(The following is an exerpt from a book I started to write in the summer of 1998 (at the age of 19). Having taken my first few courses in undergrad philosophy, I was overcome with a sense that traditional philosophical theory was far too exclusive. Convinced that there had to be a better way to share logic and reason with the world, I wrote a little something called “Modern Philosophy: A Comprehensive Study of Man and His Environment”, and this is how it all began…)
ON THE ACCESSIBILITY OF PHILOSOPHY
Upon first seeing this book on the shelves of the local bookstore, you undoubtedly asked yourself, “Another book on Philosophy? Who keeps writing these things?!” The simple answer, in this case, is me. The more complex answer is addressed throughout the rest of the book, and is best summarized by the assertion that nearly every book on philosophy ever written (aside from those few revolutionary texts that actually manage to steer philosophy in a brand new direction) was created by the exact same person. Now by this I don’t intend to convince you that some two thousand year old hermit is sitting in a penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton pumping out text after text under various assumed names. What I am trying to highlight is the uncanny similarity between many of these books, and the lack of insight that such redundency ultimately provides.
People today are fed up with “traditional” philosophy (a term which I will soon redefine) and its droning chorus of extravagant equations: “A wants to X, such that U is the result of B watching A do X without Y.” They want to read something in modern prose, with a message that examines some of the more challenging questions of our times.
One need look no further than the title of this section (“ON THE ACCESSIBILITY OF PHILOSOPHY”) to witness first-hand the arrogance of philosophical rhetoric. The introductory “epithet” is quite popular in philosophical circles, and draws its roots from the writings of the ancient Romans whose works were published in Latin, Rome’s native tongue. In Latin epithets, as in Latin poetry, phrases were brief and implied a meaning much larger than was explicitly demonstrated. Take for example the Latin proverb, “de gustibus“, which literally means “about taste.” The full translation of this proverb, however, reveals just how exclusive philosophy has become: “there is no argument when it comes to taste.” In my mind, this is a perfect example of how philosophers have adopted a linguistic system that’s only useful for those students whose academic background matches that of their teachers, to the unfortunate exclusion of everyone else.
It is with this in mind that I condemn traditional philosophical thought. Although it has dutifuly served as the vessel upon which pure philosophy has traveled the seas of time, traditional philosophy has outlived its usefulness, and pure philosophy is ready to pick up the torch and march on to future heights. Its vague messages and inflated vocabulary, coupled with its almost stifling use of redundancy, leads me to believe that there must be a better way to open windows into the essence of humankind, without closing any windows on the patience of the human mind.
No longer is philosophy for the spiritual and intellectual elite. Today the demand for an accessible “world view” is virtually unlimited, and pure philosophy must step-up to meet that challenge. It must expand beyond the same existential fodder that has fueled philosophical debate for centuries, and move on toward a more practical philosophy, a more Modern Philosophy, a philosophy whose message can be adopted and embraced by the common man without any external interpretation.
It must be made accessible. It must be made comprehensible. It must be made enjoyable. And on that note, let us begin…
A FEW DEFINITIONS
In essence, Philosophy is a very personal exercise. Many people have made quite a living telling us otherwise, but no one stopped writing long enough to realize that philosophy (in its broadest sense) was never meant to be used for developing social and political ideologies – both of which deal with a broad audience and focus less on the individual than on the species as a whole.
Philosophy is the means by which an individual comes to terms with the world around him. It’s as personal as thought; as private as prayer. By universalizing philosophy, scholars of the past have separated thought from being. They made “thinking” into a social experiment, conferring upon the individual the choice of following one philosophical stream or another, without leaving him the tools or the opportunity to arrive at a philosophy of his own. In effect, philosophy was a restricted field of study, left to the only people qualified enough to continue writing in that same tradition. Those people were inevitably students of their predecessors, and hence, students of their masters’ philosophy. It’s unfortunate that philosophy has cycled through the ages in such a creatively stagnant form.
As a result, the basic questions that traditional philosophy has explored over the ages have remained practically the same. From one text to the next, the torch has been passed, with each new author spending thousands of pages regurgitating all of his colleagues’ work, perhaps translating it into different languages or using a different grammatical form, but with essentially no change to the actual thesis itself. In that spirit, aside from one or two rare gems of enlightened thought, most traditional philosophical works could literally be compiled into one exhaustive text, thus saving readers a lot of their time, and printers a lot of their paper.
Maybe I’m being a little too harsh on the “traditionalists” here, but the fact still remains: I was motivated enough by reading text after text and line after line of that same traditionalist dribble that I actually sat down and wrote this book in official protest, and I encourage you to do the same! Whether anything gets published or not is completely irrelevant. Like most things, what matters most is the journey, not the destination.
To be clear, when thoughts remain internalized they tend to remain disorganized and lack the proper coherency. As soon these thoughts are written down and organized, however, we’re one step closer to understanding precisely what we think and precisely why we think it. As a natural consequence, my concept of a more personal (read :”Modern”) philosophy is much more useful than its more universal (read: “Traditional”) counterpart.
That’s not to say that we can’t all benefit from exploring traditionalist lines of reasoning. But simply put, Traditional Philosophy by itself is not enough. It fails to affect us the way our own personal philosophy does, and there are two basic reasons for this. First, in traditional philosophy, the circle of interest is broader because such theories require universality when addressing an entire audience. This fails, however, to account for the individuality of people and their inherent differences not only in belief, but also in perspective. It tries to fit all of humankind into a psychological mold, and makes assumptions based upon the principle of such uniformity. Thus, traditional philosophy is almost solely focused on the definition of relationships with other persons, often leaving out the necessary definition of the self.
Second, traditional philosophy uses its own grammatical syntax, departing quite radically from traditional prose, and leaving its message beyond basic comprehension for the majority of its readers. Its daunting equations and seemingly endless run-on sentences discourage any prospective readers from exploring any further, and serves only to distort the author’s original message. Take for example the following passage from Jean-Paul Sartre, a paper whose convoluted title is indicative of the convoluted text it aims to introduce:
BEING AND NOTHINGNESS:
An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology
The Other’s look confers spatiality upon me. To apprehend oneself as looked-at is to apprehend oneself as a spatializing-spatialized…Thus the appearance of the look is apprehended by me as the upsurge of an ekstatic [sic] relation of being, of which one term is the “me” as for-itself which is what it is not and which is not what it is, and of which other term is still the “me” but outside my reach, outside my action, outside my knowledge…(p269)
Got all that? I thought so. Now the only effect reading something like this has on me is complete and total repulsion. When Sartre’s message is made clear through expert analysis, his argument seems tangible enough — he is searching for a way to rationally determine that other people are not only bodies but persons as well. The medium Sartre uses to convey his message, however, seems wildly inappropriate.
Philosophy should not require an interpreter. Its message should be self-evident and accessible to all readers. That’s the beauty of Modern Philosophy. Its structure is simple. Its message is clear. Whether or not the reader explicitly agrees with everything, the process of exploring modern philosophical issues stimulates, at the very least, further discussion, either through an aggravation or a reaffirmation of the reader’s existing personal beliefs.
Therein lies the strength of Modern Philosophy: its ability to perpetuate itself through simple reflection at the personal level. There will never be formal challenges to Modern Philosophy, for the simple reason that judgment of someone’s personal philosophy assumes an authority to judge, and that authority remains solely vested within the individual.
Thus, Modern Philosophy serves only as a facilitator. It is not a means by which individuals prescribe alternate systems of understanding to their intellectual peers. It is a forum in which the mutual sharing of knowledge inevitably leads to a better understanding of the self, and by extension, a more comprehensive understanding of others. Best of all, it’s accessible to everyone, and that might be its greatest strength of all.
It is with this in mind that I now share with you my own personal philosophy as it unfolds within the pages of this book…