Philosophy as Poetry

In 2004, the American pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty spent three days holding his Page-Barbour lectures entitled Philosophy as Poetry. Its beautiful title captures important aspects of Rorty’s philosophy. 

Philosophy is not about presenting solutions to problems but inventing problems worth exploring. Some of the problems that Rorty addresses relate to the notion of origin and reality—both concepts are not something given or static. For example, philosophy is not a thinking tool aimed at representing reality; rather, it’s a curious and creative exploration of what is possible.

For Rorty, at least in these three lectures, philosophy begins when we overcome the representational figure of thinking (i.e. reality versus appearance); actually, it begins with a wondering imagination. Perhaps for this reason, he—like many continental philosophers—sees philosophy as a literary genre. According to the French philosopher Michel Serres, a work of fiction can often produce far more experience, knowledge, and testing of our moral limitations than some philosophical papers. 

So what is Rorty saying? 

“… we need to think of reason not as truth-tracking faculty but as a social practice,” he says, continuing, “We need to think of imagination not as the faculty that produces visual or auditory images but as a combination of novelty and luck. To be imaginative, as opposed to being merely fantastical, is to do something new and to be lucky enough to have that novelty be adopted by one’s fellow human, incorporated into their social practices.” 

Later, he clarifies: “What we call ‘increased knowledge’ should not be thought of as increased access to the Real but as increased ability to do things—to take part in social practices that make possible richer and fuller human lives.”

Philosophy is a creative and imaginative practice proposing new ways of living more humanely, which always seemed to be one of Rorty’s concerns

From Emerson, Rorty takes the notion that there “is no outside, no inclosing wall”, there is nothing outside language. Language comes to us with the world like a wave hitting the shore. 

“Every human achievement,” Rorty says, “is simply a launching pad for greater achievement … There are only larger human lives to be lived.” 

Referring to Schiller, Shelley, and Nietzsche he emphasizes that we must become “the poets of our own lives”, echoing Nietzsche’s commend; however, not just our own lives (which would be an ego trip) but for “the world in which those lives are lived is a creation of the human imagination.”

Imagination is the principle vehicle of human progress. If you can’t imagine another world, then you can’t act responsibly. Thus, the task of philosophy is to create better poems, to achieve something better, to expand life. 

In a similar way, when Nietzsche tried to overcome Platonism, he said that it’s not about self-knowledge but “self-creation through self-description.” Reason, in other words, works only within the limits set by imagination. Or, as Wittgenstein, another of Rorty’s companions, said, “We should not ask about meaning but only about use.” For example, “… if we have a plausible narrative of how we became what we are, and why we use the words we do as we do, we have all we need in the way of self-understanding.” 

Rorty’s philosophy as poetry is narrative and inconclusive—just like life is. The words we use to describe the world change because everything in life changes. Therefore, the search for truth is also a search for justification, and being “rational is a practice of giving and asking for reason, not the employment of an innate truth-tracking faculty.” 

If there is a romantic formula, it goes something like this: you imagine something novel, like catching an idea; you then test and experiment with this idea, and perhaps this novelty is so good that it will become a new social practice. 

The Philosophical Imagination

In The Philosophical Imagination, Richard Moran brings together a wide variety of essays that cover art, moral psychology, and philosophy of minds, as well as some essays that can be read as small monographs of contemporary philosophers.

He segmented 16 essays into three parts: Art and Aesthetics, Reading of Contemporary Philosophers, and Agency and the First person. The first part explored the concept of imagination as more than just a capacity to imagine certain things. Moran understands imagination as an approach to life or a way of connecting. Imagination, he said, “Has less to do with simply imagining something to be the case, or imagining doing or feeling something, and more to do with what we ordinarily think of as ‘imaginativeness.’ It is concerned with the ability to make connections between various things, to notice and respond …”

To some extent, this explanation could serve as a methodological guide for most of the essays, in which Moran was making connections with art and other philosophers—as he did in the second part—such as Iris Murdoc, Stanley Cavell, Bernard Williams, and Kant. Moreover, certain themes are linked together, e.g., when Moran unfolds Murdoch and her critique of existentialism, he ends up writing, “The personality is already interested in the choice before one chooses, and when the choice is postponed, the personality chooses unconsciously or the choice is made by obscure powers within it.”

These ideas are clarified later, in the third part, e.g., in the essay Interpretation Theory and the First Person, where he states, “A future theory of behavior could do very well without providing a reason to eliminate reference to persons and beliefs in our relation to ourselves and to others.” Furthermore, this idea is present in the essay called Self-Knowledge, “Transparency,” and the Forms of Activity, where self-knowledge is indicated as “a form of ‘transparency’ where a person can tell us what they think about some possibility by reflecting on that possibility itself.”

Philosophical imagination emerges in the gap between what is conscious and what is unconscious, or what is real and what is fiction.

In a way, Moran illustrates that the difference is blurry (i.e. between fiction and non-fiction), which is why art and literature can affect us or enrich us just as powerfully as anything “real” in life.

The essays in this collection are well written, they are accessible to non-academics as well as useful for academics—particularly in the area of aesthetics where Moran with impressive ease has blended Plato, Aristotle, and Hume, to clarify the concept of beauty in Kant and Proust. Moran’s style of writing is not polemical, but educational, although he is never pedantic. He embodies that philosophical thinking takes time. Actually, he lives up to his own credo, when he says, “I am working in a tradition of doing philosophy that takes the work of reading to be as centrally a form of philosophical thought as any other, and not a substitute for the real thing.” Personally, I found Moran to be a good companion to think with and to learn from.

I will return to some of the essays, if and when, I will work with rhetoric, metaphors or art in a more classical sense.

Published in Metapsychology, Volume 22, Issue 45

Empirisme og fantasi

”In fact, empiricism is a philosophy of the imagination and not a philosophy of the senses.” – Gilles Deleuze

Henover sommeren vil jeg genlæse et par af den franske filosof Gilles Deleuzes bøger. Primært nogle af dem, der har det med at blive overset. Læsningen tjener som opvarmning til min deltagelse i en Deleuze-konference, som holdes i Orhan Pamuks hjemby i juli.

Lad mig starte med Deleuzes første bog, den nok mest oversete, nemlig Empiricism and Subjectivity. An Essay on Hume´s Theory of Human Nature. Deleuze udgav denne, mens han blot var en knægt i starten af tyverne. Eterfølgeren, hans fremragende bog om Nietzsche, udkom otte-ni år senere.

Er der en grund til, at Hume-bogen er overset? Ja og nej.

Fra Nietzschebogen og frem, er Deleuze en yderst original læser og tænker, men ikke desto mindre rummer Hume-bogen mange interessante ideer, som foldes ud senere i forfatterskabt.

I forordet til den engelske udgave udtaler Deleuze, at David Hume foregriber Kant ved hjælp af begrebet tiltro. Tro erstatter viden. At tro, er at foregribe, skriver Deleuze.

Hvad er konditionerne for en velbegrundet tro? På baggrund af dette spørgsmål udvikler Hume, ifølge Deleuze, en teori om sandsynlighed. Og denne sandsynlighedsteori er baseret på en relationslogik, der viser, at alle relationer (mellem mennesker og ideer) er ydre. Det er meget kort fortalt bogens plot.

Flere steder skriver skriver Deleuze: “Relations are external to their term.” Der er her tale om en måde at tænke på, som er sigende for Deleuze. Sætningen understreger, at relationer ikke repræsenterer eller forholder sig til en eller anden given identitet. Snarere at livet styres af ydre kræfter. En kraft er relationens kapacitet, dvs. at kræfter ikke determinerer relationen for sig selv, eller i sig selv, men kommer til udtryk i selve mødet. Sagt mere simpelt, de fleste relationer mellem mennesker går i stykker, når noget, fx ens forhold til ens partner, pludselig evalueres i lyset af et bestemt ideal eller identitet. Forholdet er ikke længere blivende, men ER enten lig idealet eller ej.

Hos Deleuze er der ingen model for livet. Senere i sit forfatterskab uddyber han, at en kraft er lig med dens rækkevide, dvs. dens sortiment af mulige møder med andre kræfter.

Vender vi tilbage til distinktionen mellem tiltro og viden, skriver Deleuze bl.a.: “I believe in what I have neither seen nor touched.” Det er en smuk sætning, synes jeg. Empirisme handler mere om imagination end vores sansers evne til at sanse. Dette er ligeledes en tanke, som er tilstede i hele forfatterskabet. Denne ide påvirker endvidere den gængse forståelse af forholdet mellem årsag og virkning. Effekterne eller virkninger er vigtigere end ens eventuelle gisninger om, hvad der mon er årsagen. Der er trods alt visse følelser og tanker, som vi ikke kan ignorere, skønt vi ikke med sikkerhed ved, hvorfra de kommer.

Et andet sted skriver Deleuze “… philosophy, being a human science, need not search for the cause, it should rather scrutinize effects. The cause cannot be known, principles have neither cause nor an origin of their power. What is original is their effects upon the imagination.

Helt klassisk er Humes filosofi en kritik af rationalismens repræsentationsfigur, fordi “representations cannot present relations …” Vores tanker er ikke fornuftige. Snarere er vores fornuft en affekt af vores tanker. Måske er det derfor at fornuf ofte kaldes instinkt, vane eller natur (jf. noget er logisk). Man kan sagtens finde nyttige argumenter mod hjerneforskningens trættende påstand om at mennesket er dets hjerne – y nada mas. Deleuze vil sige, at vores forestillinger og tanker er underlagt ydre kræfter. Dette hænger igen sammen med at enhver relation er ydre betinget.

Når Deleuze senere i sine skriverier taler om tilblivelse, er det aldrig forstået som en selv-skabelse, snarere en selv-overvindelse. At lade sig forme; at slippe illusionen om at kunne kontrollerer alt.

Der redegøres også for, at moral ikke er noget naturligt, men noget skabt. “It is not our nature which is moral, it is rather our morality which is in our nature,” skriver han.

Han (Hume og Deleuze) taler om sympati for det kommende. Hume kritiserer klassiske kontraktteorier, idet de udspringer af frygt og egoisme (fx Hobbes). Der er en manglende tro på menneskets evne til at samarbejde. Problemet er med andre ord et spørgsmål om tiltro. Eller hvordan noget sandsynliggøres. Lad mig give et eksempel. Statens problem, siger Hume, er, at den ikke formår at gøre den generelle interesse troværdig. Hvad er eksemplevis den generelle interesse blandt danskere? Det er nok ikke økonomisk vækst, som politikerne konstant snik-snakker om, men noget mere alment menneskelige såsom velvære, trivsel og meningsfuldt arbejde. Hvorfor skal vi forføreres til at tro, at mere økonomisk vækst partout giver mere velvære og mening, når selvsamme vækst også genererer flere eksistentielle sygdomme, fx angst, stress, depressioner?

Udfordringen er bl.a. at gøre ens fantasi eller forestillingsevne troværdig; transformere denne til noget sandsynligt. Hvilket kun er muligt, når og hvis, ens fantasi har et holdepunkt, fx i kraft af det som berører en: mødet, dvs. relationerne. Det vil altså være en fejl at tro, at Deleuze sætter pris på fantasien som sådan. Tværtimod. Dumhed er og forbliver dumhed uanset, hvor fantasifuldt den indpakkes. Den er altid forankret i et møde, noget konkret.

Flere af disse ideer leder til interessante tanker om hvad et subjekt er (hvis det er og ikke snarere bliver til). Et par citater kan understrege dette: “… believing and inventing is what makes the subject a subject” – “The given is no longer given to the subject; rather, the subject constitutes itself in the given.” – “The subject invents and believes; it is a synthesis of the mind.”

Tro og opfindelse. Subjektet tror på det, som sker eller er givet, mens det opfinder eller konstituerer sig selv i lyset heraf. Vanen er det, som konstituerer subjektet, idet vanen er foregribende. Vanen har tillid til fortiden og dens eventuelle varen mod fremtiden. Her tænker Deleuze allerede med Bergson, som han senere skriver en monografi om. Hvad der er vigtigt er dog, at subjektet hele tiden står i relation til tiden, hvorved subjektet ændrer sig pga. dét, som lægger an. Tid er forandring. Fortiden og nutiden er derfor ikke givet, men skabes gennem subjektets forsøg på at give sig selv en oprindelse. Det er aldrig for sent at få en god barndom, som nogle ynder at sige.

Bogen viser, at relationer er ikke noget, der kan eller bør ses som en svag afglans af et eller andet givet ideal. Der findes ikke noget ideal for hvordan ens barndom, ens familie eller ens forhold skal være. Snarere er enhver relation et middel til aktivitet, til handling. Alt bliver til i mellemrummet, skriver Deleuze sammen med Guattari omkring tredive år senere.

Disse ideer (og flere) leder Deleuze til at give en rimelig klar definition af filosofi, som senere raffineres. “Philosophy must constitute itself as the theory of what we are doing, not as a theory of what there is. What we do has its principles; and being can only be grasped as the object of a synthetic relation with the very principles of what we do.”

Sagt anderledes: filosofi handler om de givende forskelle, fx de forskelle, der gør noget ved os; de forskelle, som det er en udfordring at skabe tiltro til. Deleuze er ikke fænomenolog, men kreativ eller radikal empirist.

Hume-bogen er langt fra Deleuzes bedste, men den er på ingen måde i nærheden af at være dårlig.

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