messages about the purpose of philosophizing…

Here is a message and my response that I’ve exchanged over on YouTube as 0ThouArtThat0.


From YouTube user drchaffee:


Thanks for understanding that I wasn’t trying to demean you with my length-constrained message to your video.

I’ve had a question rolling around in my head for a couple of days, and I just realized that you’d be a good candidate for someone with an answer. You see, I’ve been interested in philosophy and science for as long as I can remember. I find ontology to be very interesting, and I’m drawn to a naturalism in every field of endeavor. But, philosophers haven’t seemed to decide upon anything. There are people wandering around with Platonic forms in their heads, and there are people who think that, if those exist at all, they are derivative. Etc. Has philosophy had any big success? Is there some wholly philosophical arrangement that has won the allegiance of, say 95%, of the thinkers and has had demonstrable relevance? Because I look at science, and I see evidence for its utility, and I am just not seeing it within philosophy. Seemingly every book I get starts with “Plato said X, Aristotle said Y, Hume this, Kant that, Hegel something else, etc” I will enjoy philosophy either way, but if one were to ponder the nature of physical reality, it seems that physics might be a better route to take. (Or, in different areas of interest, the field(s) of science that address it.) So, what do you think – what can philosophers point to as a big intellectual accomplishment? The best answer I can come up with is “Know thyself”, the Golden Rule, and “Be Skeptical”.


While I’m at it, let me say that I’d really like to talk with you one of these days. I’ve come away with such a different worldview, that I think it would be an interesting conversation. I think our rationality is largely an activity in hindsight – making sense to ourselves out of what has already happened. I think our morality is subjective, and typically better called moralistic behavior. And, as I said earlier, I’m good at finding things which are mysterious, but have had no experience of spirituality, mysticism, the numinous, the divine, etc. When it comes to ontology, my preference is for a single category – no fundamental (properly basic) dualism.



My response:


I wouldn’t have posted thousands of videos of speculative philosophizing online if I was worried about being demeaned by commenters. At least half of the comments I get on some videos are insults. You’re comment is among the most polite I can remember. YouTube is not a very friendly place for intuitive speculation. People seem far more entertained by intellectual and religious dogmatists.

As for philosophy’s lack of utility, my first thought is to agree, that it is absolutely useless in the technological and economic senses. Of course, Leibnitz did invent the computer and Pythagorus inaugurated the mathematical mysticism that currently holds sway among theoretical physicists. But each of them was more concerned with the ideas themselves than with implementing them in the world, or with changing history by realizing their implications.

Every philosopher in history was an individual human being, or at least strove to be. I think the philosophic task is always first and foremost autobiographical. Philosophy is exactly what you answered: it is a response to the call in our conscience to “know thyself.” You won’t find any general answers in philosophy that everyone agrees to, because philosophy is primarily concerned with YOU, with the unique opening in the causal world-process represented by your consciousness.

By the way, Plato’s ideas were not in his head. At least if you take him for his word and begin to participate in the universe that he knew. Plato’s ideas were MORE real than the bones forming your skull. Plato saw ideas at work in the cosmos itself (some of today’s physicists, like S. Hawking, call them “laws of nature,” which is more Roman than Greek… Plato’s nature was a transitory image). He saw nature as the activity of an only barely hidden intelligence. He was not a vitalist, nor was Aristotle. He simply recognized in the songs of the spheres and the moods of the seasons a certain harmony in nature that pointed toward divinity, toward the Good which makes all things. The pattern is plainly evident in the things themselves, if only one has the heart and the mind to see it.

Faith is often construed as a movement of the heart, rather than the mind, which supposedly would make it a religious, rather than a philosophical issue. But I am unable to philosophize without my heart, because my thoughts don’t seem to have any direction without a moral impulse at their root. I am not sure what you mean when you say our morality is subjective. I think I agree, but then I’d say damn near everything is subjective. What is objective, exactly? Natural science? How is that? Science is a cultural activity that gives the human organism a seemingly endless supply (depending on economic investment) of technological paradigms out of which we (that is, the lay public/consumer) bring forth perceptuobehavioral worlds. It doesn’t give us knowledge of a mind-independent reality. It enacts realities for us, usually (or at least historically) of the technoindustrial variety. What role does the human heart play in natural science? What role does it play in philosophy? Can the human heart evaluate the nature of reality in a disinterested, purely intellectual way? Is the truth entirely lacking any moral significance?

Naturalism, or materialism, or physicalism, or whatever sort of entirely de-spirited and disenchanted cosmology all leave me unable to answer most of the important questions I have about life.

I also do not think duality is fundamental. But what is the One True Substance? Matter? What is matter, anyway? Where did it come from? How did it organize itself?

I don’t know what God is, exactly. But I think if we are going to be Monists, whether we call the stuff divine or call it dirt, it has become personalized. We living breathing talking thinking human beings are the One Substance coming to know and love itself as itself.

I do not believe you when you say you have no experience of spirituality or the numinous. It is present with you all the time. Who are you? You are a spirit.

Be skeptical.

and be blessed,


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2 thoughts on “messages about the purpose of philosophizing…

  1. When young I detested academic philosophy, just nitpicking so I thought. Following my first career as a science & technology analyst, I decided to follow-up in my retirement as a philosopher, free, independent, playing in metaphysics–for me, the New Cosmology and the Nature of Being. Yes, speculative–but lots of fun. The approach constantly prompts questions, rarely proof, yet there’s a sense of moving forward towards understanding. I like what the late physicist John Wheeler said, no questions, no answers! So why not ask our concerned “spiritual” questions in this new milieu that science and technology is steadily uncovering. No instant answers, but it seems our inquiries are progressive. BUT, it’s far
    easier when you do *not* have to make a living as a philosopher. :-)

  2. In regard to the purpose and utility of philosophizing, we would do well to consider philosophy’s contribution to ethics and politics. We would miss the intense engagement philosophical thoughts have with one another, and the fruit such an engagement bears, if we reduce philosophy to merely a random conglomeration of disparate ideas (Kant says A, Hume says B), as if schools of thought were seperate, enclosed entities that never touched upon one another. Philosophy comes into being with people trying to understand and solve the basic problems of life through discussion and debate. Thoughts are engendered, constitued, and revised by one another, and are framed by the dialectics that propel them towards the common good (justice, freedom…etc). Philosophy is active engagement with our being in the world, and our relations with others. In the realization of common ideals, different schools of philosophy can be at once complementary and contradictory, intensifying the concern with their commonality, expanding the scope of things with the differences in their focus and approach. Although an ultimate agreement may never be reached, that which helps make “a good life” is time and again achieved in the process.

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