Some Thoughts about Thought (3/12/11)

My conception of philosophical thinking is essentially a dramatic or dialectical one—as far removed from a static, uniform, self-consistent explication as possible. Thoughts, ‘positions,’ and statements are principally means to the end of kick-starting and fueling the process of dialectical thinking in the mind and soul of the reader. In themselves, they are inevitably incomplete, partial, fragmentary—and consequently, they are as likely to dampen or to choke the process of dialectical thinking as they are to provoke and nourish it. Whether they help or hinder the process depends in no small part, then, upon the willingness of the reader to move deeper into questions, rather than have them resolved as simply, patly, and expediently as possible. Here, one is entitled, perhaps, to distinguish two contrasting types of readers: one who looks chiefly for explanations and towards an end to questioning; and another who seeks primarily for provocation or stimulation of thought for the sake of pushing the frontier further and further. The ideal piece of writing to issue from my pen would resemble a polarized energy field in its dynamic form or structure. Why is this? The piece would then most likely be capable of sparking or kindling the sort of enquiry (in the reader’s mind) that can burst into the purging, luminous flame of speculative thinking.

I am trying, then, to kick start thinking for its own sake—open-ended thinking. This campaign (modestly approached, but essentially immodest in its ambitions) collides quite dramatically with the widespread, ‘normal’ attitude and practice (at least here in the U.S.). Thinking, for the most part, has a problem-solving character and telos, or aim, in our present-day culture. It has been dubbed ‘pragmatic’ or ‘instrumental’ reason. My own intentions are by no means hostile to pragmatic or instrumental thinking. I am fully aware of the great benefits it has dropped (like a bomb or a golden egg?) upon mankind, especially in the arenas of medicine, technology, and scientific research. I am as grateful as the next person for the role played by instrumental reason in the ‘relief of man’s estate’ (as Francis Bacon, one of the architects of this kind of thinking, so eloquently and—dare I say?—prematurely put it.)

I merely wish to do my small part to help resurrect and resuscitate the dynamic, dialectical, speculative mode of thinking that has largely been eclipsed by instrumental reasoning. Obviously, this eclipse could not have happened if pragmatic thinking had not been so marvelously successful in the arena where its distinctive light and power are most effective—namely in the arena of material events and processes. But the intellectual and material potency of science and instrumental reason has not been able, by itself, to obliterate philosophical, speculative reason from our culture, our educational institutions, and consequently, from our way of approaching reality. There were weaknesses and defects from which philosophical thinking chronically suffered—and it is to everyone’s ultimate benefit, I would argue, that these weaknesses and imperfections be frankly acknowledged, and not elided or swept under the carpet. But that is for another time.

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