• Enrique
    A mini-essay with some reflections about the history of philosophy and its significance. Thoughts on the subject?

    At the beginnings of civilization, humanity’s reasoning intuitions were being applied almost exclusively in their natural role, as a means to make judgements regarding the structure of environments for technological and ecological desideration, crucial to selective breeding, construction, management of food production, and settled life generally. Early civilized humans conceived hypothetical solutions to the problems of a new, more logistically arduous existence, put these practical insights to the test in daily life, then carried out modifications based on the results. This amounted to employment of deduction, an inferencing from conceptual structures to anticipated facts, coupled with induction, an inferencing from observed fact to implications for the viability of conceptual structures, in essence ‘scientific method’, but not yet having been explicitly formulated such that it served as a formal operating procedure for cumulative progress, still at this stage embodied more or less subliminally in technical developments which were closer to opportunistically conditional than systematically directional.

    The first literature of antiquity aimed primarily for rhetorical effects, telling an evocative story and symbolizing the values of one’s culture while minimally concerned with technical or empirical accurateness. But as technology advanced, taking center stage in human relationships and the sustenance of civilization, authors began to construe the traditional content of written artistry - historical origins, the nature of the world as a whole, social dynamics, the meaning of human life - as amenable to scrutiny by reasoning. Even the most analytical literary works did not initially extricate themselves from rhetoric, and combined with enticement to essentialize, which reduces encyclopedic knowledge to underlying intuitions and then erroneously reifies them as external reality’s absolute principles, nascent technicalizing philosophy usually emerged from the quest for comprehensive truth with an image of the world as driven by fundamental rationale, a supreme ordering analogous to human law.

    In ancient Greece, the fountainhead of future European analyticity and science, this rationale was distinguished by philosophy into two domains: ‘telos’ or cosmic rationale manifest in knowledge of the external world, and ‘logos’ or reflective reasoning, the mirror for this cosmic rationale in the human process of coming to understand. Much of Western theorizing up until post-Medieval eras seems to have idealistically presumed the intrinsic rationalizability of existence, leaving very few if any records of systematically investigating arational phenomena such as instinct, the unconscious, value enculturation, or technicalities of empirical unpredictability. Natural philosophy addressed the rational principles of our planet and supposedly geocentric cosmos; human nature was queried in terms of logic, social history, also practical disciplines such as politics and ethics; and metaphysics held on to the dream of uniting all the various fields of knowledge within the scope of essential principles.

    During the European Renaissance, technical thinking which had been exercised in quantification and engineering for millennia began to blend with efforts to understand the ‘natural laws’ of the cosmos, motivating invention of better observational tools such as telescopes. By the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, telescope technology had become potent enough to completely revolutionize the European model of reality, as it was proven by direct visual evidence that humans do not live in a small pocket of the empyrium specially tailored for terrestrial life, but rather a vast spatial universe in relationship to which the race is but an almost inconsequential speck, despite our privileged place in the dominance hierarchy of Earth’s organisms.

    Many of the first mathematical models were addressed to relatively simple, intuitive phenomena such as the revolving of planets in our solar system, and fit the data with very little equivocality, but as groundbreaking protoscience proceeded, the inexactitude of quantitative description grew more salient. This attention to recurring uncertainty readily conjoined with the nominalist heritage of Middle Ages Ockhamism, together engendering a paradigm viewing mathematical representations and eventually empirical explanation in total as approximations, intrinsically subject to imprecision. Early Modern philosophers of the 17th century critically probed the phenomenon of observational error with some care, a skepticism that questioned many precedential essentialist assumptions and commenced the gradual reinterpretation of empirical discovery as more a matter of methodology than revealed truth, a function of humanity’s peculiar reasoning capabilities instead of metaphysical rationale.

    Impossibility of using direct measurement to analyze most geometric figures for purposes of quantitative modeling was a major analytical barrier, but Isaac Newton brought decisive resolution in the 17th century with invention of calculus, a method enabling empiricists to inferentially generate infinitely precise approximations without measuring, by the manipulation of symbolic expressions. This opened up an unbounded world of mathematical form to modeling efforts, setting the stage for modernity’s physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology and biology.

    Philosopher Gottfreib Leibnitz of the same era, also a genius of deduction who independently invented calculus without however devoting it to empirical objectives, likewise realized the relevance of elaborate symbolic systems for constructing representations of our world, as well as in analyzing the logic of language. His very early experimentation with new metalanguages for truth-value, inspired by a long tradition of mathematical proof, foreshadowed late-19th century innovations by the likes of Charles Sanders Peirce and Gottlob Frege, which were expanded into robust systems of symbolic logic, exploited by analytic philosophy, particularly philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. Painstakingly fashioned technical idioms platformed the development of extremely powerful and flexible logical architectures that when wedded to number theory and integrated into the design of technological gadgetry would seed electronics, computers, and ultimately a great leap forward to the Information Age.

    In the 18th century, analysis of reason, the organs of human knowing, made great strides, heavily inspired by the earlier protoscientific shifts in worldview that cast much doubt on the very possibility of an observer-neutral explanatory framework in the mold of preponderant essentialist tradition. Immanuel Kant crowned the Early Modern discoursing that had fleshed out this philosophical skepticism with his Idealism, drawing up an epistemological theory which gave the first comprehensive treatment of how the world interrelates with human minds as we acquire knowledge. This seminal schema reinterpreted truth as begotten by categories of reason, the structure of conceptualization, prefiguring psychology and neuroscience. Its acknowledgement of the deep limitations that cognition places on our ability to define reality in terms of absolute structure dealt the decisive blow to system-building metaphysics, so that future philosophies would be much more intuitionist, obligated to qualify insights about nature and the universe with reference to relativities of perceptual and cultural perspective, the profound discrepancies between apparent and actual causality as well as amongst individuals. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Kant’s anatomy of reason would be enriched by the new fields of phenomenology and its offshoot mereology in a similar delineation of pure conceptual categories associated with logic, identity and more.

    Also around this 18th century period, European population was expanding rapidly, with subcultural diversity a major policy issue, as even most minority demographics had grown to hundreds of thousands if not millions strong. It was necessary to assess the new dynamics of these much larger societies, finding ways to optimally mobilize the masses, prevent catastrophic unrest, and predict long-term ramifications. Philosophers studied human nature, economy, political systems and ethics as reconstituted by these sprawling multitudes, with mainstream thought evolving towards more egalitarian ideologies committed to offering concessions and broadened participation, appeasing the irrepressible public with opportunities to legally advocate for its own interests and reap maximum benefit from institutions, ultimately for the goal of sustaining countries’ technical and intellectual formidability in the perennial rivalries of Europe.

    As knowledge spread under the influence of egalitarianism and the continent started to academicize, analysis of literature increased in sophistication. Philosophy was growing more and more conscious of historical context as evinced by written records, a cognizance of the way culture differs by time, place, the idiosyncrasies of various individuals and collectives. At first this burgeoning relativism by and large refused to relinquish the age-old ultrarationalist bent of high-level thinking, resulting in preponderant Hegelianism, a paradigm regarding historical development as the interaction of sequentially paralleling forms that iteratively self-organize in relatively neat and tidy, ‘thesis’, ‘antithesis’, ‘synthesis’ arrangements, as if analogous to dialectical reasoning. Karl Marx customized this notion to fashion communist theory, integrating dialecticism with the somewhat messy facts of European economic history to propose a well-reasoned hypothesis about the path human social development was likely to take in the future. Dialecticism must have diffused into the intellectual milieu at large, for a field biologist named Charles Darwin who had minimal political or civic involvements applied the idea to naturalism, setting forth a model of how geology and taxonomy change by way of selection pressures that interact as they propagate in parallel, and this theory of evolution provided the foundation for cutting edge life sciences of the future - molecular genetics, environmental ecology, evolutionary psychology and more - while astoundingly uniting all of modern biology to date within a single, extremely powerful conceptual paradigm.

    In the 19th century, European philosophers dedicated their energy to analyzing the arationality of existence, a theme which had mostly been ignored until exploding population and complicacy of imperial rule brought arbitrariness in human life and practice to the foreground. A movement that purveyed philosophy as literature gained a following, championed by Friedrich Nietzsche and others, which largely refrained from filtering relativistic aesthetics of modern life out of philosophical reasoning in order to more organically, holistically portray the nature of human truth, refusing to expunge subjectivity of the willing agent from theoretical thought. This ‘Romanticism’ strongly influenced the general intellectual climate, and its paradoxically surreal ultrarealism stimulated more conventionally analytical fields such as medicine and field biology to show interest in phenomena that had traditionally been shunned, such as madness, irrationality and the organic causes of immorality, touching off a theoretical parsing of the psyche into distinct arational functions by new research disciplines like linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and cognitive science. Its literary dimension continued on despite trajection in the 20th century towards a society centered around high technology and technical professionalism, spawning intellectual movements of structuralism, modernism and postmodernism which worked to deconstruct the historical evolution of human motive, knowledge, belief and valuation as exhibited in written records of the memetic past.

    So if there is an overall direction within the extremely heterogeneous, multimillennial progression of our episteme, it seems this can be summed up as a move from essentializing, naively reductionistic pursuit of absolute truth to a more pragmatically flexible adaptation of evolving methodologies to all kinds of untapped or newly conspicuous areas. Our conceptualizing of the world has gradually become more conscious of perspective, the dependence of knowledge and appearance on a metamorphosizing nature of the observer as well as the contexts within which reality is viewed. Thanks to academia, humans suffer much less from the impression that rhetorically skilled or conceptually abstruse language is indisputable veraciousness, cultural coercion or dangerous insurrection rather than tentative reasoning to be mutually interrogated. The public more collaboratively and creatively shares in building theory instead of gullibly submitting to supposedly authoritative doctrines, noncommittally ignoring ingenious ideas, or stubbornly resisting epistemic change.

    Based on this history, we can muster a developmental phenomenology of expressed truth, tracing the cultural evolution of explicit conceptualizing within European civilization. During prehistory, humans spent much of their time solving technical problems that environments and societies posed, cognitively fixating on the constituent elements of various contexts when some sort of perplexity became apparent, then mastering those local conditions with the application of creative reasoning. Our species also projected its affective sensations, quite intellectually refined in comparison to most of Earth’s organisms, into social relationships and overall realities as personal and cultural valuation. Narrative was one of the primary vehicles for expressing values, an aesthetic of artistry and verity that organized symbolic utterance into metasymbolic linguistic-conceptual meanings, giving voice to some of the most inspired and high functioning mental states. Thousands of years were required before these two avenues for expressing the human spirit would merge, yet by the latter half of the first millennium B.C.E., technicalized thinking and storytelling traditions had melded into an analytical discourse which did not merely assign value to experiences, but sought to subsume them with holistic explanation. Expression was no longer simple-minded though cathartically actualizing will impetuously engaging with the world, but an intellectually incisive conquest of nature, culture and one’s own intellectual frailties, which tried to unravel the Gordian knot of an enigmatic existence by penetrating to its very essence with reasoning, upholding an ideal of supreme, incontestable accurateness as mastery of one’s psychological milieu. Self and communal fulfillments effectuated by pursuit of optimum objective truth motivated steady philosophical progress until ancient Greeks and more had given accountings of reality’s structure and principles that still hold some elucidative weight in our 21st century.

    The “venerable” geocentric model of a static cosmos promulged by Greeks such as Aristotle held a firm, unassailable place in human understanding until the late-Medieval period when a contrasting idea was widely entertained that natural philosophy and associated expository expressing are approximations rather than a reflective mirror of this supposedly static cosmos. Dismantling geocentrism during the Renaissance and replacing it with the heliocentric model proved that the human mind’s image of reality can change in histrionic ways, with technical approximations being not only partial but liable to systemic error. Due to this insight, a philosophical skepticism came to prominence that questions and revises models, even sometimes going so far as to doubt the very possibility of certainty. Systematic methodologies such as those of calculus and eventually statistics provided a way to rank competing models according to relative plausibility and approximational soundness, which made reasoning the obvious locus of knowledge and put external essence in subsidiary position. This culminated in philosophies that propounded the human mind’s revisionary interpreting of nature as the decisive factor in epistemic structure.

    As theories of dialectical history and especially physical evolution entered the picture, it became demonstrable that the fleeting certainty of modeling is not an anomaly, but mutation and metamorphosis are intrinsic to the total structure of reality. All of our models have thus far been temporary in their validity due to the conditions of both our world and ourselves, so that we must be willing at all times to amend these models in order to progress towards better compensations for systemic fallacy as epistemic contexts repeatedly falsify.

    The modern consequence of knowledge’s tentativeness was that the language which expresses it began to seem provisional as well. Academic discourse does not consist in fundamental, unerring truths to be proclaimed as absolute authority, but even the most meticulous and thorough verbalizations, in scholarly writing and elsewhere, have a substantial degree of imprecision like the evolving approximational modeling which they describe. Even the strongest rhetoric is essentially hypothetical, and acceptance of this truism is an epiphany that breaks down the psychology of submissiveness to orthodoxy, allowing human minds to embrace unincarnated possibility, epistemic progress and paradigmal obsolescence with alacrity, gaining a concept of freedom that maximizes the willpower necessary to strategically remodel our world. This is the essence of enlightenment’s intellectual dimension: the symbols we use to conceive existence and communicate our understandings are not representations of absolute, indubitable truths, but rather a tool we wield which can be harnessed to serve actualization of the human self. Grasping the idea of expressed knowledge’s conditional arbitrariness equips the psyche to see how it can shape this arbitrarity into a boundless variety of forms to suit its reasoned interests.

    Does this seem like valid insights? Agree, disagree?
  • JerseyFlight
    Even the strongest rhetoric is essentially hypothetical, and acceptance of this truism is an epiphany that breaks down the psychology of submissiveness to orthodoxy, allowing human minds to embrace unincarnated possibility, epistemic progress and paradigmal obsolescence with alacrity, gaining a concept of freedom that maximizes the willpower necessary to strategically remodel our world.Enrique

    Subjectivity does not equal freedom. Further, where did you get this idea of "willpower" being the agent of renovation? Your conclusion is mistaken. If humans progress it will be because they figured out how to produce quality (healthy humans) at the level of individual development. The good news is, we have done this and are continuing to do it.
  • Enrique
    Subjectivity does not equal freedom. Further, where did you get this idea of "willpower" being the agent of renovation? Your conclusion is mistaken. If humans progress it will be because they figured out how to produce quality (healthy humans) at the level of individual development. The good news is, we have done this and are continuing to do it.JerseyFlight

    Isn't optimizing willpower, the range of opportunity available to human selves, the means to produce healthy individuals capable of quality, actualized thinking and living? Seems to me that figuring out how to improve society requires competency in managing one's agency, not entirely or even primarily personal, granted, but certainly a matter of promoting freedom and independence. A reductionistic philosophical outlook toxically bolstered by rhetorical encouragement to reify seems like a driving force behind division and ossification into noncollaborative ideological camps, and this obstinacy of viewpoint is perhaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks to reasoned progress. Have we overcome this in the contemporary era, with any disagreements of doctrine or paradigm a superficiality and civilized improvement inhibited more by some alternate dynamic?
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