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A Philosophical Education

February 3, 2013

Arthur SchopenhauerI am happy to have received a philosophical education. It was never enough for me to believe something because other people told me to. It was never enough for me to believe something because everyone else, or most other people, did. It was never enough for me to believe something because it was accepted practical wisdom and had worked through the generations. I had a need. A thirst. To understand the basis for all of these beliefs for myself.

Philosophy game me the opportunity to fulfill this need. And I am very grateful to have studied it. For a long time I wanted to find knowledge: truths that could not be doubted. I wanted to find a philosopher who provided these truths, and I wanted to develop and expound on these truths myself.

I started out as a materialist, weaned on a scientific schooling in physics and maths. My first philosophical insight was the idealism of George Berkeley. It showed me that behind every idea was another idea. My belief in a material brain was an idea, just like any other. And so there was no end to the realm of ideas, hence it was on an equal footing with the material realm.

Idealism only took me so far. I consumed the works of the empiricists and the rationalists, of Kant  and later of Schopenhauer and Hegel, and later still of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. But I was pursuing something that was unrealisable: An idea of which we could be certain in and of itself. The mythical sense-datum, the holy grail of empiricist philosophy.

So I moved away from the search for empircial knowledge to an inspection of the logical framework for knowledge. I studied Bertrand Russell, the principles of Mathematics. I studied Frege on sense and reference. I considered Quine and Wittgenstein. Then I discovered Saul Kripke, naming and necessity. The summation of my study was to realize that the limitation to achieving absolute knowledge of anything was in our mind itself. There is never just one way to look at something, there is always different angles, and from these different angles things look different.

But this is no reason to despair for it is in these differences and this variation that life flourishes. Taking away the variation does not leave you with timeless knowledge. It leaves you stuck in a time bound perspective, a fixed belief, a prison for your thoughts. It takes you out of the flow of life for the sake of personal comfort in your beliefs. It is a sacrifice not worth making, because to me life will always triumph over knowledge

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From → Philosophy, Writing

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