In recent days it has become unfortunately apparent that I’m unlikely to acquire funding to study for a PhD in philosophy. This realisation has been pretty disappointing, although not entirely unexpected. There’s just not enough people handing out money to prospective philosophers. I can’t say I blame them like, I’d be reluctant to give someone 20k a year to go and sit in a library and read books all day. That said, I also truly believe that philosophy has the potential to contribute something to everybody’s lives. It certainly transformed me. It transformed me from a stoner, wanna-be football hooligan back in 2011, into the Master’s educated, articulate, intellectual bombshell that I am today. Ahem. Basically, philosophy can make your life better. The problem is that traditional works of philosophy can be very difficult to understand. What I hope to do with this blog is in some sense bring philosophy back to the people by making it less arcane and more human. Hopefully some of you out there will dig this. Maybe.
My recent liberation from academia, whilst disappointing, does come with some major benefits. For one thing, I can now read what I want, when I want. I can also write what I want, when I want. More importantly, I can now write in whatever style I want. Freed from rigid, arid academic conventions, I can now write in a more artistic style. The relation between philosophy and art (and the relation between truth and beauty) has long been an interest of mine. I have believed for a long time that these concepts are very closely related and deeply integrated. This has led to a long-standing dissatisfaction with much academic philosophy, which has become preoccupied with painting bland and grey truths. The element of beauty has been forgotten. It is the reintegration of beauty into philosophy that I want to toy with in this blog. I want a philosophy that can dance, a philosophy that can sing. An aesthetic philosophy; philosophy as art and art as philosophy. A philosophy which is produced in order to heighten the spirits, rather than a philosophy that dampens and dulls them.
Traditional philosophers – and, to some degree, proponents of common sense – will currently be feeling a kind of dis-ease. “What is philosophy if not the pursuit of truth?” one might say. To these people I would reply that an aesthetic philosophy need not abandon truth. Indeed, it remains guided by the pursuit of truth but this truth is no longer the be all and end all. Aesthetic philosophy is guided by the will to truth (the pursuit of truth) but also the will to beauty. Truth and beauty become intertwined in aesthetic philosophy; they begin to dance. “But why?” one may ask. “Why abandon that pursuit – the pursuit of truth – that has guided philosophy for so many years?”. Well, friends, this has got something to do with both the nature and the value of truth.
In western society truth is valued higher than art. Our society is shaped around the pursuit of scientific advancement, rather than the creation of artistic masterpieces. This fact is readily apparent when one looks at the relative funding allocations to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects than to those of the arts. But should we really value the pursuit of truth so highly – as, perhaps, the highest value in our society? Initially it appears obvious that we should. It seems strange to even raise the question. Who could doubt that the pursuit of truth – that scientific advancement – is extremely beneficial in terms of things like healthcare and increasing life expectancy. But on closer inspection the pursuit of truth also leads to the creation of atomic bombs and climate change – that is, it creates things that could annihilate life on earth. Besides this, scientific advancements seem to be aimed at making our actions ever-more efficient. But is it efficiency that is really, truly what is important when it comes to being a human being? A quote often misattributed to Buddha (though not for that reason any less profound) claims: “It is better to travel well than to arrive”. A Taoist proverb similarly proclaims: “The journey is the reward”. It is not about travelling efficiently, it is about travelling in style
The bottom line is that truth should not necessarily be valued as the highest human pursuit. At the very least, this value should not remain unquestioned. In the course of questioning it may well turn out that truth is not the highest value, and that perhaps the pursuit of truth should be supplemented by other human pursuits. Perhaps the pursuit of truth should be supplemented by the pursuit of beauty.
Besides this argument we also have reasons to be apprehensive about the nature of truth. In the past two hundred years or so we have come up with plenty of reasons to doubt the existence of objective truths. After all, as all good philosophers will tell you: God is dead. And with this monolithic collapse, we have lost our most secure foundation for objective truth. Admittedly, the claim that we cannot know truth objectively sounds very strange to common sense. It seems obvious that science states objectively true facts about the world. But did it not seem obvious to not only religious zealots but also to common man – less than two-hundred years ago – that it was indubitable that God existed? Within the mental frameworks of men of the past it seemed that religious truths were, indeed, true. Could it not be the case that something similar is happening with our scientific truths today? Think about it from another perspective: we can, indeed, say that it is “true” that a man who has committed a murder is guilty of murder within our current legal frameworks. But this is only “true” within such a legal framework – within certain concrete definitions of “guilt” and “murder”. Outside that framework there is no “objective truth”, no Gods-eye-perspective, regarding the man’s guilt. Likewise, our scientific truths have good reasons to be described as truths within our current frameworks. Nevertheless, these truths are not objective. There is no sense in which they stand as “true”, objectively, outside of our frameworks. Moreover, it appears these frameworks can and do change over the course of history.
Admittedly, this argument requires a lot more work. It is something that I will return to in a later blog post where we’ll flesh out this pretty, post-modern perspective. The wider point I want to get at is that if our truths are not objective – that is, if they are subjective – then in conveying our subjective truths we are doing something much more closely related to art than we thought. We’re creating and conveying a certain perspective on the world – a kind of truth for us, not necessarily a truth for every man. This is especially true of the “truths” of philosophy, which don’t tend to work from “objective”, empirical evidence, but rather convey something deeply situated within the reason of an individual person. As such, I feel philosophy can benefit from embracing a more radical kind of subjectivity. I feel philosophy can benefit from embracing the subjectivity which has always laid at the heart of the pursuit of the true, and imbue this with another of our powerful subjective capacities – the pursuit of the beautiful. As such, philosophy becomes much more radical – a kind of free self-expression, an expression of what it is to be really, truly human. Philosophy becomes a kind of artistic science of the subject. To appropriate Nietzsche’s phrase, philosophy becomes a kind of “joyous wisdom”.
And so this, my friends, is what I would like to do with this blog. I want to do philosophy as art. I want to channel both the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of beauty. As such my musings will tend to focus on the nature of truth, beauty, art and philosophy. I will also probably explore some of Nietzsche’s philosophy, whom my thought is unashamedly influenced by. Well, maybe slightly ashamedly, but only because it’s a cliché for a white male in his twenties to love Nietzsche. Most white males in their twenties are dicks though and don’t really get it. I’ve studied him for a long time now, and you’ll just have to trust me that I’ve developed a pretty nuanced reading of his philosophy. Besides these themes, I’ll probably also explore some issues in the philosophy of psychiatry (as this is a field I’ve also studied a lot) as well as branching out into other issues in philosophy more widely. I’ll also put up some of my poetry, which scares me, but what is poetry without philosophy and philosophy without poetry. They’re one and the same in the end, one’s just more honest about the degree to which it exposes your soul.