Reconciliation and Dissolution

Philosophical Dialogue

Philosophical Dialogue

I’ve often found myself viewing many of the dichotomies or absolute dualisms that tend to be taken for granted in philosophical discourse to be questionable. It certainly isn’t the case that I think of all dichotomies as false, but there may be good reasons for being skeptical of typical categorizations and avoiding dogmatically digging into a particular side of a dualism. There are many conflicts between two apparently opposite positions on various topics, which on closer examination may end up either being reconciled in a more nuanced position or dissolved in light of a position that is outside of the shared paradigm in which the dualism resides.

The method of reconciling antinomies or dualisms in a synthesis is associated with dialectics. To be clear, this does not necessarily mean that one is a Hegelian, since the general use of such a method was not invented by Hegel and does not require one to necessarily accept a Hegelian philosophy. It is possible for someone to make a limited use of dialectics while denying that it is properly applicable to everything. In this sense, dialectics refers more generally to the resolution of false dichotomies and logical contradictions that cease to be contradictions when one takes additional factors into account or looks at the bigger picture.

It could be said that this is a manifestation of a certain sense of monism or holism, in the most general senses of these terms which has to do with much more than the traditional mind/body problem in philosophy. Dualism, in the sense in which I’m using the term, refers to any metaphysical dichotomy, while a holistic take on such issues refers to the resolution of philosophical dualisms between particulars in the whole. The kind of issues in question often do seem to relate to the old question of particulars vs. wholes that goes back to the Greeks. To the extent that a dialectical method aborbs conflicts between particulars in a whole, it resonates with holistic perspectives.

But there are other ways in which dualisms may fall apart. In some cases, it seems like it’s not that there is a reconciliation of a conflict in which both sides are different aspects of a higher truth, but that both sides of the conflict are just plain wrong. The philosophical problem simply dissolves. It may be that precisely what the two sides of the conflict share in common is a faulty assumption or a confusion, or that the very idea that there is a problem to tackle in such a context is nothing more than the product of over thinking or amounts to an empty excercise that is completely detached from anything with real pragmatic significance. In such a case, philosophy could be viewed as ivory tower scholasticism in contrast with everyday human life and its concerns.

To varying degrees, this kind of dissolution of dualisms and traditional philosophical problems can be associated with pragmatism and ordinary language philosophy. It also resonates with some interpretations of Heidegger. But one need not necessarily be an adherent of such particular philosophies to take such an attitude at least in certain contexts. To an extent, this could be considered the cynical layman’s view of philosophy, although I don’t think it would be fair to condemn philosophy as a whole on such grounds. Even within philosophy, there have been certain ways in which philosophers have concluded that certain problems are the spawn of overly abstract constructions.

I tend to think that both the dialectical method of synthesis and the more pragmatic method of dissolution both have valid uses depending on the context. But I would be skeptical towards employing them reductionistically or as complete systems to apply to every question. An overly applied dialectical method would seem to rationalize real contradictions and lead to utopian notions of some sort of absolute, while a pragmatic dissolution of all philosophical issues would seem to rationalize willful ignorance or a blanket dismissal of questions that do matter. Yet they do seem to make sense depending on what we are talking about. So I ultimately contextually support both.

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~ by brainpolice on April 28, 2010.

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