lamentable that there are forces that have torn them all apart. What could be philosophical at this point is to ask questions, however heart-rending and passion-filled these questions may be: Is there no center where a convergence point is located? Isn’t a sense of elation expressed in triumphs as humanity appropriates the achievements of science and technology? Can we heighten our spirituality as we positively relate with the wonders of science and technology? Is there a way whereby the workings of modern science and technology can effect physico-chemical changes for the human organism to have a positive attitude towards life? Where do we focus now the eyes of meaningful philosophizing—towards the greatness of science and technology and the force of objectivity that animates them, or towards the dignity of human spirituality that exalts the interiority of the human in the depth of subjective being? In what area can philosophizing be truly transformative in consideration of these sides?

Part II: Transformative Philosophizing and the Subjectivity of Philosophy

TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHIZING is basically subjective interpretation of individual human experience. In this case, philosophy is not concerned with the problematization of the analytico-mathematical and the scientific. Modern philosophers have mixed matters of the objective and matters of the subjective and fit them altogether in an objective mold. Of course, two plus two will never become five in any possible world. Neither can matters of scientific experimentation be of interest to the philosopher as a philosopher. Kierkegaard says:

Modern philosophy has tried anything and everything in the effort to help the individual to transcend himself objectively, which is a wholly impossible feat; existence exercises its restraining influence, and if philosophers nowadays had not become mere scribblers in the service of a fantastic thinking and its preoccupation, they would long ago have perceived that suicide was the only tolerable practical interpretation of its striving. But the scribbling modern philosophy holds passion in contempt; and yet passion is the culmination of existence for an existing individual—and we are all of us existing individuals.[ii]

Practitioners of the sciences and the mathematical fields have dabbled into the things of another dimension—the philosophical. We are now in an era where we can more meaningfully distinguish between the scientific (objective) and the personal (subjective). Our contemporary philosophers are more intense and penetrating to perceive and understand the dynamics of the time. Listen to the words of the great Indian sage Rabindranath Tagore:

What is the truth of this world? It is not the masses of substance, not in the number of things, but in their relatedness, which neither can be counted, nor measured, nor abstracted. It is not in the materials which are many, but in the expression which is one. All our knowledge of things is knowing them in their relation to the Universe, in that relation which is truth. A drop of water is not a particular assortment of elements; it is the miracle of a harmonious mutuality, in which the two reveal the One. No amount of analysis can reveal to us this mystery of unity. Matter is an abstraction; we shall never be able to realize what it is, for our world of reality does not acknowledge it. Even the giant forces of the world, centripetal and centrifugal, are kept out of our recognition. They are the day-labourers not admitted into the audience-hall of creation. But light and sound come to us in their gay dresses as troubadors singing serenades before the windows of the senses. What is constantly before us, claiming our attention, is not the kitchen, but the feast; not the anatomy of the world, but its countenance. There is the dancing ring of seasons; the many-coloured wings of erratic life flitting between birth and death. The importance of these does not lie in their existence as mere facts, but in their language of harmony, the mother tongue of our own soul, through which they are communicated to us.[iii]

The issue of philosophy is actually the issue of meaningfulness—the meaningfulness not of anything else but life—of my life specifically (subjectively) and of human life in general (intersubjectively). Meaningfulness as an issue is all-encompassing, i.e., objectively and subjectively. However, in philosophy it is definitely focused on the subjective personal experiences of individual human beings.

The meaningfulness of my life is not dependent on what science or mathematics tells me. Life’s meaning transcends the scientific and the mathematical. In The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish rebel thinker records:

What would be the use of discovering so-called objective truth, of working through all of the systems of philosophy and of being able, if required, to review them all and show up the inconsistencies within each system; what good would it do me to be able to develop a theory of the state and combine all the details into a single whole, and so construct a world in which I did not live, but only held up to the view of others; what good would it do me to be able to explain the meaning of Christianity if it had no deeper significance for me and for my life; what good would it do me if truth stood before me, cold and naked, not caring whether I recognized her or not, and producing in me a shudder of fear rather than a trusting devotion? I certainly do not deny that I still recognize an imperative of understanding and that through it one can work upon men, but it must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognize as the most important thing. That is what my soul longs after, as the African desert thirst for water.[iv]

Philosophy brings us to more exciting terrains of life where the wind of freedom blows incessantly, and carries us to new discoveries in uncharted milieus—unstructured, rustic, pregnant with mysteries; open to be molded by the power of the subjective mind, challenging the human spirit, defiant of the dictates of meta-narratives imposed by over-confident systematizers coming from the alien territories of science and mathematics.

Philosophy empowers us to be in perfect control of our personal individual lives. Philosophy brings us to the deepest recesses of our individuality. Philosophy affirms our humanity that has its being without any necessary connection with the objective. Philosophically, the objective is trivial, given, may be done away with, in the process of subjective signification. Philosophy transforms us in ways that can never be done by the sciences and mathematics. Philosophy is an expression of human freedom. Philosophy is in a dimension unlimited by the hard boundaries of objective requirements. Philosophy is subjective freedom in a situation of praxis—the subjective reflection of human experience which, individually, is of subjective character. I think… I believe… I feel what I believe. I believe what I feel.

Part III: Transformative Philosophizing and World Construction

THE WORLD IS A CONSTRUCTION of the human mind. The world as a matter of construction is a reality that passes through interpretations. The world as reality—or reality as the world—is, therefore, a construction based on interpretations, i.e., interpretations provide the “materials” for construction.

In “world-construction,” the initial task of interpretation is done in relation to the objective: the objective is interpreted and, in the process, is subjectified. Subjectification is the process whereby the objective is appropriated into and becomes subjective by signifying it in the act of interpretation. The objective, per se, is devoid of meaning, usefulness and relevance. Hence, it lacks the character “material” to the shaping up of what would later develop as history.

The sciences also make use of and seriously attend to the objective. In fact, it is the life-blood of the sciences. But even the sciences go through the process of subjectification as their achievements are pragmatized in technologies. It is the process of pragmatization that signifies the sciences. Pragmatization could also be construed as an interpretation. When science and technology are appropriated in the world, they undergo the process of trans-signification and are hence subjectified.

The American philosopher Nelson Goodman in his Of Mind and Other Matters talks of a constructivist philosophy. According to fellow constructivist philosopher, Jerome Bruner: “It’s central thesis ‘constructivism’ is that contrary to common sense there is no unique ‘real world’ that pre-exists and is independent of human mental activity and human language; that what we call the world is a product of some mind whose symbolic procedures construct the world.[v]

Part IV: Conclusion

TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHIZING takes us into the depth of the distinction between the objective and the subjective. In the context of how we deal with reality through the predominantly modernist approach of our generation, the scientific and the analytico-mathematical are generally taken to be objective. Objective considerations are defined not only in terms of the observable but more so in terms of the measurable/ quantifiable and the experimentable. If certain aspects of reality are deemed to be objective, it is therefore assumed that to do justice to their objectiveness/objectivity, the most appropriate step to an inquiry into or an exploration of it is via the scientific and/or the analytico-mathematical terrains. In other words, the objective is best analyzed and evaluated in scientific and/or analytico-mathematical terms. In modernist terms, we cannot really disengage the objective from the scientific and/or the analytico-mathematical.

On that basis, it is truly difficult to deal with the objective in other terms. And since on the other side of the reality divide, the subjective rules, another field of human intellectual endeavor should be appropriated for its signification: the philosophical. The philosophical, therefore, associates itself with the subjective and vice versa. Matters of value and virtue, the choice of anything that suits individual, subjective preference, are matters of philosophy. Kierkegaard writes:

For an objective reflection the truth becomes an object, something objective, and thought must be pointed away from the subject. For a subjective reflection the truth becomes a matter of appropriation of inwardness, of subjectivity, and thought must probe more and more deeply into the subject and his subjectivity.[vi]

© Ruel F. Pepa, Ph.D. 2005

[i] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans., Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1966), #3, p. 11.

[ii] Soren Kierkegard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swanson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941), p. 176.

[iii] Rabindranath Tagore, “Creative Unity” in Great Works of Rabindranath Tagore (Delhi: Rose Publications, ____), p. 489.

[iv] Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, trans. Alexander Dru, in A Kierkegaard Anthology, ed., Robert Bretall (New York: Modern Library, 1946), p. 5.

[v] Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 95.

[vi] Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postcript, p. 171.

A Critique of Peter Raabe on Placebo Philosophy and Religion

[“Placebo Religion and Philosophy” by Peter B. Raabe, http://www.philosophos.com/philosophy_article_161.html]

At the beginning of his essay ‘Placebo Philosophy and Religion'[1], Peter Raabe acquaints us with an understanding of the concept of ‘placebo’:

[A] placebo is a faux-medication (such as a sugar pill)with no active therapeutic ingredients. A placebo effect is when the patient BELIEVES that the faux-medication he is receiving has active ingredients in it because he’s convinced he can feel its non-existent effects. (capitalization supplied)

Prof. Raabe’s point in the above statements is specifically in the area of belief — i.e., how the mind accepts (or rejects) something that the body receives. What he talks about in this sense is something that has been introduced to the body and the mind takes it as the real thing. This point should be kept in memory as the author later in the paper appropriates the same concept to describe a certain type of religion and a certain type of philosophy which to him are not acceptable. However, such application of the concept of ‘placebo’ is very much different from what he later says:

I define placebo religion as when a believer believes that a piece of supposedly spiritual writing he is reading has active spiritual ‘ingredients’ within it. The same piece of writing will cause different believers to understand the spiritual message in very different ways. But like the placebo pill, placebo religion has no ‘active ingredient’ in it; the message of placebo religion is always vague, ambiguous, full of cliches and New Age platitudes, so that multiple interpretations can all seem correct.

This concern is about an idea (which is supposed to be ‘spiritual’) introduced,of course, not to a person’s body but to his/ her mind and therefore the mind has a direct or immediate even automatic access to it through cognition. In this case, nothing is ‘placebo.’

Supportive of his own assertion, Prof. Raabe further comments:

In placebo religion all the benefit comes from the belief of the believer. Not surprisingly there are psychological benefits, just like there are with a placebo pill, but there is no evidence that there’s any spiritual benefit in the writing itself. For example, there is no evidence that there is an ‘absolute Truth’ or that finding it will lead to some sort of miraculous change in one’s life. Without belief a placebo religion, just like a placebo pill, has nothing substantial to offer. And to offer placebo religion as though there’s something substantial in it is clearly deceptive and immoral.

The problem with this view is the author’s failure to signify the fact that all religion is a matter of belief — in fact, a matter of faith — wherein no factual basis is deemed necessary. In religion, what is given due weight are the resultant notions of in-depth reflections driven by the human desire to get to a better and more coherent understanding of the human condition regardless of how a certain aspect of reality is perceived objectively.

Accepting Prof. Raabe’s view on religion logically leads us to conclude that there is no religion that is not placebo. As far as ‘spiritual benefit’ is concerned, it is not Prof. Raabe nor anybody professing her/ his religion has the right/ duty/ capability to determine a person’s ‘spiritual benefit’ from her/ his religion except the person who practices the religion herself/himself.

What makes the situation worse is, Prof. Raabe’s attempts to further extend his claim into the realm of the philosophical as he scores that,

[u]nfortunately, not all philosophy is beneficial. There exists quite a bit of what I call placebo philosophy. The ancient philosopher Epicurus said that philosophy which does not relieve any human suffering is just empty philosophy. Just like a pill that is empty of any medicinal ingredients is a placebo pill, philosophy that is empty of any beneficial ‘ingredients’ is placebo philosophy.

Yet, it is important to note that this view could simply be understood as a matter of Epicurus’ opinion. Philosophy may lead one to suffering but such a situation is all because of one’s commitment to always search for truth. One thing that we should realize is that searching for truth — which is a serious philosophical commitment — does not always make us feel good. In other words, engaging in philosophical exploration/ adventure/ inquiry is oft-times (if not always) ‘painful’ and not ‘relieving.’

The misleading notion advanced by Prof. Raabe here is that for philosophy to be genuine, it has to ‘relieve suffering.’ This notion is not only misleading but illusory because for philosophy to truly serve humanity, it should have its feet touching the ground of human reality which is generally characterized by sufferings. In view of this, philosophy’s major role is to bring humanity face to face with reality whatever its condition may be.

Prof. Raabe disagrees:

Empty intellectual philosophy consists of published works that are difficult if not impossible to understand because they’re full of technical jargon, neologisms (invented words), ambiguity, vagueness, New Ageisms, and post-modernisms that lend themselves to a multitude of interpretations.

With this, Prof. Raabe unfortunately fails to realize that such is the very condition that makes philosophy exciting and challenging: A multitude of interpretations. Why flee from the challenges posed by whatever form of philosophical/ intellectual discourse?

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, Ph.D.