Another one of those quoteless quoughts. Life is too hectic for me to do anything more complicated than just think my thoughts. So here is an old thought that I never put in a public place (I am considering my cognitive science thesis as a rather private place, and besides: the thought didn’t have quite as sexy a name as in the title above). Probably I didn’t do that because it allowed me to flatter myself into thinking that once, when I had some real time, I’d work this out and people would be baffled by a thought so unequivocally changing the boundaries of any future thinking.
But I do no longer want to flatter myself. Reality is much too painful in the light of what might happen, certainly when you are convinced that what might happen ought in fact to happen.
The thought is simple: there’s a characterization of philosophy that, if at all highlighted, was never highlighted enough. It’s about the difference between static and dynamic philosophy; between the synchronic and diachronic approaches to knowledge. Sure, people have demarcated between absolute systems such as the Hegelian one and generically open-ended non-systems such as the Bergsonian élan vital. But in this case the demarcation is done to serve the purpose of a fingerpointing of the other side as ‘bad’. Closest to my thought is Wittgenstein where at least in one person, albeit split over two almost non-overlapping time periods, you have both aspects integrated. Because my thought is not a thought of either/or, my thought is a thought of neither/nor.
But I’ll leave it to the interested reader to click for further reading in order not to cloud the front page with my babble:
The idea when I first formulated it (here) was about linguistics and I called it ‘the stepping-stone theory of language’. I still believe that my approach in that thesis deserves further attention (& has the potential of clarifying linguistic stuff in ways at present still unclear). But the idea was originally, I think, inspired more broadly than only by language and common sense and the present thought is also broader than that.
Enough beating around the bush.
On the one side philosophy has a tendency to systematizing. The last great attempt was that of Hegel and the greatness of the attempt lies in integrating a dynamic aspect into the system: the aspect of dialectics. This two-step movement is one that allows to model the appearance of reality in a way that allows the model to remain systematically absolute: an end or target is inescapable in the dynamics of dialectics.
On the other side we have philosophies that are quasi-mystical and stretch themselves to not name the unnameable. It is these philosophies that resist closing the system but also these systems that are profoundly sceptical of progress. As a most evolved example of such a philosophy I name Bergson who avoided most of the contradictory speak of mystics and was able to integrate in the dynamic a place for logic and scientific assessment. That being said his élan vital was a blind movement, an impulse, a raw core of desire that was superficially covered by the more or less well ordered order of appearance.
In Wittgenstein you can find both. The early Wittgenstein was all about static analysis and, literally, what can be said. The late Wittgenstein was all about open ended dynamics, about playing games whose point was systematically – even: necessarily – elusive. The later mystic and the earlier nerd didn’t meet a lot but the absence of self-criticism of the later on the earlier Wittgenstein indicates that a guy – who would normally have to be considered as somewhat smarter than average – did not see the two aspects as mutually exclusive. That being said, he was, in his historic context, not able to integrate the two aspects in a convincing way.
[Since more or less then we talk about two traditions in philosophy: the continental and the analytic. It is appealing to lump either one together with the dynamic and the static, respectively; but that doesn’t hold. Quinean philosophy is of a dynamic nature, as is much that is in the logical tradition, even if the one-liner summary would tend to be static. And a lot of the – certainly simplified – continental stuff is really static, about Oneness and The Other; even if it is true that a majority of the interesting stuff on this side focuses on the dynamic. The truth is that the static aspect of philosophy is not en vogue the past decades (but the resurrection of it in reactionary politics doesn’t necessarily bode well) whether in one tradition or the other. And whilst this is better than the static part of it being fashionable it is still far worse than it could be. See further and sorry for the parenthesis.]
Here comes quadrialectics. It is a four-step movement that defines a direction but is incompatible with an end point or a target. One could of course say that the four-step movement is itself the target of the good life, but that would just be a matter of saying; we would find on analysis that a movement cannot be a fixed target.
This is how it goes. A first step is understanding something. This requires simplifying reality in discrete structures that make us feel certain about what we say; this is a conservative reflex. The second step is a step of creation. Having been able to understand some things we try to understand more things; with Gadamer (I think) we try to see a new horizon. This is a fundamentally unstable step. The third step is about making the true innovations ‘politically correct’; in this step a vanguard of people will try to use the new powers of what can be expressed and understood. This is progressive, fundamentally. Finally, the fourth step is about democratizing the innovations. In this step the language gets settled & the people get – in the core – convinced that this new way of seeing things is an ‘enlightened’ way of seeing things.
The content of the fourth step is therefore irreducibly different from that of the first step, but the direction of it is in a continuous progress of understanding more and more and being able to express more and more whilst recognizing that such advances in understanding and expression can only be gained by securing previous advances and defending them to some extent. From a system point of view however steps one and four are similar; both are the result of something and are the beginning of something else. They are the result of democratizing a certain level of understanding and they are the starting point of a new period of creativity that will, initially, be criticized by the mass established opinions.
The direction is that of more understanding. The target is that of progressive insight with the static aspect of insight & an unstoppable dynamic of continuous progression (not to something because it it were ‘to something’ the progressive element would be secondary and transitionary only). This thought is the thought of cultural optimism. We are all of us condemned to go to greater understanding; however much the reactionary forces try to hold us back, we can’t but go forward. Maybe all of the evil ‘looking backward’ seems more prevalent but it only seems so because the expansion of what we can make of the universe is crushingly limitless.
[I am in a moment where it is more and more difficult for me to listen to any music.]