Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Use of Metaphysics

A fear common among many philosophers is that they don't matter, that their work is unimportant. I presume anyone who has had a philosophical thought has also felt this way, though different philosophers will of course have different ideas of what "mattering" is, and their lack of mattering could be due to a wide variety of factors.

One of my own fears in this regard is due to political commitments. I instinctively so hate the category of individuality and the individual that I wonder whether I can reconcile metaphysical issues with political ones. It used to be that I used the defense of "truth" or "knowledge" or any other such lofty goals, but in the end this truth or knowledge would probably be for me and the few people I influenced directly, at this point only in conversations and almost entirely fellow students. But how can I justify my thought through appeal to truth, when this truth is not for all? It may be "for all" in some sense, as in its address, but in all likelihood such abstracted desires are just rarefied ego-inflation.

Does thought matter? In particular, does academic and intellectual production matter? I would ask: Does it matter for politics, for the collective? Even if I analyze capitalism, even if I attempt to champion a watertight reading of Badiou as an egalitarian, what does such a thing do?

I have to believe that thought matters, that academics matter. Certainly, politics matters. The problem is that sometimes I think that only politics matters. I would imagine that many intellectuals, raised on Marx and currently invested in communist theorists like Zizek and Badiou, feel this way as well.

Perhaps I am becoming more pessimistic about the possibilities for changing the world. The old Gramscian phrase "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will" offers no respite.

I do believe that metaphysics is one of the most important things, and something which is governed not simply by practical expediency. But as far as justifying my own intellectual practice, I run into problems. It is not as if I am doubting either metaphysics or my political commitments. But I am questioning my role regarding politics, the production of knowledge, and so on.

I want to know what it is possible to think. I think philosophy and mysticism allow one to approach a viable answer, though of course the possibilities, being endless, can only be accrued, added together, conjoined, and filled in by more and different thoughts and theories which allow for their production. This is not to say that I have become a relativist with regard to philosophical systems, only that different systems allow for different thoughts. True and false, correct and incorrect, useful or not, are all further potentialities. The goal is both to survey the landscape of thought and then chart a path to traverse it. Ontologies, broadly conceived in the new and most eminently fashionable way, are the most general kind of mapping (this, combined with speculative experience of a perhaps esoteric type). The bones are then filled in, with perhaps even concrete analysis as a final product. But that is not my specialty, not my capability. Maybe at some point.

So what am I to do? Keep reading, keep thinking, realize my project is not necessarily justified. Probably even come up with a theory glorifying this impossibility of justification.

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