“But tho’ education be disclaim’d by philosophy, as a fallacious ground of assent to any opinion, it prevails nevertheless in the world, and is the cause why all systems are apt to be rejected at first as new and unusual.”
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 167, Penguin Books, 1969.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 13-08-2009. Sounds promising, it’s at any rate actual.]
I do not exist! Or more accurately (and more boringly non-provocative): the ‘I’ does not exist. This claim would come closest to summing up my system, if such a thing as philosophical ‘systems’ would remain after Hume and Kant. As one was tempted to sum up Hume’s system in Hume’s day as “This world does not exist” in preparation of a smug chuckle with which to discard the details of what was said by him; I’m sure one would be tempted to Laugh Out Loud reading how I sum up my thoroughly individualist thought.
If we have been educated in one thing throughout our life (indeed, throughout the history of women and men) it is that the self is the cornerstone of all things (like the family is the cornerstone of the state). It is the Cartesian premise that survived despite all attacks. A dogma deeper than any other. It is the last stronghold of religion, because what can one do with a self that can disappear in an instant but make it responsible for its actions beyond this life.
Modernity has not created the self but it has enforced the myth of souls and their immateriality; an immaterality that’s fully focused on the material. This is the time of character, personality, ethos, passion, … anything dispassionate is of a suspect nature. Even altruism is only acceptable if done in an all-consuming personal passion and with the unbeatable commitment to renounce the self.
Hume came close (a couple of pages after the page from which the above quote is taken) but could not completely give up the self after giving up the certainty, and the necessities, of the external world. The personal remained primordial and the measure of all things. It’s the most basic dogma of empricism that everything starts from what we perceive, from sensations. It is most pronounced in Carnap (see post on Eigenpsychisches & Fremdpsychisches) who took the subjective as the primary material from which to construct all the rest.
It is a fallacy. You do not exist. If you think you’re sure you exist ‘because you feel things’, think again! How could you express feeling something if there was not prior to that feeling the notion of what it is to feel something. The self (in any commonly meaningful sense) comes after the linguification of the human species ans this linguification is possible only because before it there is a background of complex social interaction. Even this complex social interaction is only possible based on non-verbalized concepts and instincts that are highly standardized by the commonality of a species living in the highly uniform conditions that we call the visible (tactible, audible, edible) world.
It’s nature that was first and Hume was wrong that we can’t conclude anything on it with certainty because of the fallibility of our senses and our understanding. It is true that our senses are fallible but it is nevertheless certain that we can only communicate on what we perceive because before there is the notion of selves and individual perception, there has to be something on which to build such a notion.
Selves are but an unintended effect of that Cause of which it is impossible for us to ever determine a first cause.
Common sense has it right therefore: the objective is primary, and the subjective only derivative, even if an exceedingly interesting derivative with unbounded implications which go beyond anything included in its causes.
As we make plastics from crude oil that can be used for things crude oil as such can never be used; words and thoughts and selves and personalities &c & so on create their own applications that are independent on the original principles that were their substrate. But one restriction will always apply: the word will cease to exist if one denies the basis on which it has been formed (and our personalities will dissolve if there are no words to be shared with some other instances of a ‘word-species’).
That’s morality, the whole of it. [the need to create conditions which maximize a potential for ‘wording’]
It is unfortunately very possible to destroy previous steps that were necessary to get to this level of civilization as, alas, has been demonstrated repeatedly and is surely being demonstrated somewhere as we speak. But there are things that, if destroyed, cannot but destroy this shaky, derived but magnificent notion of the self; diminish the potential for further evolution, or which is the same, diminish the future expressiveness of individuals.
Morality is unavoidable, not as mere codex or dogma but, as our common sense always had it, as an integral part of what we are. Probably that is not enough for the moralizers that want to control other individuals but it’s invariably too much for the same moralizers when they need to restrain themselves, in their control over their neighbours.
Education is what drives us forward as mankind. It is also what holds us back as the creative individuals that we, essentially, are. But that conclusion will have to wait for yet another time.
There is more basis to this than the above quasi-poetry. You will find an early, amateurish attempt at reasoned underpinning of the above here. Unfortunately at that time I didn’t have the benefit of Davidson, Quine, Carnap, and Hume to name just a few. The basis is there but the conclusions are foggy at best – which is one of the reasons outside of pedantry to write this.
As you were! [this comes close]
[Whilst writing this I was listening to The Klezmatics, Rhythm & Jews, bought from iTunes.]