Inspired by Samuel Barnes, Featured in Belonging Again
On Unstoppable, Unrestricted, and Self-Consuming “Autonomous Rationality”
The Conflict of Mind by O.G. Rose ended with a paper called “Deconstructing Common Life,” which focused on the work of David Hume and Donald Livingston, work that may prove useful for outlining the problems articulated in “Belonging Again.”
“Philosophy” here will primarily be defined classically, as “the act of reasoning” (basically, “philosophy” and “reasoning” will be treated as similes). Consider the following premises:
1. Philosophy can be about anything.
Can you think of a subject that philosophers can’t philosophize? There’s a “Philosophy of Science,” “Philosophy of Relationships,” “Philosophy of Work” — every Ph.D. is a “philosophy of,” after all. Can you name a subject which cannot be philosophized? I would be surprised.
2. Philosophy never ends.
Few if any philosophical subjects are ever exhausted. I’m hesitant to say that “no philosophical answers” exist, but I think it’s fair to say that philosophy basically never ends. The “Great Conversation” that has been going on for thousands of years will likely continue for a thousand more. Can we even imagine how to end the conversation about “What is good?”
3. Philosophy can never provide its own grounding.
Thinking can never provide its own axioms, meaning “autonomous rationality” is impossible. Rationality cannot be rational “all the way down”; eventually, it must rest on premises and “ideas of the true” which are ascribed to through “nonrational” means (note I didn’t say “irrational”). This is a topic discussed throughout The True Isn’t the Rational, but it’s hard to imagine a premise provided in thought that functions as an axiom for that very thought. It seems to always fall into Gödel’s “Incompleteness Theorem.”
4. Philosophy that tries to provide its own grounding consumes itself and takes everything it has absorbed into itself down with it.
David Hume’s great insight was that “unbound rationality” and/or “unbound philosophy” became a force of destruction. “The true” and “the rational” are not similes, and what constitutes “the rational” is relative to what we believe is “true,” which means rationality must come after truth. But how do we decide “what’s true” then? By “nonrational” means, which would mean that rationality which tries to ascribe to a truth “only rationality” would be an impossibility and ultimately prove itself as having nothing to do with the real world. But if this “autonomous rationality” still tried to have something to do with “the real world,” it would have to make “the real world” into its image versus conform itself to “the real world.” This would result in violence, and all that would occur would be that the “autonomous rationality” would increasingly discover its own impossibility. It would ultimately just eat itself while causing violence along the way.
Hopefully, the works of O.G. Rose have justified all these premises, which if put together, gives us the following:
Philosophy potentially never stops being about everything, nor does it ever stop attempting to self-justify itself, which means that philosophy can motivate everything into self-consumption and self-destruction.
David Hume believed that philosophy’s greatest problem was philosophy itself, for philosophy could unleash incredible violence upon the world. At the same time, Hume understood the answer wasn’t to avoid philosophy entirely, for “critical reasoning” was necessary for a people to defend themselves from tyrants, “bad philosophy,” and the like. “Thoughtlessness” was never the answer for Hume (the dangers of which Arendt recognized with her “banality of evil”), but it’s counter of philosophy was also risky. What was needed was a full “philosophical journey,” but what is meant by this is explained in “Deconstructing Common Life.”
Hume understood the answer was “good philosophy,” which was a rationality that ultimately deferred to “common life.” It was a rationality which embedded itself in the world versus stand over it judgmentally; it exercised itself “in service” of a particular way of life versus view all particular ways of life as “subjective” and therefore irrational; it tried to understand the world more than change it. Rationality and philosophy which didn’t serve “common lives” would ultimately prove unstoppable and a force of destruction.
Another language we could use to describe the problem is “bound philosophy” (good) and “unbound philosophy” (bad). What binds “philosophy?” Well, “givens,” which can be a source of “thoughtlessness” and horrifying “banality of evil.” The hope is that “good philosophy” can keep “givens” from incubating social horrors, but there’s always a risk wherever there are “givens.” But Hume as argued, erasing “givens” unleashes “bad philosophy,” from which there can be no escape.
“Unbound philosophy” won’t stop until it consumes and destroys everything in its effort to be its own grounding, an effort which it must ultimately fail. Philosophy is philosophy’s greatest problem, and the solution is “nonrational” (“non-philosophical”) “givens,” which is a solution that philosophy will find no “philosophical justification” to accept within itself. The justification must come from wisdom outside of rationality, from “common life” and “lived experience” — from “good philosophy.” Philosophy that helps us is philosophy that understands it isn’t the end of all things.