The Delusion of Philosophy

© 2014 Hugh A. Thomas

Humans are organizers and system builders. These traits seem to be universal to humans regardless of culture. We can see this organization even on this page, where various thoughts are separated into paragraphs and sentences.

For example, we have the idea of household furnishings. We organize and build this idea by combining smaller groups such as kitchen utensils, living room furniture, bathroom supplies, etc. We then organize each of these items by breaking them into smaller units. The term, “kitchen utensils” is broken into categories such as silverware, cooking pots and pans, dinnerware, etc. In silverware we make more categories. We have knives, forks, spoons…

We organize the science of medicine into the fields of neurology, cardiology, orthopedics and many others. Our libraries are categorized by systems that place the books about economics together and isolated from the books about dinosaurs. We count things. We place things in rows. We buy and sell by the dozen, by the ounce, pound or the ton. We are driven to make sense of the world, and this cataloging and system building helps us turn the otherwise bewildering into the knowable.

Humans also have many emotions. We give these emotions names such as anger, envy, jealousy, empathy, remorse, longing, fear, shame, hatred and greed. Oftentimes we may not have a name to assign these emotions do to the complexities involved, as we have the ability to combine two or more emotions, for example, the fear of being envious. When this happens, we experience vague feelings rather than that which is explicit and identifiable.

Acting with emotion as the stimuli is normal. We see someone get injured, and our empathy will compel us to rush in and help.

Much of philosophy is an attempt to take this system building aspect of human nature and employ it to systematize and validate actions humans take in response to these emotions.

To explain how humans ought to act on these emotional thoughts, philosophers have attempted to do so by organizing these thoughts into a structure that carries the same sort of finality and repeatability that we get when we organize the physical world. The problem is, we can’t, with any precision, organize human action that is predicated on emotion.

Notice that when we organize things in the physical world, we do so rationally. We put the tooth brush next to the bathroom sink rather than in the living room because we use water when we brush our teeth. We organize the physical world in a non-contradictory way. If we make mistakes, we re-organize. As things become more complex, we create new categories.

However, when we try to systematize vague thoughts and emotions, we often do so by rationalization. Rationalization carries the atmosphere of rationality, but is not rationality itself.

If we live in a society without written words, we may rationalize these emotional thoughts and attribute these feelings to spirits or gods. If we have an advanced written language, some individuals will transcribe these rationalizations and create philosophies.

Much of philosophy is the attempt to organize human feelings and vague thoughts into a system. Rationalization is the means. Rationalization in philosophy is the superficial use of the atmosphere of rationality wherein one believes the same sort of precision of organization that humans employ in the physical world can be accomplished with the organization of actions that are taken in response to emotionally created thoughts. The philosopher, in an attempt to employ reason to organize these vague thoughts, feelings, emotions and intuition, will find himself in a quagmire of contradiction. He will then attempt to find his way out of this swamp by more and more rationalization. This is why philosophy is so conceptually contorted.

Emotionally generated thoughts oftentimes find their way into the language as new words and concepts that mistakenly refer to entities in the real world and they do so because they are abstract and camouflaged. Hence, I use the term, “stealth concept.” When these emotionally created concepts take on the guise of being entities that exist independently of the human mind, we will get very confused.

One of these stealth concepts is “justice.”

Suppose you are walking down a city sidewalk and suddenly you see a mugger knock down an old lady, grab her purse and run away. A large athletic boy sees the problem, chases down the mugger, gives the mugger a severe beating and returns the purse to the old lady. You then look at the mugger and he is in pain with what appears to be a broken arm and he is bleeding from his mouth from the loss of teeth. This is ‘justice’ you think.

So what is “justice?”

To a philosopher, justice might be many things, but certainly it could easily involve a hundred pages (or more) of rationalizations. Justice for the poor, Justice for the weak, Justice for those who are ignored and lonely. The philosopher could dwell for hundreds of pages on how to structure society in a such a way that justice is achieved for all involved. For example, there is a book, Kant’s Theory of Justice. The book is 237 pages and published by Cornell University Press.

If you examine the actual roots of this stealth concept, you will find that your feeling of justice is only an emotion. You saw the mugger receive a beating and the old lady had her purse returned. You felt emotionally satisfied, hence the word justice came to your mind. Think about it. Justice does not exist in the real world outside of your brain. Is not a thing separate from your mind. You might visualize it as something grand, something that is a permanent feature of reality that shows itself from time to time. However, justice is not a feature of reality that is independent of human emotion. You can’t walk outside and pick up a piece of justice. Justice is nothing more than a sense of emotional satisfaction that one gets after experiencing, (in this case) a traumatic event that resulted in harm to one person and pain for the perpetrator. Justice can’t be quantified or rationally measured, because its intensity varies from person to person and from minute to minute. You might feel a great surge of satisfaction immediately after seeing the old lady made whole, but that feeling might rapidly fade if the athletic young man, after returning the old lady’s purse, turned on you and stole your wallet.

If you falsely believe justice exists independently from human minds and human emotion, if you believe Justice is some grand mechanism by which the universe operates, you might feel compelled to write a philosophical treatise on justice, and you might attempt to employ reason to do so. However, you would immediately find problems with your theory and you would need to make adjustments. Adjustments would need to be added to the adjustments. More and more rationalizations would be needed to plug the holes.

There are other stealth concepts that we humans entertain. We have liberty, rights, duty, equality and many more.

If you are a bullshit artist (or highly delusional, or mentally ill) with a big vocabulary, you might resort to highly convoluted language to make your points about these stealth concepts and sneak your ideas past those who are prone to swallowing nonsense.

Here is an example of a philosopher expounding rubbish in an attempt to rationalize untenable positions propagated by rationalized emotions. From the philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his book, The Critique of Pure Reason

“That which determines the internal sense is the understanding, and its original power of conjoining the manifold of intuition, that is, of bringing this under an apperception (upon which rests the possibility of the understanding itself). Now, as the human understanding is not in itself a faculty of intuition, and is unable to exercise such a power, in order to conjoin, as it were, the manifold of its own intuition, the synthesis of understanding is, considered per se, nothing but the unity of action, of which, as such, it is self-conscious, even apart from sensibility, by which, moreover, it is able to determine our internal sense in respect of the manifold which may be presented to it according to the form of sensuous intuition. Thus, under the name of a transcendental synthesis of imagination, the understanding exercises an activity upon the passive subject, whose faculty it is; and so we are right in saying that the internal sense is affected thereby. Apperception and its synthetical unity are by no means one and the same with the internal sense. The former, as the source of all our synthetical conjunction, applies, under the name of the categories, to the manifold of intuition in general, prior to all sensuous intuition of objects. The internal sense, on the contrary, contains merely the form of intuition, but without any synthetical conjunction of the manifold therein, and consequently does not contain any determined intuition, which is possible only through consciousness of the determination of the manifold by the transcendental act of the imagination (synthetical influence of the understanding on the internal sense), which I have named figurative synthesis.”

All of us would be wise to heed the advise of a truly rational man: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein

Stealth concepts are word viruses that can infect and pollute your rationality. Once you let these stealth concepts rule your thinking, your ability to experience the real world will be greatly diminished.