Philosophy Part 2: Bracketing Truth

φιλοσοφία (philosophia): from the Greek “philos” for love and the “sophia” meaning wisdom

As this brief Greek lesson implies, philosophy in its etymological sense is nothing less than the activity of loving wisdom.  The Greek word “sophia” has in its semantic range English words like “knowledge” and “skill” and is derived from “sophos” which is most often translated as simply “wise.”  Socrates defined philosophy in a subtly different way when he said that the philosopher is in love with truth, that is, not with the changing world of sensation, which is the object of opinion, but with the unchanging reality which is the object of knowledge.  Now, without importing the idea of Platonic Forms and a disjunction between the Ideal and Material, consider the distinction: philos sophia etymologically might be understood as the love of wisdom whose object is the “wiseness” where philos sophia Socratically understood is the love of  wisdom (or knowledge) whose object is truth.

In the companion post to this series “Philosophy: Bracketing [truth] I argued that bracketing is an essential skill and discipline that must be mastered by the young philosopher as quickly as possible if he or she is to do philosophy and among those things that must often be bracketed are agreement, history, and truth.  This post is in no way indicative of my stepping away from that initial premise.  It is, however, meant to highlight a second necessary tendency of the successful philosopher that is never-failing to un-bracket one’s own philosophy from the claims of Truth.

There is a malady among philosophers–a philosophical disease if you will–that amounts to a tendency to argue with the greatest vehemence the least consequential of posits, yet, to have one’s own implied philosophy–that is one’s life–scarcely touched by any of those convictions.  As I have argued, there is a time when a distinction between being convinced and committed is entirely appropriate and necessary.  Namely, when a philosopher is young–not necessarily in years on this earth, but young in the discipline of philosophy or in the sub-specialty of philosophy under investigation.  However–to murder a Pauline bon mot–when I was a child of philosophy, I bracketed like a child.  When I became a man, I put away childish phenomenological reductions.

As of friend of mine puts it, philosophy is truth-seeking and philosophizing without an eye toward the larger questions of truth amounts to a particularly odious form of non-wisdom-producing mental masturbation in which scholars in ivory towers marvel at one another’s cunning interpretations, whimsical wordplay, and logical largesse rained down upon mere mortals below–but ultimately fail at philosophy.  The philosopher who mucks about at the margins taking potshots at this writer and that school of philosophy, but never actually committing to any particular position–except perhaps the incorrectness of any committed position–is a charlatan and a fake.  If they had engaged honestly the texts they claim to have read they could not have failed to be touched by the wisdom they found there.  Truth is–definitionally–an overmastering thing that grasps us and does not allow our turning away.  To perpetually and systematically bracket larger questions of a philosophy’s truth from the mere questions regarding its interaction within itself or with other philosophies is to hold at arm’s length that which must be either embraced or rejected.

Now, if it is not already apparent, I do believe in Truth–the non-subjective, non-relative,  transcendently valid reality in which we live and move and have our being.  However, one need not posit the existence of Truth in order to seek after truth.  At its minimum, philosophia is a willingness to investigate the noumena and phenomena of, in, and behind experience, but also a submission to what one might discover.  If the result of one’s investigations remain perpetually bracketed from the concrete facticity of one’s being an agency within one’s life, then one is not [truth] as a pragmatic tool, they are bracketing the goal of philosophy from its method.

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One comment on “Philosophy Part 2: Bracketing Truth

  1. Perhaps too pithily, “if you’re not living it, you’re not doing it.”

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