After Philosophy

Prosophy is philosophy’s doppelganger, the one – I’m tempted to say – that has always locally desisted the better to survive along the ages. The two are bound to be friends and foes alike. All philosophies start from prosophy’s basics, only to run away from them as soon as possible, in an attempt to enforce their exclusive visions. So prosophy tries to look further and away, beyond and before philosophy.

What philosophies were after.

Philosophies, all of them, have struggled against the multitude of divergent opinions in order to assert a superior truth. Truth was conceived by philosophers as a more or less compact system of thoughts, words, and facts that exposed a vision (on being, world, values, etc.), and in doing so challenged or neutralized diverging visions.
For a philosophy to prevail, it is vital to be trusted as true, albeit in its own way. Trust materializes from the intellectual clarity of what has been perceived as well as from the supposed haziness of what is being ignored. Yet, whenever you focus on a particular system or view, the rest of the picture is going to come out blurred. It is the same with shadows, where bordering obscurity is an effect of confined clarity.
All philosophical clarity is confined to local, temporary conditions of comprehension. Prosophy follows the opposite path. First, it takes all the rest into account, then reconciles all local visions to its general terms. This reconciliation is what general biography looks for and tries to address. [top]

The history-of-philosophy scheme.

Intelligence can’t be but self-centered at heart. Along the time, philosophies have been striving to circumvent the floppy logic at the base of all brain activity – the original self-reference, the ontological tautology, the mirroring of the organism and its own world – with some straightforward line of ideas, which was meant to understand the Whole. Wholes are products of a thinking mind, though, a mind that in order to think builds a self-pleasing overall vision of things. Actually, wholes are available in much greater number than minds, a fact that sounds disturbing, since a true whole should be all-inclusive and matchless.
The problem is that to be all-inclusive a whole should include all other wholes, understand them in what they share as well as in what they differ. The ultimate solution to this basically insoluble standoff of wholes was devised by German philosopher G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831). Guided by the optimistic leaning of his time, he imagined a Whole in progress, and an infinite Reason to lead it through the finite, local wholes of material and spiritual history. In a way, this inclusive Idealism was a welcome improvement of vision, after so many centuries of local idealisms, obsessively fighting against one other for survival.
But on closer scrutiny Hegel’s majestic contruction was faulty. Like all idealisms it was dogmatic, it had to rely on bulky pre-positions, in its case the eternal drive of human spirit and the mechanism of dialectic thinking, which was to urge everything, nature and man, to a never-ending movement of oppositions and solutions. The details of Hegel’s philosophy didn’t survive him, but his overall conception lingered and is still around in some disguise. There seems to be no choice other than believing in some historical build-up of human destiny, or the prospect of a random encounter of different worlds, of local narratives. This second option is typical of post-philosophy, since we have tried hard, lately, to rescind our umbilical, hegelian cord. Did we succeed? [top]

Philosophy’s five or six obvious horizons.

Prosophy’s first argument is about the hanging around, in all system of thought to this very day, of old self-indulgent ‘absolutism’. Wishing to put up a solid frame of beliefs – such as not to think of them as square convictions, but as a system of exclusive certainties or crucial truths, – the typical philosopher looks for basic, unconditional principles on which to build his mental picture of the world and all its contents, natural and human.
To this end he cannot help but choosing a privileged viewpoint, without which nothing of all that is the case could be differentiated or even named. Nor he can help but thinking of his viewpoint as high up on the horizon. In fact his choice defines the horizon’s circle, too. In other words, if you ache for truth you want to produce it.
Contrary to Hegel’s hopes, philosophers have left behind an assorted host of local viewpoints. These are typified by the bulge, or protrusion, on which the beholder stands to seize his vision. In all its history, philosophy has offered but a few basic horizons. Obviously so, since the deck of cards in her hands, however thick, has got just three seeds: object, subject, and sign.
Thus, if your viewpoint is object-centered you’re likely to put together a world of facts, and it will be addressed by some sort of science; if it is subject-centered, your world will be one of acts, and it is going to be the output of some spiritual or intellectual effort; and if it is sign-centered, it will be an universe of symbols, basically a world of entwined indications and metaphors. As an added bonus, you might also try to bring together all the seeds and find a unifying three-faceted principle, a philosophical god in charge of the world as it is, of what should be thought and felt as well as of what has to be said and meant. The contrary choice is on hand too, the one that sees no way to a founding principle or overall vision, since the world is but a jumble of incidents, imaginations, and translations. Finally, a grand dualism can be conceived, where some universal principle is thought to run the whole Kosmos, but the human soul is said to be exiled out of it, or stuck at its far edge, too frail to grasp the full extent of the universal harmony, the original and final Synthesis. [top]

Looking for sense.

Philosophers were looking for order, because they assumed reason’s end is to comprehend, to have a handle on all that is the case. They were looking for sense. Even irrationalist thinkers – the ones who claimed the world to be ultimately governed by obscure, chaotic forces – supposed their rational powers, their crucial insights to be sensible, apt to depict the world as it is.
It comes out that you cannot be rational in the old philosophical sense without pre-fixing your reason’s parameters and strictures to the world’s order you are looking for. The first assertion of any being is always a tautology: I see what I see, I say what I say, I am who I am. Religion, philosophy in its naive age, was loud and proud on this point. The original self-reference went undercover the moment logic declared tautologies reprehensible.
All rational thinking has tried to escape the original self-reference, to no avail. The problem is, if you’re looking for sense you are compelled to forge and choose one. To look for sense implies having opted for a sensible scheme of judgment, basically a self-reference.
The world is host to whole crowds of differing senses, many more than anyone can imagine, all of them legitimate. The fact that they are, or have been, actual reactions to circumstances is enough to legitimate them, however far-fetched or repugnant to our scheme of ought-to-be’s. [top]

Defining meaning.

After many centuries devoted to the unworkable task of giving the world, or the human world at least, a unifying sense, philosophers opted for the less-assuming concept of meaning. Meanings were around since the beginning, of course. Senses are but strained meanings, after all. A meaning does not need to be universal, it summons no judgment. It’s enough for a meaning to be arranged for.
What is a fault in a principle – self-assertion, tacit approval, and habitualization – is rightfully expected in a meaning. Meanings need only to be agreed upon by people who spend them and interact by them. When you interact with yourself alone, you can use what you like best to mean what you want. You aren’t fond of the word ‘cup’, you may call cups ‘pucs’. No practical problem, no intellectual fault.
Structures and systems of meanings promise a great deal of knowledge. As a matter of fact, it isn’t of first importance for a meaning to be neatly defined and unequivocal. It only asks to be passed on. Even less than that, sometimes it’s enough for a meaning to be ignorable, not to be felt as meddlesome or impudent.
As a result, meanings are flexible, operative, effective as long as they are adhered to, or at least left alone and past by. Now, when a meaning is vastly adhered to, it takes on the appearance of sense, it seems to make sense by itself. If the people who share such a solidified meaning aren’t critical enough, it’s all too easy for them to think of it as making sense all over the place, even world-wide.
Meanings provide a formidable wealth of knowledge. A science is basically a complex system of meanings. Since the early stages of their search, philosophers have tried hard to make the most of them. This is why they have given birth to modern science: schemes of meanings where all concurrent sense is left to personal assessment. Apparently, meanings are easily established and exchanged, but in fact they require a lot of accordance and conformity.
For a meaning to be successfully traded, a common language must be adopted, the mind must submit to a number of interpretive constraints, the world has to be seen, at least for the moment, under the same angle. Only, the more stable an agreement and substantial its conformity to the system, the less noticeable all the assumptions become that make it work. To the point that a perfect meaning disappears into the all too obvious and the taken for granted. [top]

Method and impasse.

Contemporary philosophy was meant to be built primarily on accurate meanings and method. Clearcut method promised to solve all problems. It has been called the myth of analysis. But whenever a method is introduced and partnered the overall relativity of meanings persists, indeed increases. The harder you try to bring about a definite set of guidelines, the more you need your meanings to be precisely circumscribed. Sharing a method requires unbiased testing, which in turn needs a well-formed language (coherent syntax, grammar, and glossary), cohesion of intents, and a shared world to start from.
It seemed bizarre at first that the 20th century, time of full-blown science and mature research, should also be when the very concepts of definite meaning and positive method fell finally into disrepute. The fact is, research had advanced to the point that even maths and logic had discovered their own deep weaknesses. As with senses and values, the fundamental impasse is caused by the inevitable endogamy engendering all knowledge and judgment.
The three seeds of all that is the case (world, mind, sign) are co-dependent variables in a peculiar way. At any given moment, any one of them has a chance of destabilizing the rest, of re-designing the whole. A four-line poem by Emily Dickinson has changed the way I look at clover forever; a brief, acute illness might change my mind on life’s essentials; a fanciful association of images or a lucid reckoning inside my head can change the world, at least as far as I am concerned. It happens all the time apparently to everybody. There’s no constant in life except plain death. [top]

Linguistic turn and downturn.

It has never been easy for philosophers to admit their shortcomings, because the basic assumption, a self-referential one, is that whatever is fundamental cannot be renounced. But the rate of dismissals has improved a lot over the centuries. It took twenty-two centuries to get rid of the idea of a universal sense, and to make it just a concept relative to what we feel and value. It took a mere four to wear out the idea of a general method of knowledge, and just one to go past the linguistic turn.
However brief, this last leg of philosophical history was required, if only to complete the ontological circle. No doubt, logos and theories about it have occupied philosophers since the beginning of their art. In earlier times, Heraclitus regarded logos as an essential cosmological feature, a core component of reality, akin to fire, which warms and burns, nurtures and kills. But very soon the operational, logic function prevailed. Words became an instrument of reason’s reign.
Sophists like Gorgias and Protagoras had already shown how easy it was to ply language and make it compliant to all sorts of views and uses. So logos became a tool of many tasks, one to be refined, adjusted, and repaired in order to prevent forgeries and deceptions. Five centuries later, when John wrote “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” his obvious implication is that the godly Word stands a world apart from words people command in their daily lives.
The long history of language as instrumental to subtle reason and refined expression came to an end around the beginning of the 20th century. Serious crises upset the concepts of (among others) science and logic, perception and conscience, object and subject, being and denoting. At the same time, what was previously viewed as a poorer means of communication – gestures, motions, lapsus, idiolects, informal talk, graffiti etc. – came into view as as many intriguing worlds to be explored.
A vast linguistic revolution exposed the concepts of sign, form, structure, medium, message… These were thought of as the new comprehensive ‘realities’; the ultimate ontology had been found in structuralism and hermeneutics. The metaphysicalization of language didn’t last very long, though. In a matter of decades the need for a revival of the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity was apparent.
But they are worn out indeed. Philosophy in its lengthy history has tried to idealize a variety of renditions of the basic object, subject, and sign seeds of all life, to make dominant absolutes out of them. A final frustration or mature disenchant has brought philosophy to its own demise. After that, post-philosophy was born. [top]

Post-philosophy. Its limits.

All the same, the linguistic turn has produced a lot of very interesting research and novel viewpoints. When the horizon is narrowed, your best chances come from digging deep. This is what has always happened: for instance, if a spiritual world is conceived, it doesn’t take a lot of time to fill it with all sorts of spiritual facts, problems, personae, and so on.
Whatever we think as basic it’s likely to lead us to a whole world based on that. The linguistic turn was awfully fruitful, but it proved ultimately one more failure – or another felix culpa, if you want – because once again something out of all that is the case was picked up and asked to stand for the whole. Another metaphysical approach in disguise.
The post-philosophical attitude has surfaced recently when even the most recalcitrant ideal was finally downturned. Or so it seemed. Actually, most post-philosophers rely on the concept of local narrative, which is itself not immune from being idealized. In case it is not, then a meager relativism is what they are left with.
So we are now confronted with a perilous world of worlds. Wondrous gadgets, powerful tools grant us unheard-of means to intrude in each other lives, take and make offence as we please, show the world how much we love and hate – while we’re offered practically nothing but a naïve relativism in order to encompass the meta-world we’re living off and preying on. Reason has apparently given up its most crucial obligation. [top]

Relativism isn’t bad, but there’s a bad relativism.

Prosophy upholds relativism, but opposes its cheap form, which as usual derives from idealization, idolization, and self-serving distortion. To discover relativism’s true outline, prosophy launches a search that flies away from where philosophy hurried to land. The only original viewpoint, from where to figure out the whole we are in, is the interference of all viewpoints.
With prosophy, we start from the variety of experiences, opinions, and expressions. From there, we are not supposed to rush and fix a governing logic, a dominant view. Within an all-encompassing horizon all viewpoints are equivalent. We should be looking for a diversifying principle, facing which nothing human will ever be found alien.
Cheap relativism is devious in letting go a false notion of human freedom in general, and of freedom of thought and speech in particular. A man’s limbs are allowed a virtual infinity of movements, as long as they are connected to the trunk. There’s no unconditional freedom anywhere to be found, just a variety of conditions, more or less binding. Philosophy’s major fault has been the easiness with which binding conditions were found that implied a vast lot of human vital experience to be inessential, or faulty, absurd, irrational.
Cheap relativism complements cheap realism. The irrational is an easy excuse for reason’s narrowness. We need a critical relativism instead, an overall theory clever enough to explain why everything is what it is the moment it happens to ‘be’ in somebody’s life. [top]

Philosophy’s overall success and failure.

To assess philosophy’s achievements is not prosophy’s business. Suffice it to say that the overall trend in philosophy’s history has been one of opposing visions and mutually exclusive approachs. This has produced a wide variety of clever theories that have kept rolling on one other, until post-philosophy has reduced them to a rather amusing collection of local narratives, pulp fiction about three-partner flirtations between mind, word, and world.
It’s a long way from the amount of reverence usually allotted to philosophy in general, its big questions, its bold answers. But it is probably not enough. Like Hegel suggested, philosophies at their best have observed their times and somewhat mimicked them in thought. They have been subservient to local visions, hoping to solve all kind of problems with their imposing answers.
Nowadays, the post-philosophical drift produces a pot-pourri of ideas, a disconcerted symphony of concepts, which I’m afraid are of little use in figuring out a consistent, all-encompassing overview of human experience, even as they effectively ape the times we live in. [top]

The ‘after philosophy’ concept.

There’s no doubt that, all in all, philosophy has missed its grander goal: an unbiased, all-encompassing understanding of human life and its universe. The drive to soothe and solve has produced divergent, dogmatic worlds, that have induced skepticism, which has fueled more dogma.
Philosophers, the ones à la Voltaire in particular, saw bigotry as a kind of aggression on the powers of reason; churches of all kinds and plain ignorance were mainly to blame. But, if it’s true that philosophers have rarely practiced bigotry on their own (with some exceptions), it is as much evident that they have fostered it with their fake universal ideas. They have not been able, and until recently they didn’t even try, to put forward a substantially all-encompassing overview of human life, one that anybody on Earth might own.
Of course, local solutions based on provisional agreements do not always lack judgment; on the contrary, they sometimes offer the wisest possible deal, under the circumstances. Philosophers have offered over the time several schemes of understanding that are still treasured in various fields. So, in a sense we cannot but carry on our search after their lead.
But does philosophy actually show the way? Along with so many brilliant aperçus, did not the typical philosophical frame of mind excite the very ideologies against which it had nothing effective to say? What frame of mind am I speaking of? Well, the one implying that any sound theory has to solve contradictions.
To such an end the following alternative modes have been devised: a) if p is true, then non-p is false; b) if p and non-p both look true, then a hidden synthesis is to be found; c) if p and non-p both are proved false, then skepticism must prevail; d) if an overwhelming complexity runs our world, then a superior, metaphysical order – monistic, dualistic, whatever – must be there, waiting to be either boldly revealed or humbly revered; e) if a magma of likelihoods and unlikelihoods is what has to be faced, then maybe an artistic depiction is our best chance to throw light on them. Such mutually exclusive modes seem wholly reasonable as long as they stand alone, governing the world they have set up, all other worlds ignored or despised. But for anything to be all-inclusive a different solution of contradictions must be devised.
Historical conditions have built systems of thoughts devised to support local ideas, or to fight them. Fighting is something life requires us to do; but the art of comprehending, by its name’s sake, should just embrace without choking. The outcome of a fight of ideas is often more of the same, clashing ideotics. Socrates’ confident endeavor in the realm of reason sparkled a fight of ideas between his followers; the output was a handful of mutually dogmatic schools. Unwittingly, even fierce thinkers as Marx and Nietzsche, while fighting against old ideotics, entrenched new ones.
Post-philosophy suggests a few unimpressive remedies against the recurrence of ideotics, based on old empiricism mixed up with pragmatism, the ethics of dialogue, and more concepts left over by the linguistic turn. The basic implication is that philosophy is dead because truths are countless, meanings are lost in translations, languages reflect worlds apart, visions are always local. All said and done, a foolproof overall understanding of human experience is out of circulation. Philosophy survives only as a warning against its own former aspirations. [top]

The foolproof question (and answer).

Philosophy came recently to an end (or back to its beginnings) after it was finally thought of as an assorted library of local narratives. The fact is, philosophy’s mission used to be closely the opposite, namely to collect all narratives under a comprehensive view. The problem with philosophy was the meaning of that ‘all’. Even in its most liberal ages, it has been a local ‘all’, a concocted one. Rarely an attempt has been made to effectively encompass all that is the case in human life, except by a few skepticists, who assumed that the variety of human eveniences shows that no overall understanding is ever available.
The demise of philosophy, like the death of an old cantankerous grandparent, has been sort of mornfully rejoiced. After all, the best of philosophy’s legacy has been transferred to modern science, i.e. to a host of interdependent branches of research, each of them roughly competent whithin its own self-assigned realm. Ironically, the only surviving warranty, far from being a universal truth, is a provisional, falsifiable agreement between peer reviewers. The readier they are dropped and re-assessed, the easier such agreements come across as proper solutions, for the time being.
Yet, there’s a question nobody presently offers an answer to, the oldest and most baffling one: As human beings, can we think up a complex, common concept of what living is like, no matter what it is that is actually lived? A concept that is proven right by whatever happens to be felt, done, thought, and said? Let’s call this the foolproof question, the one whose answer should never be wronged. Now, prosophy’s aims at answering the foolproof question anew.
The first objection to it is, Isn’t the foolproof question itself foolish? Any answer we happen to choose, how could we project it over the cultural time-space of humankind, from the distant past to the furthest future? Not to mention all other forms of intelligent life to be accounted for.
Of course, we cannot but act and think presently. The present is where everything happens. All human navigation is inevitably done in somebody’s right-now. This seems a drastic drawback, at first, but taking it into full account might prove our best choice. The right-now provision is common to all that is lived. An all-encompassing view of human affairs must face its own right-now condition. Here’s where prosophy starts from, after philosophy. [top]

What philosophies were after.
The history-of-philosophy scheme.
Philosophy’s five or six obvious horizons.
Looking for sense.
Defining meaning.
Method and impasse.
Linguistic turn and downturn.
Post-philosophy. Its limits.
Relativism isn’t bad, but there’s a bad relativism.
Philosophy’s overall success and failure.
The ‘after philosophy’ concept.
The foolproof question (and answer).
First posted September 15, 2014.
NB. Needless to say, this page shortens its subject in a very drastic way, offering no more than a list of themes, each of them deserving a thorough exploration. All the same, most of my points derive from current debates on the end of philosophy or its last metamorphosis. In fact, they summarize what is more or less taken for granted and is becoming commonplace.