Category Archives: thinking out loud

QA 56. Four touchstones for thinking about peace

mandelaFor Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and because I’m reading Thula Simpson’s Umkhonto We Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle, thinking about and respecting the lives of everyone who stood against apartheid, those whose names are known or unknown, remembered or forgotten. Thinking that the aim of the struggle was peace, and how we’re not there yet. Thinking that peace without justice isn’t good enough, but neither would be justice without peace. Continue reading

QA 52. The real world keeps us honest

standard equationStill thinking about the need for a new mode of thinking… What is the proper relation between philosophy and science now?

Last year, citing Stephen (Philosophy-is-Dead) Hawking and Martin Heidegger, I wrote about “the end of philosophy” in the triumph of science. Given the massive productivity of scientific theory and technology and a world in turmoil, social-order thinking put its faith in scientific standards of evidence, objectivity and rationality. But it’s no good. Science can’t tell us about the meaning of life, precisely because meaning belongs to another order of thought: call it “ethics” or “wisdom”. Pascal knew that the heart has its reasons, but we don’t give the heart much credit. And so it seems that the new task for thinking is to return to the beginnings of philosophy, to inquire into the nature of subjectivity and how to live well with others.

With this division of labour, I effectively left science to its own devices and carried on with my own business. (After all, it is hard to relate to someone who gloats about leaving you in the dust.) Happily, it seems that my judgement was premature. A reconciliation, under new terms, may be on the cards. Continue reading

QA 51. Optical illusions, the political economy of

My_Wife_and_My_Mother-In-Law_(Hill).svgOne image that can be seen in two distinct ways, but never both at once. Faces or a vase? Duck or rabbit? Crone or maiden? Someone shows you: See, the old woman’s chin is the young woman’s throat! All of a sudden, you do see. You start to switch the two back and forth, grinning like a kid. You can’t believe your eyes!

In times like ours, which call on us to think differently, the skills of vacillation are good to cultivate. Look at it this way. We are all, more or less, caught in the thrall of a particular mode of thinking and its moral order. Call it Western hegemony or what you will, this dominant perspective prizes objectivity, reason and utility, and excels in categorisation, prediction and control. It conceives of humans as self-interested and separate beings that are concerned with their own being, and as winners and losers in competition for scarce resources. It is a view that marginalises and dismisses human tenderness, vulnerability and relatedness. But it knows a duck when it sees one! Continue reading

(QA 48 revisited.) conception, in other words

Heidegger says you must be born again. No, that was Jesus. Even Heidegger, then. As philosophy will be born again from a thinking mother.

socrates1Philosophy’s first birth was attended by the son of a midwife. He himself practiced husbandry. A ranchero. Pedagod who knew which theoria should be brought to bear and which aborted. A miscarriage, God’s truth! Next time, we start with the troth: a pledge and a patience, a willingness to bear the whole world in our belly. Not a titan of strength this time, not forced to bear the heavens upon our back.

The old way will continue to complete itself. Our time is early, so early – not even dawn but the chill that rises from the dead of night. Our time is the wee hours. I wrap myself in a shawl and blanket, crone, chronicler, kairomone.

Philosophy before philosophy begins again, philosophy before its time, before it’s due, its due, before the dust has settled. While it is still unconceivable. That’s how early we are. Midwives to ova.

What is the task of our time? Emancipation, metanoia. To turn. In this field of philosophy, to refrain. To recover what was neglected. To think what it was unable to think, what has remained unthought. To think before philosophy, return to thought.

Which is what I mean by philosophical practice. With others, to understand the meaning of our struggles and desire, to attend to what is unbalanced, what has been obstructed or occluded. As if to tend the earth, to soften with water, loosen soil, break dry clods to dust in our hands. To open the way, vul’indlela. Philosophical practice as cultivation.

QA 48. Think, again (The end of philosophy)

ImageIn 2010, Stephen Hawking pronounced philosophy dead: “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” But he had not kept up with Martin Heidegger, who already said this in 1964, in “The end of philosophy and the task of thinking”. Philosophy’s dissolution into science, Heidegger says, is a legitimate end. What was begun with questions of being and reality, physics and metaphysics, ends up here. Western philosophy has reached its destination.

“Science” signals a rational, objective methodology of “systematic observation, measurement and experiment, and the formulation, testing and modification of hypotheses”. Heidegger saw this attitude illuminating every area of human life. The fields of psychology, sociology, the arts, economics: everything will be “determined and steered by the new fundamental science which is called cybernetics”. (Cybernetics” as “the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things”.) “Philosophy turns into the empirical science of man”, writes Heidegger, thus achieving “the triumph of the manipulable arrangement of a scientific-technological world and of the social order proper to this world. The end of philosophy means the beginning of the world civilisation based upon Western European thinking.”

He’s right, of course, never minding the havoc that Western European thinking had already let loose in the world. With all its evident technological and scientific achievement, this new world civilisation has also delivered cascading economic, environmental, political and social crises. All of our institutions of state, political and religious order are now plagued by corruption. Continue reading

QA 47. Motion of confidence (Part 2)

MariaIHaveConfidenceLast week’s philosophy café offered another conversation about confidence. As noted before, confidence has two levels. One is conditional: the conscious trust in one’s abilities or worth, developed through experience and familiarity (“or entitlement”, as someone pointed out, referring to the social confidence of private-school girls). The other is what John Dewey described as “unconscious faith in the possibilities of the situation”, or “the straightforwardness with which one goes at what he has to do”.

One man, I’ll call him Anthony, spoke about a friend he’d had in his twenties who led the two of them on rigorous mountain hikes. One day Continue reading

QA 46. Motion of confidence (Part 1)

I’ve been thinking about confidence and security: how they are related, how they operate within intimate relationships, how we get it wrong and how we could do better. “Getting it wrong” is when one person’s insecurity undermines the other’s confidence, or one’s confidence reinforces the other’s insecurity, or any other twist of neediness, dependence and power. Continue reading