What is philosophy for?

Image: Pierre Blaché


Philosophy is a vast prose of the World, which becomes language and thought

“Per me si va nella cittá dolente,\ Per me si va nell'eterno dolore, \Per me si 'va tra 1a perduta gente.” (Dante Alighieri, The hell, chant III)

It never hurts that, in the middle of our life's journey, we take a break, however brief it may be, to ask ourselves this age-old question. The possible responses to it are as varied and different as the philosophical systems that engender them are varied and different. Going through the History of Philosophy in search of these answers is a way of watching the unfolding of the “conflict of philosophies”.(1) Each answer is worth the measure of the internal coherence that the corresponding system gives it. And philosophical dogmas are, as we know, theses logically constructed within a discourse articulated by arguments.(2)

How can one argue against these theses, if not by departing from their own systems, that is, starting from and within other systems and according to coherence criteria that are only conflictually related to the first ones? What would be the use, then, of taking this unstimulating break, says the layman boldly – ​​except for the professional philosopher who must know more and more the details of the history of his livelihood, in order to continue earning it? It would perhaps only serve, continues the layman, to appreciate the parade of a multitude of different responses, coherently formulated in conflict, and which we can even, with a certain effort of selective and ordering imagination, organize according to a historical vector or a commanded continuity by superior epistemological rules!

Although this is already a lot for the professional philosopher, perhaps it is still little for the layman; but the latter certainly has reasons that the former is certainly unaware of. Now, taking advantage of an inherent characteristic of the layman, his good will, his good intentions, the professional philosopher is led to make a new onslaught with him to try for better luck: this brief pause can serve, at least, to situate, let's say, the position relative between philosophical systems; not to judge them, but to glimpse, in this dialogue of the deaf – as the layman likes to say and that the professional philosopher concedes, stressing, however, that this deafness is not a prerogative of philosophy – certain strategic points, moments in which philosophies they do philosophy therapy.(3) Moments when philosophies no longer propose theses, systems of ideas, but rather systematically propose only and exclusively methods, ways of proceeding, concepts that are critical operators. Do philosophy therapy! here's a good stimulant to the break.

Wittgenstein advises the philosopher not to think, but only to look! (Philosophical Investigations, § 66). This is, according to the author, a therapeutic principle of the highest importance: when the philosopher thinks, the problems that give us the greatest headaches arise; the characteristic form of such problems: "I don't know anything anymore” (ibid. 5123), When, on the contrary, he just looks, the problems, astonishingly, disappear! What does it means? What does it mean for the philosopher to think? Let us take some examples of this philosophical thinking.

One of the most striking characteristics of Philosophy is the effort of its representatives to construct universal definitions, definitions such that what is concerned with them is not reduced to the effective multiplicity of the empirical, but, on the contrary, concerns the most general, fixed and unalterable elements of this manifest multiplicity. One speaks, then, with philosophical concepts, of what constitutes the foundation of everything that exists and of how we know it; Philosophy is a vast prose of the World, which becomes language and thought. Beauty, Justice, Truth, Language, History, Reason, etc. are talked about, and thus architectural systems of theses are built.

Let us cross, quickly, without stopping, Limbo, since its spaces are not illuminated by the lights of Reason, and let us penetrate the radiant heights of light. Who will we find? Where shall we stop? The choice is difficult, given the wide range of possibilities; what's more, our capacity is small and our space is short. Let's focus on lovers… of Ideas. What do these dialectic sages do? They start from everyday examples, from situations on which we deposit our opinions and, with enormous effort, try to approach what souls, in a distant past, knew directly: the synthetic units of properties that give consistency to the empirical, the paradigms that , through the participation of this empiricist, constitute its foundation of reality.

Ideas, the dialectician seeks them, by reducing and eliminating variety and difference; he searches for them beyond what he sees, through the thought that, unscathed, captures and retains constancies, thus building Identities: A = A – as the master of lovers of Ideas said,(4) what you see when you look, that is, contradiction, is definitively banished from all Academies.

But the good realist remains dissatisfied with this strange and uneconomic separation between the sensible and the intelligible; it would be nice to be able to understand identity without separating the worlds. Now, the notion of “substance comes to play this ungrateful role; it is in the most ungrateful roles that the actor's qualities are best revealed! We manage, in an Aristotelian way, without going up the ladder of dialectics, to understand the foundations, remaining in the individual: in it we find the coherence and intelligibility of the Logos. We will now be able to classify the multiplicity in genus and species; movement and transformation will have the coherence of the four causes:(5) what is to know? forming concepts and starting from experience, and applying these concepts to substances and constructing judgments, and, finally, combining judgments and constructing reasonings to deduce with truth. Knowing and going through the intelligible structure of the real, and for that we will use that valuable instrument that is the concept.

Let's dive higher, in a new circle, that sophisticated one of lovers of the Ego. No longer wanting to be deceived by the false appearances that we ourselves are capable of elaborating, we will assume a method in search of criteria of evidence: clarity and distinction. This is how, Cartesianly, we will no longer believe in what our sensations make us see when we look, and perceive when we feel this flame, this sensation of warmth from these lines that I am writing at this moment, in my room, dressed in my 'chambre' they may, perhaps, be the product of my imagination or my dream. We found, astonished, that everything that until now seemed so certain to us can be doubted. But one small detail just escapes doubt: we doubt and therefore we think. From there, following the same method, we find the idea of ​​God and then we recover from doubt everything that we had been able to doubt.

The door to science is reopened, and it was the Ego, with God's help, that reopened it. (6) Sophisticated path, we said, since it obliges us to make an essential detour through the thinking self in order to reach the real. Man, this extended thing and also thinking thing, can relate to a certain extent with the creative substance; man has innate ideas, those that do not come from experience and are not fictitious fruits of the imagination: they are clear and distinct.

It is on them that the sciences rest, like a building on its foundations.

The circles of this forest multiply above our heads; but that of idealism is rich in inner subcircles. Risking a leap, we arrive at the subcircle of lovers — and these faithful of the transcendental. There is, here, no more room for substances, neither extended, nor thinking nor creative; everything is perceived in space, in time, and thought according to categories. The subject is, in this subcircle, master and slave, and all that a priori. The limits of scientific knowledge are explicitly delimited by the functioning of Reason, which is pure; even those elements that allow the junction between pure concepts and the multiplicity of the sensible, the schemes have their foundation a priori.(7) We banished the thing-in-itself from science, and now we know why it is possible; we find its foundation in the transcendental subject, in the subject who thinks and cannot look.

Let us rise higher, now, and, more and more quickly, our flight in this evening, and let us ask; what is a concept? an open structure, like a mathematical function, which determines a “path of values”, that is, that class of elements that can conveniently occupy the place left empty. When I say, for example, "X is mortal" there is a class of objects that can take the place of the argument, making the resulting proposition true.(8) We define, in a Fregean way, the concept, based on its logical structure, and thus show its exact and fixed limits; when this is not possible, that is, when the class of objects cannot be strictly formulated, we will be in the domain of aesthetics, we will not be working with thoughts – this autonomous and intermediary reality between the psychological and the empirical bearer. With this flight we land in new places, and we approach the ineffable.

The philosophical subject is transcendental, as it determines the limits of the World without being part of that World, just like the eye in relation to its field of vision; and these limits are established from its language. Substance is nothing more than a web of logical possibilities; and objects are nothing more than empty and dimensionless points, consisting exclusively of diverse forms of combination with other objects; we are far, here, from the traditional notion of substance.(9) However, in a Wittgensteinian way, we need fixed points, even if dimensionless, we need stable bases that allow us to guarantee the independence of the meaning of propositions in relation to what actually happens; it is necessary to ensure that the false proposition has a meaning, independently of the true proposition: that when I say 'It is raining' when it is not raining, I am saying something with meaning, without having to resort to the proposition "It is raining" when it is, in fact, raining. , raining.

We need what exists as the ultimate logical result of the analysis of facts; of what is irreducible, and whose existence is independent of the attribution of existence: saying “a exists” when a exists, is meaningless, since the existence of a is autonomous, and does not depend on its attribution to the object by the proposition. Thus, all those propositions that are not logically analyzable in their irreducible elements will be excluded as pseudo-propositions: they do not say facts. This circle then opens, as we said, on the ineffable: Ethics, Aesthetics, values ​​in general. To think is to say facts through meaningful propositions. The philosopher, once again, thinks, does not look.

Let's return to the starting point. Let's take stock. What did we see? We have seen that philosophical thinking has always led us to seek and, by doing so, to find that realistic or idealistic “something common”, placed as support of the concept in its universal character. In the absence of this “something common” we are faced with the realm of contradiction, deceit, the empirical, the poetic, the values; we managed, with thinking philosophers, to avoid all this. Here is what was seen.

The time has come for our lay friend to exult: therapy – of Philosophy! When the philosopher has the courage to just look, without thinking, what will he see? He will see differences and similarities; it will not see identities. It will conclude, then, that the “something common” is an arbitrary notion, which can be useful for certain' purposes and that, therefore, has, as its sole foundation, the uses that we intend to make, in different situations, of what we introduce as being the “ something common”.(10) He will conclude that the universal concept is nothing more than a certain use that we make of language, and, therefore, when the thinking philosopher poses questions concerning Beauty, Language, History or Red, he is doing nothing more than addressing language on their vacation days, that is, removing language from its actual context of use and considering it in the void.

The thinking philosopher lives with headaches, since he does not realize his own fascination with language: he does not realize that the concepts with which he works operate exclusively within the precise and arbitrary limits of that specific situation that he himself establishes. But saying this is still not enough. The thinking philosopher does not realize that his concepts can never be operative within precise limits, since it is the scientist, and not he, who can draw precise limits; the scientist can answer the questions that arise.(11)

The philosopher is an individual burdened with problems, since, not being able to draw precise limits, he accumulates more and more new problems that cannot be answered. He is, perhaps, envious; he has a deep envy of the scientist. So deep, you don't even notice it. What does this envy consist of? Precisely in the fact that he intends to speak of the World as if it were exactly delimitable. The thinking philosopher is thus, when dealing with a theme that is dear to him, keeping the nostalgia of a method that does not fit his object. This is where philosophical problems arise, or rather those problems that create confusion, with which philosophy is full.

Our lay friend is satisfied. What is Philosophy for? Well, just to create confusion. Let us put them aside, therefore, and move on. Yes, this is undoubtedly the right path to take. Allow me, however, dear layman, just one more question. Are philosophical confusions the proper and exclusive result of the work of the thinking philosopher? Do they arise only within Philosophy? Would the layman – that is, everyone who is not a professional philosopher – be well protected from such confusions? Unfortunately not! Both the professional philosopher and the layman think and do not look!

To think is to want to explain, and every attempt at an explanation is a dangerous journey: it goes around the circles of the immense forest of confusion. Just an example: "I know but I cannot say it!” Here is a beautiful philosophical situation, which gives us the biggest headaches! How is it possible for someone to know something and not be able to say what he knows? (Philosophical Investigations, §75). Is this not exactly the feeling that the layman has so many times during the same day? Well, here, once again, therapy through the gaze applies. This myth, of knowing and not being able to say, resides in the belief that it is only possible to say what is fixed and clearly delimited; that meaning is something more than what meaning is defined to be in such-and-such situations.

When we look at what we know, we see that we know exactly what we are capable of saying, and that this ability can vary when we move from one situation to another, or even within the same situation. We see, too, that we are capable of saying exactly what we know when, as happens in fact in our everyday life, what we know is not exact but rather vague: we say exactly in an inexact way what is vague. And this is not ignorance. We don't know the limits, because there are no lines”. (ibid., §69). And behold, the layman's philosophical problems disappear!

Thus, the layman himself is not protected from the danger of philosophical confusion. It would be necessary to kill the philosopher in him. However, we would like to say: man is a philosophical animal, that is, confused.

What is Philosophy for? In the brief pause we reserve to take flight with the layman, to the heights of Philosophy, we pass directly, non-stop, through Limbo, dark, deprived of the lights of Reason. It is to him that we will return and, attentive, we will fix ourselves. From 1 to we will just be looking, without thinking, trying to see clearly. In Philosophy “the true discovery is the one that makes me capable of breaking with philosophizing whenever I want. The one that calms philosophy, so that it is no longer plagued by questions that call itself into question” (ibid., §133). But for the moment, let’s lower our voices: there are many professional and lay philosophers out there…

*Arley Ramos Moreno (1943-2018) was a professor of philosophy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Introduction to a philosophical pragmatics (Unicamp Publisher).



(1) See Porchat. “The conflict of philosophies”. In: Philosophy and the common vision of the world. Sao Paulo, Brasiliense.

(2) See Goldschmidt. “Historical time and logical time in the interpretation of philosophical systems”. In: Plato's Religion, Difel.

(3) We think of philosophers like Nietzsche, according to the line of interpretation that is presented by Lebrun in, for example, “Why read Nietzsche, today?” in Leu Tours, Ed. brasiliense, and t'Surhomme et homme total” in Manuscript, V. II, no 1, Oct. 1978, Unicamp. We also think of Wittgenstein, especially in his later phase than the Tractatus logical-philosophicus.

(4) We refer to Parmenides, master of the Platonists.

(5) See Aristotle, among other works Physics e Metaphysics.

(6) See Descartes. Meditations.

(7) See Kant. Critique of Pure Reason.

(8) See Frege. “Function and Concept” and “Concept and Object”. In: Écrits logiques et philosophiques, Ed. du Seuil.

(9) See Wittgenstein – Tractatus logico-philosophicuse

(10) See Wittgenstein- Philosophical Investigations.

(11) See Wittgenstein-Tractatus logico-philosophicus, particularly 6.5.

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