Tag Archives: Davidson

On ‘Being Anxious’ and ‘Anxiety’

“Anxiety (Angst) is ubiquitous, but seems capable of a lower and a higher form.” I. Murdoch in her “Sein Und Zeit: Pursuit of Being”.

My question is: can being anxious be a good thing? If etymology would have the final say, the answer would be a straightforward: “No!”.  ‘Anxious’ comes to us from the Latin verb “angere” which means to choke (under a pressing uncertainty). Still, one can be anxious – at least according to Merriam-Webster – for positive news. Such a positive turn seems not to be on for ‘anxiety’. It would seem anxiety is something one can simply and only suffer from. Still, if one is anxious it would seem that the only thing that can describe what one feels is anxiety.

What’s up with these words then? How does their grammar work? Iris Murdoch does not explore this in the text I quoted but it seems a matter of some practical and philosophical consequence; maybe one of those rare occasions where these types of consequence meet. People tell me to try to stop being anxious (and just ‘be’). This always makes me anxious, for (what) would I be if I weren’t anxious for something? I’d certainly not be ‘me’.

I tend to agree then with Kierkegaard (whose lead Heidegger is basically following) that a life worth living is in a certain way always also a life of anxiety. The original question is then recast into: is this such a dismal state of affairs as it is made out to be?

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To the latrine with our doctrines!


My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.” 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Routledge Classics, 1961.

I’m reading Cora Diamond’s “The Realistic Spirit” in which proposition 6.54 is seen as the key to crack the code of continuity in Wittgenstein’s thought. I don’t know about that but I do know this: what she says resonates with why I always liked reading Wittgenstein. It’s not the famous proposition 7 calling bull-shit on philosophy that enticed me, calling bull-shit is easy. It’s the resistance to clear-cut philosophical doctrines and a view of reason as somehow beyond life as we know it which rings true to me.

Is it possible to do philosophy without leaving behind you beliefs that one p or another is true in a deeper way than pointing to the coffee mug and saying that it is on the table? In a way we’re all philosophers who want to believe that what we say matters in a way that is beyond being merely true. Philosophy, I believe (and I believe Wittgenstein believed all his life), is about showing that to be a terrible equivocation. A terrible equivocation more specifically on two crucial real-life common words: the demonstrative ‘that’ and the verb ‘to believe’.

Let me show you that. Maybe if you read on you’ll believe.

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On “truth and Truth”, in William James

“(..) this command that we shall put a stopper on our heart, instincts and courage, and wait (..) till doomsday, or till such time as our intellect and senses working together may have raked in evidence enough – this command, I say, seems to me the queerest idol ever manufactured in the philosophic cave.” W. James, The Will to Believe, p. 32 (1).

1. Introduction

In his essay “The Will to Believe” (1), William James makes the case that reason does not stand supreme, that being human we always also have some passional skin in our games. James relies on “Pascal’s wager” – where passion and reason are so peculiarly mixed as to yield holy waters that can’t be reduced to the characteristics of hydrogen or oxygen. His paper maybe reads more as an attack on our modern scientific consensus, as establishing its own scientistic holy cows, than as a defence of religion. He challenges a purely rational truth-seeking attitude as committed to a prior passionate and absolutist conception that we ought to constantly suspend judgment to avoid the False. My short piece will not challenge that analysis – mainly because for the most part I pragmatically agree with it –  but analyze whether we can, by James’ own lights, be passionately committed to believe in Truth at all. If not, as I will try to defend, then the whole business of comprehensive doctrines as taken for granted by Rawls (3), and certainly sympathetic to James’ view, becomes problematic – even within a religious or moral philosophical outlook. Believing in truth is not the same as believing in Truth and sceptics get away with not believing in the latter if they’re passionate in practice i.e. willing to act on their moral passions and reflect on their actions.

I proceed as follows: in the next section I explore the link between passion and truth in (1), the section thereafter deals with truth and practice, then I conclude. Continue reading

The Longing for Being (longed for)

What’s the point of living forever, if living means your identity does not survive even the briefest of moments? People are trained to see their life and identity as something sacred (sacred enough to trample other people and shit all over their identities) and it is a bogus conditioning. In the West we have replaced God with Truth but our zeal to convert others has stayed essentially the same. The only thing which has changed is that we believe that our life – that we – have become sacred cows giving the divine milk of wisdom. All the life preserving bullshit we inhale constantly invariably leads to seeing life as a struggle – one in which we have to prevail by making our point.

Choosing life has become synonymous with becoming deaf to others. It is ludicrous as we find ourselves complaining nobody wants to listen to us. It makes us feel dead inside. The thing is – and this is why I write – that it’s not life that makes life worth living but longing: the longing for being longed for. If for whatever reason you cannot be longed for then it’s time to throw in the towel and just fade away. People will tend to hear this as negative, in denying the value of life but I consider it a fact that the value in living comes from trying to understand others. Life’s a positive thing, death can’t touch it.

A lot has been said about continental and analytic philosophy. Sometimes it seems like it has been invented just to shoot at each other. Still, good philosophy can’t but come to the same conclusion: that there are no facts except inter-personal ones. Facts are moral. First there was an ought, it is the is that will remain forever imperfect.

Below the fold there is an imperfect exercise in trying to argue just that. Continue reading

Aixo era y no era

“Let us keep this notion of split reference in mind, as well as the wonderful ‘It was and it was not,’ which contains in nuce all that can be said about metaphorical truth.” P. Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, Routledge Classics, 2003, p. 265.

Being a logical kind of guy, I don’t particularly like fairy tales. Still, I think the law of non-contradiction is worse than a fairy tale. It is a hoax. Proven useful to open cans, it wound up opening one full of worms. Its next of kin are identity and the excluded middle. It’s the triumvirate of a logical tyranny that suffocates us to a point of becoming a prejudice against every prejudice.

I believe can-openers are useful tools, certainly if the can they open is critical thought. It is however not the case that critical thought has merit in and of itself. Critical thought is to the good life as food is to a healthy body, not less but at the same time not more. What it allows if taken in good measure is to find the middle; overconsumption though leads to becoming bloated and – full of it – using it as a stick to beat the life out of every argument.

The nice thing about stories is that, as Ricoeur rightly has it, they keep us in suspense and thereby create something new. They’re alive and as such infinitely closer to the good life than any artificial construct could ever be. I will believe in Artificial Intelligence if it can weave or listen to a good story, create a telling metaphor or be insulted by being likened to artifice. Call that the Bervoets-test.

Anyway, let’s make this political.

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“(..) who cannot reveal himself cannot love, who cannot love is the unhappiest of all. But you do this out of sheer obnoxiousness, you train yourself in the art to become a riddle for others.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, my translation from Dutch.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have a common cause in destroying the confusion that places us as an instrument of ultimate truth. They are seen as anti-metaphysical and adopted by many of this very (psycho)physical age – oh, the irony of it! – as evidence that these times, our times, are superior in having overcome that specific Hegelian disease of thinking.

That’s not true. We straightened some wrinkles to find injecting botox has just made us look more preposterous than ever. We now believe physics can solve anything and that it is just a matter of time to resolve the riddle of life. Deep down we believe there is eternal truth; we happen now to believe as well it is just a matter of time before we find it. Some even think that if they live long enough they’ll live forever and don’t stop to think what a ghastly thought that is.

The question in this evidence based world is: what counts as evidence?

Is it the increasingly complex models picking out specific observations designed to falsify it but somehow always winding up verifying something? Or is it the everyday meeting of minds where you make yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding?

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Is ‘real’ really real or just no big deal?

“In giving up the dualism of scheme and world, we don’t give up the world, but re-establish unmediated touch with the familiar objects whose antics make our sentences and opinions true or false.”  Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth & Interpretation, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 198.

The word ‘real’ is a divider. Just like with God, when your real isn’t my real that’s enough to create the type of zeal to come to blows. We constantly show we don’t need the Gods to start a war. That is a fact. It might seem everyday and familiar to sophisticated modern people like us constantly figuring out what is real and what a mere figment of our fancy. Nevertheless it is a fact: whenever people think they’re right, ‘really’ right, death’s on our doorstep.

So let us examine this little word ‘real’ for what it does to our reality. Let’s see whether it belongs with the familiar family of other infamous four-letter words. To start the inquiry, try to remember the last time you heard somebody saying person X was not a ‘real’ Y. For instance X was in fact a muslim but she wasn’t a ‘real’ muslim in that she did not wear a hijab. Or, X was in fact liberal but he wasn’t a ‘real’ liberal in that he didn’t verbally come out in support of gay marriage. Or, X was in fact born here but he wasn’t a ‘real’ national because he failed to defend his identity. Or, X was indeed a refugee but she wasn’t a ‘real’ refugee in that she did adopt our identity. Or, like in my case, I am an atheist but I am not a ‘real’ atheist because I do not think religion is the worst thing that ever happened to the whole wide world. Like I’m not a ‘real’ autistic because, well, I don’t look like one.

It won’t be too hard to come up with your own examples where something like this was thrown at you or somebody you liked. So follow me in tracking how the word ‘real’ flies like a boomerang hitting the utterer of it smack in its own face. At least when we’re lucky enough it doesn’t hit a very real person in a very real way before it has fully bent back.

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