Subjectivity as Truth

conc-sci-post

A Selected Passage


When subjectivity, inwardness, is truth, then objectively truth is the paradox; and the fact that truth is objectively the paradox is just what proves subjectivity to be truth, since the objective situation proves repellent, and this resistance on the part of objectivity, or its expression, is the resilience of inwardness and the gauge of its strength. The paradox is the objective uncertainty that is the expression for the passion of inwardness, which is just what truth is. So much for the Socratic. Eternal, essential truth, i.e., truth that relates essentially to someone existing through essentially concerning what it is to exist (all other knowledge being from the Socratic point of view accidental, its scope and degree a matter of indifference), is the paradox. Yet the eternal, essential truth is by no means itself the paradox; it is so by relating to someone existing. Socratic ignorance is the expression of the objective uncertainty, the inwardness of the one who exists is truth. Just to anticipate here, note the following: Socratic ignorance is an analogue to the category of the absurd, except that in the repellency of the absurd there is even less objective certainty, since there is only the certainty that it is absurd. And just for that reason is the resilience of the inwardness even greater. Socratic inwardness in existing is an analogue of faith, except that the inwardness of faith, corresponding as it does to the resistance not of ignorance but of the absurd, is infinitely more profound.

Socratically, the eternal essential truth is by no means in itself paradoxical; it is so only by relating to someone existing. This is expressed in another Socratic proposition, namely, that all knowing is recollecting. That proposition foreshadows the beginning of speculative thought, which is also the reason why Socrates did not pursue it. Essentially it became Platonic. Here is where the path branches off and Socrates essentially accentuates existing, while Plato, forgetting the latter, loses himself in speculation. The infinite merit of Socrates is precisely to be an existing thinker, not a speculator who forgets what it is to exist. For Socrates, therefore, the proposition that all knowing is recollecting has, at the moment of his leave-taking and as the suspended possibility of speculating, a two-fold significance: (1) that the knower is essentially integer and that there is no other anomaly concerning knowledge confronting him than that he exists, which anomaly, however, is so essential and decisive for him that it means that existing, the inward absorption in and through existing, is truth; (2) that existence in temporality has no decisive importance, since the possibility of taking oneself back into eternity through recollection is always there, even though this possibility is constantly cancelled by the time taken in inner absorption in existing.

The unending merit of the Socratic was precisely to accentuate the fact that the knower is someone existing and that existing is what is essential. Going further through failing to understand this is but a mediocre merit. The Socratic is therefore something we must bear in mind and then see whether the formula might not be altered so as to make a real advance on the Socratic.

Subjectivity, inwardness, accordingly, is truth. Is there now a more inward expression of this? Yes, indeed; when talk of ‘subjectivity, inwardness, is truth’ begins as follows: ‘Subjectivity is untruth.’ But let us not be in a hurry. Speculation also says that subjectivity is untruth, but says this in exactly the opposite direction; namely, that objectivity is truth. Speculation defines subjectivity negatively in the direction of objectivity. This other definition, on the contrary, gets in its own way from the start, which is just what makes the inwardness so much more inward. Socratically, subjectivity is untruth if it refuses to grasp that subjectivity is truth but, for example, wants to become objective. Here, however, in setting about becoming truth by becoming subjective, subjectivity is in the difficult position of being untruth. The work thus goes backwards, that is, back into inwardness. Far from the path leading in the direction of the objective, the beginning itself lies only even deeper in subjectivity.

But the subject cannot be untruth eternally, or be presupposed eternally to have been so; he must have become that in time, or becomes that in time. The Socratic paradox lay in the eternal truth relating to someone existing. But now existence has put its mark a second time on the one who exists. A change so essential has occurred in him that now he cannot possibly take himself back into the eternal through Socratic recollection. To do that is to speculate; the Socratic is to be able to do it but to cancel the possibility by grasping the inward absorption in existence. But now the difficulty is this, that what followed Socrates as a cancelled possibility has become an impossibility. If, in relation to Socrates, speculating was already a dubious merit, now it is only confusion.

The paradox emerges when the eternal truth and existence are put together; but every time existence is marked out, the paradox becomes ever clearer. Socratically, the knower was someone who existed, but now someone who exists has been marked in such a way that existence has undertaken an essential change in him.

Postmodernism in Ancient Greece

plato-aristotle

Plato and Aristotle Plato (left) and Aristotle, detail from School of Athens, fresco by Raphael, 1508–11; in the Stanza della Segnatura, the Vatican. Plato pointing to the heavens and the realm of forms, Aristotle to the earth and the realm of things. Album/Oronoz/SuperStock

The 5th-Century Sophists

The Sophists taught men how to speak and what arguments to use in public debate. A Sophistic education was increasingly sought after both by members of the oldest families and by aspiring newcomers without family backing. The changing pattern of Athenian society made merely traditional attitudes in many cases no longer adequate. Criticizing such attitudes and replacing them by rational arguments held special attraction for the young, and it explains the violent distaste which they aroused in traditionalists. Plato thought that much of the Sophistic attack upon traditional values was unfair and unjustified. But even he learned at least one thing from the Sophists—if the older values were to be defended, it must be by reasoned argument, not by appeals to tradition and unreflecting faith.

Seen from this point of view, the Sophistic movement performed a valuable function within Athenian democracy in the 5th century BCE. It offered an education designed to facilitate and promote success in public life. All of the Sophists appear to have provided a training in rhetoric and in the art of speaking, and the Sophistic movement, responsible for large advances in rhetorical theory, contributed greatly to the development of style in oratory. In modern times the view occasionally has been advanced that this was the Sophists’ only concern. But the range of topics dealt with by the major Sophists makes this unlikely, and even if success in this direction was their ultimate aim, the means they used were surely as much indirect as direct, for the pupils were instructed not merely in the art of speaking, but in grammar; in the nature of virtue (aretē) and the bases of morality; in the history of society and the arts; in poetrymusic, and mathematics; and also in astronomy and the physical sciences. Naturally the balance and emphasis differed from Sophist to Sophist, and some offered wider curricula than others. But this was an individual matter, and attempts by earlier historians of philosophy to divide the Sophistic movement into periods in which the nature of the instruction was altered are now seen to fail for lack of evidence. The 5th-century Sophists inaugurated a method of higher education that in range and method anticipated the modern humanistic approach inaugurated or revived during the European Renaissance.

Nature of Sophistic Thought

A question still discussed is whether the Sophists in general had any real regard for truth or whether they taught their pupils that truth was unimportant compared with success in argument. Plato’s hostile judgment on both counts is still frequently repeated without question. The Platonic writings make frequent reference to what Plato calls “eristic” (eristikos, “fond of wrangling”) and “antilogic”; the two often have been incorrectly treated as identical. Eristic, for Plato, consists in arguments aimed at victory rather than at truth. Antilogic involves the assignment to any argument of a counterargument that negates it, with the implication that both argument and counterargument are equally true. Antilogic in this sense was especially associated with Protagoras; but Plato, no doubt correctly, attributes its use to other Sophists as well. He regards the use of antilogic as essentially eristic, whether it be used to silence an opponent by making his position seem self-contradictory, or whether it be used mechanically to negate any proposition put forward in debate. He concludes that the widespread use of antilogic is evidence that Sophists had no real regard for the truth, which must itself be free from antilogic.

But Plato himself believed, for much or possibly all of his life, that the phenomenal world was essentially antilogical inasmuch as no statement about it could be made possessing a greater degree of truth than the contradictory of that statement. For example, if a person is tall in relation to one object, he will be short in relation to another object. In so characterizing the phenomenal world, Plato certainly did not wish to be called eristic—he regarded the application of antilogic to the description of the phenomenal world as an essential preliminary to the search for the truth residing in the Platonic forms, which are themselves free from antilogic.

Seen in this perspective, the Sophistic use of antilogic must be judged less harshly. To the extent that it was used irresponsibly to secure success in debate it was eristic, and the temptation so to use it must often have arisen. But where it was invoked in the sincere belief that antilogic elements were indeed involved, or where it was used for analyzing a complex situation in order to reveal its complexity, then antilogic was in no way inconsistent with devotion to truth. This raises the question to what extent the Sophists possessed any general view of the world or gave expression to any genuine philosophical views, whether original or derived. Ancient writers, influenced by Plato and Aristotle, seem to have excluded the Sophists, apart from Protagoras, from their schematized accounts of early Greek thinkers. Modern writers have frequently maintained that, whatever else they were, the Sophists were in no sense philosophers. Even those who acknowledge the philosophical interest of certain particular doctrines attributed to individual Sophists often tend to regard these as exceptions and claim that, inasmuch as the Sophists were not a school but only independent teachers and writers, as a class they were not philosophers. Two questions are involved: whether the Sophists held common intellectual doctrines and whether some or all of these could actually be termed philosophical.

Among moderns, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was one of the first to reinsert the Sophists into the history of Greek philosophy. He did so within the framework of his own dialectic, in which every thesis invokes its own opposite, or antithesis; thus, he treated the Sophists as representing the antithesis to the thesis of the group of philosophers known collectively as the pre-Socratics. Pre-Socratics such as ThalesHeracleitus, and Parmenides sought the truth about the external world with a bold enthusiasm that produced a series of explanations, each claiming to be correct. None of these explanations of the physical world paid attention to the observer and each was driven to reject more and more of the phenomenal world itself as unreal. Finally, with the Eleatics, a 5th-century school at Elea in Italy that held that reality is a static one, of which Parmenides and Zeno are representatives, little or nothing of the phenomenal world was left as real. This trend in turn produced a growing distrust of the power of human beings to attain knowledge of the ultimate basis of natural phenomena. Philosophy had reached an impasse, and there was a danger of complete skepticism. Such an extreme position, according to Hegel’s view, provoked the “antithesis” of the Sophistic movement, which rejected the “thesis” of the objectivists and concentrated attention upon humankind rather than upon nature. To Hegel, the Sophists were subjective idealists, holding that reality is only minds and their contents, and so philosophy could move forward by turning its attention to the subjective element in knowing. Reflection upon the contrast between the thought of the Sophists and that of their predecessors produced the “syntheses” of Plato and Aristotle.

Whether any of the Sophists actually were subjective idealists may be doubted. The conclusion depends in part on whether Protagoras held that phenomena had subjective existence only, or whether he thought that all things perceived had objective existence but were perceived differently according to the nature of the percipient and their relation to him—i.e., whether he interpreted phenomena subjectively or relativistically. It is fairly clear, however, that the Sophists did concentrate very largely upon human beings and human society, upon questions of words in their relations to things, upon issues in the theory of knowledge, and upon the importance of the observer and the subjective element in reality and in the correct understanding of reality.

This emphasis helps to explain the philosophical hostility of Plato and Aristotle. Particularly in the eyes of Plato, anyone who looks for the truth in phenomena alone, whether he interprets it subjectively or relativistically, cannot hope to find it there; and his persistence in turning away from the right direction virtually amounts to a rejection of philosophy and of the search for truth. Many a subsequent thinker for whom metaphysics, or the investigation of the deepest nature of reality, was the crowning achievement of philosophy has felt with Plato that the Sophists were so antimetaphysical that they have no claim to rank as philosophers. But since the mid-19th century there has been growing appreciation of a number of problems and doctrines recurring in the discussions of the Sophists in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the Sophists were considered charlatans. Their intellectual honesty was impugned, and their doctrines were blamed for weakening the moral fibre of Greece. The charge was based on two contentions, both correct: first, that many of the Sophists attacked the traditionally accepted moral code; and second, that they explored and even commended alternative approaches to morality that would condone or allow behaviour of a kind inadmissible under the stricter traditional code.

Much less weight is now attached to these charges. First, many of the attacks on the traditional morality were in the name of a new morality that claimed to be of greater validity. Attacks upon particular doctrines often claimed that accepted views should be abandoned as morally defective. Furthermore, even when socially disfavoured action seemed to be commended, this was frequently done to introduce a principle necessary in any satisfactory moral theory. Thus, when Thrasymachus in the first book of Plato’s Republic argues that justice is unwarranted when it merely contributes to another’s good and not to the good of the doer, Plato agrees. Finally, there is no evidence that any of the Sophists were personally immoral or that any of their pupils were induced to immoral actions by Sophistic teaching. The serious discussion of moral problems and the theory of morality tends to improve behaviour, not to corrupt it.

Theoretical Issues

Relativism and skepticism have often been regarded as common features of the Sophistic movement as a whole. But it was early pointed out that only in Protagoras and Gorgias is there any suggestion of a radical skepticism about the possibility of knowledge; and even in their case Sextus Empiricus, in his discussion of skepticism, is probably right when he declares that neither was really a skeptic. Protagoras does seem to have restricted knowledge to sense experience, but he believed emphatically that whatever was perceived by the senses was certainly true. This led him to assert that the tangent does not touch the circle at a point only but along a definite length of the circumference; clearly he was referring to human perception of drawn tangents and circles. Gorgias, who claimed that nothing exists, or if it does exist it cannot be known, or if it exists and is knowable it cannot be communicated to another, has often been accused of denying all reality and all knowledge. Yet he also seems to have appealed in his very discussion of these themes to the certainty of perceived facts about the physical world; e.g., that chariots do not race across the sea. Others dismiss his whole thesis as a satire or joke against philosophers.

Probably neither view is correct. What Gorgias seems to have been attacking was not perceived reality nor one’s power to perceive it but the attempt to assign existence or nonexistence (with the metaphysical implications of such an operation) to what one perceives. There is evidence that other Sophists (e.g., Hippias) were interested in questions of this kind, and it is likely that they were all concerned to some degree with rejecting claims of any nonsensible existence, such as those of the Eleatics. The Sophists, in fact, were attempting to explain the phenomenal world without appealing to any principles outside phenomena. They believed that this could be done by including the observer within the phenomenal world. Their refusal to go beyond phenomena was, for Plato, the great weakness in their thinking.

A second common generalization about the Sophists has been that they represent a revolt against science and the study of the physical world. The evidence is against this, inasmuch as for Hippias, Prodicus, Gorgias, and Protagoras there are records of a definite interest in questions of this kind. The truth is rather that they were in revolt against attempts to explain the physical world by appeals to principles that could not be perceived by the senses; and instead of framing new “objective” explanations, they attempted to explain things, where explanation was required, by introducing the perceiver as one element in the perceptual situation.

One of the most famous doctrines associated with the Sophistic movement was the opposition between nature and custom or convention in morals. It is probable that the antithesis did not originate in Sophistic circles but was rather earlier; but it was clearly very popular and figured largely in Sophistic discussions. The commonest form of the doctrine involved an appeal from conventional laws to supposedly higher laws based on nature. Sometimes these higher laws were invoked to remedy defects in actual laws and to impose more stringent obligations; but usually it was in order to free the individual from restrictions unjustifiably imposed by human laws that the appeal to nature was made. In its extreme form the appeal involved the throwing off of all restraints upon self-interest and the desires of the individual (e.g., the doctrine of Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias that might, if one possesses it, is actually right), and it was this, more than anything else, that gave support to charges against the Sophists of immoral teaching. On other occasions the terms of the antithesis were reversed and human laws were explicitly acclaimed as superior to the laws of nature and as representing progress achieved by human endeavour. In all cases the laws of nature were regarded not as generalized descriptions of what actually happens in the natural world (and so not like the laws of physics to which no exceptions are possible) but rather as norms that people ought to follow but are free to ignore. Thus, the appeal to nature tended to mean an appeal to human nature treated as a source for norms of conduct. (See also natural law.)

To Greeks this appeal was not very novel. It represented a conscious probing and exploration into an area wherein, according to their whole tradition of thought, lay the true source for norms of conduct. If Plato’s Callicles represents a position actually held by a living Sophist when he advocates free rein for the passions, then it was easy for Plato to argue in reply that human nature, if it is to be fulfilled, requires organization and restraint in the license given to the desires of particular aspects of it; otherwise the interests of the whole will be frustrated. Both Plato and Aristotle, in basing so much of their ethics on human nature, are only following up the approach begun by the Sophists.

Humanistic Issues

The Sophists have sometimes been characterized by their attacks on the traditional religious beliefs of the Greeks (see Greek religion). It is true that more than one Sophist seems to have faced prosecution for impiety, as did Socrates also. Protagoras wrote “concerning the gods, I cannot know either that they exist or that they do not exist nor what they are like in form,” and Prodicus offered a sociological account of the development of religion. Critias went further when he supposed that the gods were deliberately invented to inspire fear in the evildoer. It is thus probably correct to say that the tendency of much Sophistic thought was to reject the traditional doctrines about the gods. Indeed, this follows almost inevitably if the supposition is correct that all the Sophists were attempting to explain the phenomenal world from within itself, while excluding all principles or entities not discernible in phenomena. But in their agnostic attitudes toward the Olympian deities, the Sophists were probably at one with most of the pre-Socratic philosophers of the 6th and 5th centuries and also with most thinking people living toward the end of the 5th century. It is thus probably misleading to regard them as revolutionary in their religious beliefs.

The importance the Sophists attached to human beings meant that they were extremely interested in the history and organization of human societies. Here again most is known about Protagoras, and there is a danger of treating his particular doctrines as typical of the Sophistic movement as a whole. In the 5th century, human history was very commonly seen in terms of a decline from an earlier golden age. Another view supposed that there were recurring cycles in human affairs according to which a progression from good to bad would give way to one from bad to good. The typical Sophistic attitude toward society rejected both of these views in favour of one that saw human history in terms of progress from savagery to civilization. In a famous mythProtagoras explained how humans achieved civilized society first with the aid of arts and crafts and then by gaining a sense of respect and justice in the ordering of their affairs. The general thinking of most of the Sophists seems to have been along similar lines.

One of the most distinctive Sophistic tenets was that virtue can be taught, a position springing naturally from the Sophists’ professional claim to be the teachers of young men. But the word virtue (aretē) implied both success in living and the qualities necessary for achieving such success, and the claim that aretē could be taught by the kind of teaching that the Sophists offered had far-ranging implications. It involved the rejection of the view that aretē came only by birth—for example, by being born a member of a noble family—and it involved also the rejection of the doctrine that aretē was a matter of the chance occurrence of specified qualities in particular individuals. Aretē, in the Sophists’ view, was the result of known and controllable procedures, a contention of profound importance for the organization of society. Moreover, what can be taught has some relation to what can be known and understood. The belief that teaching of a high intellectual calibre could produce success both for the individual and for governments has had a profound influence upon the subsequent history of education. Once again, it is through the acceptance of this doctrine by Plato and Aristotle that the Sophistic position came to be part of subsequent humanist tradition.


Source

Encyclopedia Britannica – Sophist

The History of an Error

Preface

I once was crazy, completely insane. Some would say that I still am.

Should I ever have been so bold as to analyze the arguments throughout history for and against the existence of God? The will to Truth had possessed me.

I had, in essence, sold my soul for Truth.

Panic? Crisis? Call it what you will.

Should I have spent my time doing something other than reading philosophy for hours on end for years? The abyss stares back.

Perhaps I should have trembled before God with fear and just continued my computer science studies. I would at least have become financially sound, right?

But I had to look into the abyss. Call it destiny.

Does it haunt me to this day? I was compelled to stare.

Not by my will, but by the will of God!

Truth be told, there is nobody to blame but my self.

Let me now put on an old tune that was first played back in 2008 by a tiny white hermit named Joshua Synon who was still a serious metaphysician – in an ironic sense at least.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

– Walt Whitman


The History of an Error

By Joshua Synon

Man is the measure of all things – of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not.

– Protagoras

And Plato said, “Let there be Truth,” and there was Truth. Man saw that the Truth was good, and he separated the Truth from the truth. Man called the Truth “Form,” and the truth he called “illusion.” Such is the spectacular deceit that marked the beginning of thousands of years of philosophical confusion. To the self-proclaimed Sophos that advocate the attribution of absolute value to that which is – to Truth – to apodictic certainty of noumena, I write with fear and trembling, but with utmost necessity. In the tradition of Pontius Pilate, may we ask, “What is Truth?”

In the above, I have used a capitalized ‘T’ in truth to signify absolute, unchangeable, objective truth arrived at through reason alone. The lower case ‘truth’ represents truths arrived at through subjective experience alone. What Western philosophy has embarked upon is a millennia surpassing dichotomy of essentially contradictory philosophical understandings of the world. One team argues that truth is objective in nature, that there are facts-in-themselves that exist independent of any observer (e.g. traditional theists), and these I will term objectivists (not to be confused with the doctrine of Ayn Rand). The other argues that truth is qualified by subjective experience, that there are indeed no facts-in-themselves – only perspectives, and these I will call subjectivists. On the metaphysical side there is a subtle, but significant, difference between the two: objectivists believe that we experience (or at least possibly can experience) the world as it is in-itself, while the subjectivist believes that there are only many different interpretations or perspectives possible. There have been many proponents for each side throughout the ages. What I would like to do is provide an explanation for this epic rift in Western philosophy and present an account as to why objectivism won out in the West until recent times.

In our present age most people share an objectivist point of view. Metaphysical objectivism is presumed to be common sense. Nobody doubts that there is an external world existing independently of oneself. People believe that when they die the world will continue along just as it had before. Certainly the scientific method would not work if this were not the case. Science today is on a search for the same objective Truth that Plato was so befriended to. The difference, however, lies in the fact that science evokes practical principles as opposed to abstract theoretical fantasies. It is my endeavor to convince the reader that what I have labeled subjectivism is much more common-sensical than its rival. I need not delve into the niceties of objectivism precisely because it is so familiar to us. It is enough to say that the ancient Greeks, specifically Plato, marked the beginning of objectivist thought in the Western world.

The so-called sophists of ancient Greece can be seen as prototypes of subjectivist thought in Western philosophy. They recognized and embellished upon a certain relativity in matters of truth. It was a sophist named Protagoras who pronounced, “Man is the measure of all things – of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not” (Reeve 30). I think this is one of the most important quotes in ancient Western philosophy. This man, Protagoras, somehow acquired insight into a fundamental psychological truth about the nature of man and his ideas. That is, man is the sole creator and destroyer of his own ideas. It would seem to me that this hitherto profound insight was as common-sensical to Protagoras as objectivism is to the masses today. This same philosopher recognized that, “There are two opposing arguments concerning everything” (Ibid). Whether he believed that both sides of an argument are equally valid is a matter of interpretation and subject to argument. However, in matters of abstract metaphysical thought, I think Protagoras would agree that both sides are equally valid.

Thrasymachus, another among the ranks of the sophists, proclaimed in Book I of Plato’s Republic that “justice is the advantage of the stronger;” that, “each [ruler] declares that what is just for its subjects is what is advantageous for itself” (Ibid., at 149). This view of Thrasymachus’ is clearly relativistic in that justice in one state would theoretically be different from justice in another state. What is not recognized, however, by Plato in his dialogue is that the argument is over the definition of a word, and not, as he would have us believe, over an abstract concept of justice-in-itself. Such a concept, as will be argued later, is non-cognitive to man, for it is an oxymoron for man, a ‘subject,’ to perceive things-in-themselves as if he were an objective observer – an ‘unknowing knower.’

The subjectivism of the sophists, and perhaps other circumstances irrelevant to this discourse, provoked the Sophos – the self-proclaimed true seekers of Truth, with Plato being the most prominent among their ranks. Plato dishonored the sophists in his dialogues and the term sophist itself remains derogatory to this day. The divine Plato introduced, in his own sophistic manner, a cunning theory that would sweep through the ages of philosophy and even seep into the core of the world’s most prominent religion. His theory of the Forms – of Ideals – that began the artificial distinction between being and becoming, between reality and appearance, was his magnum opus: Man is in a cave of ignorance, blinded by his own senses, only to be redeemed by subjection to the Forms – to Truth, to the Good, even apotheosized and anthropomorphized into God – all essentially the same thing. “The true world – attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it” (Portable 485). Plato himself wrote it in Book VII of the Republic, “I, Plato, have had the divination to leave the confines of that gloomy cave, to escape the shadowy appearances, and have come into the light of true knowledge. If I appear completely ridiculous to you it is only because your eyes are not well adjusted to Truth.” Perhaps he was operating on the principle of omne ignotum pro magnifico est. It is interesting to review Nietzsche’s view of Plato’s theory of the Forms:

Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal. No leaf ever wholly equals another, and the concept “leaf” is formed through an arbitrary abstraction from these individual differences, through forgetting the distinctions; and now it gives rise to the idea that in nature there might be something besides the leaves which would be “leaf” – some kind of original form after which all leaves have been woven, marked, copied, colored, curled, and painted, but by unskilled hands, so that no copy turned out to be a correct, reliable, and faithful image of the original form. We call a person “honest.” Why did he act so honestly today? we ask. Our answer usually sounds like this: because of his honesty. Honesty! That is to say again: the leaf is the cause of the leaves. After all, we know nothing of an essence-like quality named “honesty”; we know only numerous individualized, and thus unequal actions, which we equate by omitting the unequal and by then calling them honest actions. In the end, we distill from them a qualitas occulta with the name of “honesty”… (Portable 46)

I think that the most important developments in this great debate consist of the expansions of subjectivist thinking in more recent times. William James, a well known American philosopher, was a prominent proponent of the pragmatic theory of truth.

William James insisted that truth happens to an idea. “So there is no such thing as disinterested truth. Pragmatic truth is human truth. ‘Purely objective truth,’ James asserts, ‘plays no role whatsoever, is nowhere to be found.’ He adds that the most absolute-seeming truths ‘also once were plastic. They were called true for human reasons. They also mediate between still earlier truths and what in those days were novel observations.’ Useful, human truth is alive; rationalistic, abstract, dogmatic truth is ‘the dead heart of the living tree.’ Truth grows.” (Soccio 411)

It is becoming obvious that objectivism is losing its hold on the hearts and minds of philosophers. James’ theory helped to reduce fruitless metaphysical debates by only accepting practical truths. James was by no means a radical subjectivist, but his ideas reveal that the magnificent tower that is the reign of objective truth is beginning to falter.

Kierkegaard held a more extreme view on the value of subjective truth. Indeed, he wrote that subjectivity is truth:

When the question about truth is asked objectively, truth is reflected upon objectively as an object to which the knower relates himself. What is reflected upon is not the relation but that what he relates himself to is the truth, the true. If only that to which he relates himself is the truth, the true, then the subject is in the truth. When the question about truth is asked subjectively, the individual’s relation is reflected upon subjectively. If only the how of this relation is in truth, the individual is in truth, even if he in this way were to relate himself to untruth. (Hong 206)

For Kierkegaard, it is only subjective truth that has value. He does not, however, argue against the possibility of facts-in-themselves. He only intended to devalue them and the attempt at proving or even searching for them. One of the most common objections to subjectivism is that it creates a contradiction upon itself, but Kierkegaard was quick to guard against this objection:

When subjectivity, inwardness, is truth, then truth, objectively defined, is a paradox; and that truth is objectively a paradox shows precisely that subjectivity is truth, since the objectivity does indeed thrust away, and the objectivity’s repulsion, or the expression for the objectivity’s repulsion, is the resilience and dynamometer of inwardness. The paradox is the objective uncertainty that is the expression for the passion of inwardness that is truth. So much for the Socratic. The eternal, essential truth, that is, the truth that is related essentially to the existing person by pertaining essentially to what it means to exist (viewed Socratically, all other knowledge is accidental, its degree and scope indifferent), is a paradox. Nevertheless the eternal, essential truth is itself not at all a paradox, but it is a paradox by being related to an existing person. Socratic ignorance is an expression of the objective uncertainty; the inwardness of the existing person is truth. (Ibid., at 207)

This passage clearly shows that there have developed multiple meanings for the same philosophical words, viz. truth, which has caused much confusion in philosophy. But Kierkegaard was an avid ironist and his point is not to be taken lightly: If subjectivity is truth, then, objectively defined, truth is a paradox. However, the offensiveness to us objective truth-seekers of this so-called paradox is precisely an expression of subjectivity. What marvelous word games we have come up with throughout the ages! If anything, Kierkegaard has proven that it is certainly unfounded to regard subjectivity as untruth.

If Plato marked the beginning of objectivist thought in Western philosophy, then it is the Enlightenment that lead the course to its destruction. I am not going to tell the story of modern philosophy here. I will simply assume that the reader is familiar with the drama that started with Rene Descartes’ rationalism,

There is thinking; consequently there is that which thinks’ – that is what Descartes’ argument comes to. Yet this means positing our faith in the concept of substance as ‘a priori true.’ When there is thinking, something must be there which thinks – that is merely a formulation of our grammatical habit, which posits a doer for what is done… Rational thought is interpretation according to a scheme which we cannot escape. (Portable 455)

…proceeded through Berkeley’s idealism and Hume’s empirical skepticism, to finally be “solved” by Kant’s Copernican revolution. Enter the new pandemic – the Cartesian disease! “The true world – unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it – a consolation, an obligation, an imperative” (Ibid., at 485). There is a common factor underlying the thought of all of these men and their contemporary supporters. That common factor I will call logocentrism, a will to abstract metaphysical Truth at all costs. “’Will to truth’ does not mean ‘I will not let myself be deceived’ but – there is no choice – ‘I will not deceive, not even myself’: and with this we are on the ground of morality” (Ibid., at 449).

Kierkegaard once remarked upon an absent-minded man so abstracted from his own life that he hardly knew he existed, until, one fine morning, he woke up to find himself dead. Let us call this man philosophy. Almost twenty-three hundred years after Plato the question of the value of this objective Truth-seeking was finally posed:

The will to truth which will still tempt us to may a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect – what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now – and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? That we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”? Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance? The problem of the value of truth came before us – or was it we who came before the problem? Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks. And though it scarcely seems credible, it finally almost seems to us as if the problem had never even been put so far – as if we were the first to see it, fix it with our eyes, and risk it. For it does involve a risk, and perhaps there is none that is greater. (Basic Writings 199)

Shall we play the blind man who speaks of colors and lives by his word? When one asks what the value is of a fact-in-itself, a plethora, indeed an onslaught, of conscientious objections arise. Have we been indoctrinated to idolize Truth? I think that, if the question is asked metaphysically, the answer is easily found in the philosophical writings of the past twenty-four hundred years. Even so, given this great quest for objective Truth succeeds – as if objective is a meaningful word! Where have we gone and where are we to go from there? Ah, so we have proven that an external world exists, and we have ascertained every principle of physics! Alas, we can all now rest in peace and cease living, for by the power of Truth we have conquered the Universe! Abstract theory, nay, the Truth – The Truth – has set us free! However, when the will to Truth is abolished the voice of King Solomon again reigns supreme, which is perhaps irrelevant to this discourse, but certainly relevant to every living individual, “O Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” But – nil desperandum– it would appear that nihilism itself was also invented by the Sophos!

Philosophy, for the past 2,400 years, has been on a search for the Truth. It is my contention that certain qualities of language itself have impeded and distorted this search, even possibly necessitated it. Language is the foundation of philosophical discourse, but language itself has limits, boundaries, ambiguities, obscurities, and preordained meanings.

When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal” I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value. That is to say, it is a thoroughly anthropomorphic truth which contains not a single point which would be “true in itself” or really and universally valid apart from man. At bottom, what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man. He strives to understand the world as something analogous to man, and at best he achieves by his struggles the feeling of assimilation. (“On Truth”)

Language, created by man, has been used by man to create an ordered universe. Language is confined to the system from which it originated and cannot gaze in as an objective thinker.

We have fixed up a world for ourselves in which we can live – assuming bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form and content: without these articles of faith, nobody now would endure life. But that does not mean that they have been proved. Life is no argument; the conditions of life could include error. (Basic Writings 171)

Every religion that has developed even a modicum of semantic sophistication recognizes to some extent the way words and reason fall short of reality when they do not actually distort it. However much the rationalist may begrudge the fact, paradox and the transrational are religion’s life blood, and that of art as well. Mystics in every faith report contacts with a world that startles and transforms them with its dazzling darkness. Zen stands squarely in this camp, its only uniqueness being that it makes breaking the language barrier its central concern. (Smith 130)

Shall we now give credence to that ancient question of Pontius Pilate? It has been said that there have developed multiple meanings for the same philosophical words. The word under the microscope at the moment is ‘truth.’ From what we have ascertained we may infer that truth is simply another creation of language; an attempt to bring order from chaos, meaning from meaninglessness.

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms – in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are. (Portable 47)

If this much is clear, then it is also clear that we cannot communicate without these metaphors, perhaps not even live without what we have created. It is not as clear, however, that is it high time for philosophy to abandon its search for Truth. Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics: all artificial creations for the sole purposes of mankind. Even logic cannot escape the grasp of owing its life to man:

That all contradiction in concepts should be forbidden, is the result of a belief, that we are able to form concepts, that a concept not only characterises but also holds the essence of a thing. … As a matter of fact, logic (like geometry and arithmetic) only holds good ofassumed existences which we have created. Logic is the attempt on our part to understand the actual world according to a scheme of Being devised by ourselves; or, more exactly, it is our attempt at making the actual world more calculable and more susceptible to formulation, for our own purposes. (Langiulli 90)

According to Wittgenstein, words themselves are relative in their meaning with respect to the specific ‘language-game’ that is taking place at any given time. He argued that language is not an adequate expression of objective reality. In a similar line of thought, Nietzsche doubts the truth-extracting powers of language,

[W]hat about these conventions of language? Are they really the products of knowledge, of the sense of truth? Do the designations and the things coincide? Is language the adequate expression of all realities? Only through forgetfulness can man ever achieve the illusion of possessing a ‘truth’… If he does not wish to be satisfied with truth in the form of a tautology… then he will forever buy illusions for truths. What is a word? The expression of a nerve-stimulus in sounds. But to infer from the nerve stimulus, a cause outside us, that is already the result of a false and unjustified application of the principle of reason… The ‘thing in itself’ (for that is what pure truth, without consequences, would be) is quite incomprehensible to the creators of language and not at all worth aiming for. One designates only the relations of things to man, and to express them one calls on the boldest metaphors. A nerve stimulus, first transposed into an image – first metaphor. The image, in turn, imitated by a sound – second metaphor… (Portable 45)

Noscitur a sociis – ad absurdum. In similar fashion, and perhaps beyond what Wittgenstein attempted, Jacques Derrida developed the tradition of deconstruction, which attempts to discover and incorporate, to deconstruct, underlying metaphysical assumptions in the interpretation of a reading. Each of these approaches lend a hand in the recovery of philosophy from thousands of years of that deceptively naive game of language.

Let us think about this subject in a common-sensical fashion. Our modern day common sense tells us, as was noted previously, that an external world-in-itself does exist, but this can be easily explained on account of indoctrination. A question for the reader: Have you ever existed outside of yourself? In other words, have you experienced anything other than what you have experienced? A clear contradiction. When one admits that subjective experience is the beginning and end of all knowledge, then one also admits ipso facto that there is absolutely no rational ground for assuming an objective reality outside of ones own experiences.

The practice of philosophy is, and always has been, man projecting his ideals into the world, a type of creative autobiography if you will. The existence of a word does not prove the ontological existence of an object. Perhaps an analogy will suffice: Computer scientists frequently use the term ‘null pointer.’ In computer science, a pointer is essentially a data element whose value is an address. A pointer basically points to the value of a given variable and can be dereferenced in certain operations requiring said variable. A null pointer is a pointer with no address. It is a pointer that is pointing to nothing. If a program attempts to dereference a null pointer, there will result a run-time error and the program will shut down. Words used in abstract philosophy can be said to be equivalent to null pointers. They dereference nothing and are only useful on an aesthetic level.

The separate elements of philosophy have gradually become assimilated into modern science. Metaphysics and epistemology have merged into science proper: physics, biology, astronomy, etc. Morality is now under the guise of psychology. Ethics has been made the foundation of law and an instrument of control. Political theory will be the last to be taught in history classrooms alone. Aesthetics has become vanity instead of vitality. With fear and trembling, not for me, but for the world, I pronounce the death of Truth – and with it, the death of 2,400 years of Western philosophy.

History of an Error

  1. The real world attainable for the wise man, the pious man, the virtuous man—he lives in it, he is it.

(Most ancient form of the idea, relatively clever, simple, convincing. Paraphrase of the proposition: ‘I, Plato, am the truth.’)

  1. The real world unattainable for now, but promised to the wise man, the pious man, the virtuous man (‘to the sinner who repents’).

(Progress of the idea: it becomes more cunning, more insidious, more incomprehensible—it becomes a woman, it becomes Christian…)

  1. The real world unattainable, unprovable, unpromisable, but the mere thought of it a consolation, an obligation, an imperative.

(The old sun in the background, but seen through mist and scepticism; the idea becomes sublime, pale, Nordic, Königsbergian.)

  1. The real world—unattainable? At any rate unattained. And since unattained also unknown. Hence no consolation, redemption, obligation either: what could something unknown oblige us to do? …

(Break of day. First yawn of reason. Cock-crow of positivism.)

  1. The ‘real world’—an idea with no further use, no longer even an obligation—an idea become useless, superfluous, therefore a refuted idea: let us do away with it!

(Broad daylight; breakfast; return of bon sens and cheerfulness; Plato’s shameful blush; din from all free spirits.)

  1. The real world—we have done away with it: what world was left? the apparent one, perhaps? … But no! with the real world we have also done away with the apparent one!

(Noon; moment of the shortest shadow; end of the longest error; pinnacle of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.)

– Friedrich Nietzsch

[Bibliography unavailable]

—————————-

What is left Nietzsche? – Phenomenology? Subjectivism? Perspectivism? Simulacrum? – No. – Be-ing-No-thing-ness. A.K.A. Pure Experience liberated from sincerely concerned metaphysical speculation. A.K.A. Life. But you knew that already.

Later, Nishitani Keiji continues alongside myself spouting nonsense in underground notes! And stay tuned for The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse the Younger! Be ye not lost among precepts of order!

Re: Ecclesiastes

We are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge – and with good reason. We  have never sought ourselves – how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?

The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect – what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now – and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? that we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”?

Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?

The problem of the value of truth came before us – or was it we who came before the problem? Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks.

And though it scarcely seems credible, it finally almost seems to us as if the problem had never even been put so far – as if we were the first to see it, fix it with our eyes, and risk it. For it does involve a risk, and perhaps there is none that is greater.

All these pale atheists, anti-Christians, immoralists, nihilists; these skeptics, ephectics, hectics of the spirit… They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth. It is still a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science – and we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato’s, that God is truth, that truth is divine. – But what if this belief is becoming more and more unbelievable, if nothing turns out to be divine any longer unless it be error, blindness, lies – if God himself turns out to be our longest lie? Science itself henceforth requires justification (which is not to say that there is any such justification).

The ascetic ideal has hitherto dominated all philosophy, because truth was posited as being, as God, as the highest court of appeal – because truth was not permitted to be a problem at all. Is this “permitted” understood? – From the moment faith in the God of the ascetic ideal is denied, a new problem arises: that of the value of truth.

No! Don’t come to me with science when I ask for the natural antagonist of the ascetic ideal, when I demand: “where is the opposing will expressing the opposing ideal?”

No! this “modern science” – let us face this fact! – is the best ally the ascetic ideal has at present, and precisely because it is the most unconscious, involuntary, hidden, and subterranean ally!

Does one still seriously believe (as theologian’s imagined for a while) that Kant’s victory over the dogmatic concepts of theology (“God,” “soul,” “freedom,” “immortality”) damaged that ideal?

The ascetic ideal has at present only one kind of real enemy capable of harming it: the comedians of this ideal – for they arouse mistrust of it. Everywhere else that the spirit is strong, mighty, and at work without counterfeit today, it does without ideals of any kind – the popular expression for this abstinence is “atheism” – except for its will to truth. But this will, this remnant of an ideal, is, if you will believe me, this ideal itself in its strictest, most spiritual formulation, esoteric through and through, with all external additions abolished, and thus not so much its remnant as its kernel. Unconditional honest atheism (and its is the only air we breathe, we more spiritual men of this age!) is therefore not the antithesis of that ideal, as it appears to be; it is rather only one of the latest phases of its evolution, one of its terminal forms and inner consequences – it is the awe-inspiring catastrophe of two thousand years of training in truthfulness that finally forbids itself the lie involved in belief in God.

The same evolutionary course in India, completely independent of ours, should prove something: the same ideal leads to the same conclusion.

What, in all strictness, has really conquered the Christian God? Christian morality itself, the concept of truthfulness taken more and more strictly, the confessional subtlety of the Christian conscience translated and sublimated into the scientific conscience, into intellectual cleanliness at any price. To view nature as if it were a proof of the goodness and providence of a God; to interpret history to the glory of a divine reason, as the perpetual witness to a moral world order and moral intentions; to interpret one’s own experiences, as pious men long interpreted them, as if everything were preordained, everything a sign, everything sent for the salvation of the soul – that now belongs to the past, that has the conscience against it, that seems to every more sensitive conscience indecent, dishonest, mendacious, feminism, weakness, cowardice: it is this rigor if anything that makes us good Europeans and the heirs of Europe’s longest and bravest self-overcoming.

All great things bring about their own destruction through an act of self-overcoming: thus the law of life will have it, the law of the necessity of “self-overcoming” in the nature of life – the lawgiver himself eventually receives the call: “submit to the law you yourself proposed.” In this way Christianity as a dogma was destroyed by its own morality; in the same way Christianity as morality must now perish, too: we stand on the threshold of this event. After Christian truthfulness has drawn one inference after another, it must end by drawing its most striking inference, its inference against itself; this will happen, however, when it posts the question “what is the meaning of all will to truth?”

And here I again touch on my problem, on our problem: what meaning would our whole being possess if it were not this, that in us the will to truth becomes conscious of itself as a problem?

As the will to truth thus gains self-consciousness – there can be no doubt of that – morality will gradually perish now: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe – the most terrible, most questionable, and perhaps also the most hopeful of all spectacles. –

Apart from the ascetic ideal, man, the human animal, had no meaning so far. His existence on earth contained no goal; “why man at all?” – was a question without an answer; the will for man and earth was lacking; behind every great human destiny there sounded as a refrain a yet greater “in vain!” This is precisely what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking, that man was surrounded by a fearful void – he did not know how to justify, to account for, to affirm himself; he suffered from the problem of his meaning. He also suffered otherwise, he was in the main a sickly animal: but his problem was not suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, “why do I suffer?”

Man, the bravest of animals and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far – and the ascetic ideal offered man meaning! It was the only meaning offered so far; any meaning is better than none at all; the ascetic ideal was in every sense the “faute de mieux” par excellence so far. In it, suffering was interpreted; the tremendous void seemed to have been filled; the door was closed to any kind of suicidal nihilism. This interpretation – there is no doubt of it – brought fresh suffering with it, deeper, more inward, more poisonous, more life-destructive suffering: it placed all suffering under the perspective of guilt.

But all this notwithstanding – man was saved thereby, he possessed a meaning, he was henceforth no longer like a leaf in the wind, a plaything of nonsense – the “sense-less” – he could now will something; no matter at first to what end, why, with what he willed: the will itself was saved.

We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself – all this means – let us dare to grasp it – a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will! . . . And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will.

– Friedrich Nietzsche