Introduction: Philosophy and Meta-Philosophy

The Thinker

The Thinker

My name is Alex Strekal, otherwise known online as Brainpolice. I will be using this blog to share and discuss philosophical ideas. My experience with philosophy mostly comes from a combination of reading books and articles in my own free time and engaging in discussion and debate with people online, although I also have taken some philosophy classes at college and I am considering majoring in philosophy. I consider myself to be a student of philosophy and a “philosopher” only in the casual sense of someone who thinks about and discusses questions that are often associated with philosophy. In many ways I take the attitude that I am still learning and will never stop learning or having a reason to learn more, even if I think I’m right about many things.

A good deal of my time has been spent concentrating on political philosophy, largely within the context of what is relevant to the ideas of libertarianism and anarchism, but such a discourse inevitably lead me to other areas of philosophy (such as meta-ethics and epistemology) due to the begged questions that political discourse revolves around. Hence, the purpose of this blog is to focus on philosophy in a more general sense, although what I write may sometimes have implications for politics. This means that I intend to touch on just about every area of philosophy to one extent or another: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics, and so on.

In my view, philosophy is not something that is restricted to academia. I do not think that one has to be formally educated or participate in academic institutions to be a philosopher or to adequately have knowledge about philosophy. In light of this, it could be said that I have a certain anti-elitist streak, although I do not take it to the level of being outright conspiratorial or anti-intellectual. It’s not as if I think that everyone in academia is an evil marxist or some kind of post-modernist out to corrupt the youth. Nonetheless, I do have some problems with the way that philosophy tends to be taught in academia and I resent elitist attitudes about education that seem to rule out self-education and informal methods as a potentially valid means to knowledge, or the implication that one must learn in accordance with a particular canon in order to properly be involved with philosophy.

While I inevitably have positions that I think are correct at least provisionally and have strong intuitions about certain matters, I do not consider myself to be someone who strictly adheres to or functions as a partisan for the ideas of a particular thinker or school of thought. It seems clear to me that flaws can be found in every philosopher, even the best of them. To be a complete (insert some thinker’s name here)-“ist” is to sacrifice the independence of one’s thought, and I think one will find that some of the best ideas are those that combine elements of different thinkers to create something that their systems could not accomplish on their own. Closed systems and philosopher-idolatry are to be avoided. I don’t believe in philosopher kings.

With this being said, I don’t think that randomly combining what appear to be blatantly contradictory ideas or creating a bizarre word salad in the name of being original is a good thing either. I am not a hyper-relativist about philosophy itself, which is to say that I don’t think that all philosophies and philosophers are equal. I do not favor reconciliation for its own sake. I most certainly do not support trying to combine just about anything to the point of obliterating any distinct meaning to various terms and points of view. If someone does present something that seems counter-intuitive to fundamental distinctions, I require them to justify it. If they are just playing with semantics to redefine common terms, then I think that they should be honest about that. While there are sometimes unfair charges of obscurantism based on someone’s genuine lack of understanding, there is such thing as obscurantism and it is something that deserves to be called into question.

The reader has already been given a little glimpse into my own philosophy simply through me talking about philosophy itself. I’ve already engaged in what’s been called “meta-philosophy”, which is discourse about philosophy (or philosophizing about philosophy, which may seem to be a paradox). Indeed, this poses an interesting question about exactly what philosophy is or where it begins and ends. Is it possible to talk about philosophy from outside of it, or is one implicitly already engaging in philosophy in the very attempt? On the basis of what criteria can we be said to be escaping philosophy? Does philosophy set the parameters of our discourse or does our discourse set the parameters of philosophy? Can philosophy die or commit suicide?

Some may say that these questions are just a product of thinking too much, while others may say that they are the central questions one has to face. I’m not going to sway one way or the other at the moment, but simply present the question to you. What is the value of philosophy and how does it distinguish itself from and relate to its other? Perhaps philosophy courses would benefit by starting out with a meditation on this (and this doesn’t mean simply defining philosophy as “love of wisdom” or treating the question for only 10 minutes), rather than diving right into metaphysics or at the beginning of a canonical history of philosophy. Perhaps it is wrong to think of metaphysics as “first philosophy”, when it is, paradoxically, meta-philosophy that is “first philosophy”. On the other hand, maybe this line of thinking just sets oneself up for a vicious circle that is inescapable.

In either case, I pose this question to you out of curiosity. I also ask this question because, once put in context, it is actually something that various philosophers have conflicted over for a while, especially after the 19th century. In particular, the relationship between philosophy and science and between philosophy and literature has been a rather haunting question. Does modern science make philosophy obsolete, a left-over remnant of misguided notions from the past, or does modern science depend on and come from philosophy, standing or falling along with it? Should philosophical works be analyzed as literature or through the methods of hermeneutics? Can any particular philosophy present us with a final conclusion about reality that calls for no further modification, or a historical end-point? What happens when philosophy is fully historicised?

These sort of questions involve some significant issues that I intend to discuss. Ultimately, as a result of discourse that is considered to be within philosophy, philosophy ends up becoming its own subject matter at some point. While philosophy could be thought of as a sort of meta-discipline that underlies all others, in the sense that it wrestles with the most fundamental and abstract questions, it can bump into some rather odd chicken/egg problems in which its own status becomes a question. A conflict emerges between what appears to be what it is contingent on and what is contingent on it, which results in some serious questions about how to demarkate disciplines. Pursueing this question will inevitably lead us towards the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language in particular.

Among other things, I intend to attempt to address these questions over the course of this blog and I hope to recieve some contributions to such a dialogue from others. So with that in mind, I now close this introduction.


~ by brainpolice on April 15, 2010.

3 Responses to “Introduction: Philosophy and Meta-Philosophy”

  1. Wonderful blog, Alex. Do keep it up. Best, Sascha

  2. Thanks, Sascha. I haven’t been posting much here for a number of months, but I intend to keep it up.

  3. Здравствуйте Алекс. Я из России. Ничего не смыслю в филосовских вопросах. Моя фамилия,как и ваша, Стрекаль ,не часто встречающаяся. Мои предки по отцу перебрались с Украины в сибирь а брат моего деда эмигрировал в Северную Америку. Становлюсь старше и все более хочется узнать про их жиэнь там, в очень далекой стране. Если знаете про своих предков и их история похожа на ту ,что я рассказала -напишите .Если нет – простите за беспокойство.

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