Reality—An Introduction to Philosophy
[NOTE: The following is from a proposed introduction to a formal treatise on philosophy which is unlikely to ever be completed, since I no longer have a serious interest in teaching philosophy to those who despise it. Nevertheless, I will be writing a very light version of philosophy in, "plain English," as an experiment. Ninety percent of what is wrong with philosophy is all the bad philosophy that dominates academia and the popular press which is, to a very large extent, put over by means of language which is so obtuse and esoteric, the honest student of philosophy will give up the search for truth in despair before really beginning. Perhaps a clear presentation of basic philosophical principles can ameliorate that problem to some extent.]
Sheila: Uncle, Can human beings live without philosophy?|
Uncle: They can survive, if that's what you mean, Darling, but they cannot live very well, and only as something less than human beings.
Sheila: Then we need to teach them philosophy, don't we Uncle?
Uncle: No, Darling. It's not possible. Humans generally are nescient, vacuous, gullible, and mentally stagnant. They cannot be taught much of anything of real value."
Uncle is right, and his niece understood exactly what he said. There is no point in teaching philosophy to those who can neither understand or appreciate it. Philosophy is for the exceptional. Everyone else, those Mencken called, "the common man," but today are referred to as the, "TV viewing public," are what Uncle referred to as "humans generally." Uncle's terms may not be obvious to you but they mean simply that most people are ignorant, stupid, superstitious, and choose to be stuck in that condition.
It's not a necessary condition. People choose to be what they are. They are mostly poor, unhappy, and always in some kind of trouble but never make the connection between their misery and their moral failures. To be stupid, ignorant, and superstitious is a moral failure.
No one has to be ignorant. They could all learn more than they do. Ignorant does not mean not knowing everything, it means not learning all one can learn, or learning as little as one thinks they can get away with.
No one has to be stupid. They could all think better than they do. Stupid doesn't mean unable to think, it means not thinking as well as one can and not bothering to learn how.
No one has to be gullible. They could all see what they believe cannot possibly be true. Superstitious does not mean being afraid of black cats and Friday the 13th, it means believing things without evidence or reason, based on nothing more than one's feelings, sentiments, irrational fears, baseless impressions, or credulity in some experts or authorities.
[NOTE: Ignorance does not mean knowing nothing. Everyone knows enough to live from day to day, but they make little or no effort to learn any more. Stupid does not mean unable to think at all. Everyone is able to think well enough to get along if there are no really difficult problems to solve or decisions to make. Some of the things people believe are true, but about all the major issues of life, what they believe does not even resemble reality. They believe, for example, the little they've learned, the thinking they are able to do, and what they believe is, "good enough." "It is about the same as everyone else knows, thinks and believes;" they're, "just as good as anyone else." That, at least, is true. It's just that they and everyone else are not much good.]
Philosophy They Will Not Like
With few exceptions no one is interested in philosophy. They don't mind what passes for philosophy in academia, however. The academic perversions of philosophy are written and taught by those who use the methods of philosophy, not to discover the truth, but to evade and obfuscate it. They are just as ignorant, stupid, and superstitious as everyone else.
They hate true philosophy because it describes reality as it actually is and it is reality the sophists and cynics, passing themselves off as intellectuals and philosophers despise.
Reality is immutable, absolute, and ruthless. Immutable means the nature of reality cannot be changed or ever be other than what it is. Absolute means reality is complete and unconditional; it is all there is and is not contingent on anything. Ruthless means reality determines what is true and not true, and no human feelings, desires, choices, acts, beliefs, or wishes can change it.
No one wants to learn about that kind of reality, but it is the only reality there is. No one wants philosophy because the reality it describes is not nice:
- The real world is a very difficult place to live.
- There are no shortcuts to life, success or happiness.
- You must earn everything by your own effort.
- Anything less than your best is failure.
- You cannot do wrong and get away with it.
- There is no forgiveness.
- There is no mercy.
- Neither your feelings nor your desires matter.
- Reality is all there is, the way it is.
- The truth is whatever correctly describes any aspect of reality.
Does that make reality sound harsh? Well, it is. The proper name for that harshness is justice.
Reality is neither cruel or kind, reality is just what is. It is neither malevolent nor benevolent, but it is the means to all that is worth living for and the source of all that is possible. That possibility includes the fact that every individual is provided with all they need to live successfully and happily and to be all they can be as a human being. It means, your every shortcoming and failure is the result of your own choices and actions. It means, if you are not happy, it is your own fault. Reality provides you the means to all good things, but you cannot achieve either success or happiness if you defy reality, or refuse to even learn what it is.
The Reality of All Possibility
As ruthless and implacable as reality is, it is also the source of infinite possibility. No success is possible in defiance of reality, but knowing what reality is and ordering one's life by the principles that describe it makes the achievement of anything possible.
If you are going to conform to reality, however, you must know what it is, what its nature is, and what the principles determined by that nature are, because it is those principles which must be one's guide in all one's thinking, choices, and actions if one is to live successfully and happily in this real world. There is only one field of study that provides that knowledge, the field of philosophy.
Philosophical knowledge is a very small part of human knowledge, but it is the most important, because all other knowledge is dependent on it. It is to all other knowledge what counting, addition, and subtraction are to all of mathematics. All of higher mathematics depends on the principles of simple arithmetic, and all other knowledge in the arts, humanities, and sciences depends on the principles of philosophy.
Philosophical knowledge begins with the nature of all that we call existence. Is that existence real? Exactly what is reality? Can the nature of reality be known? If it can be known, what is the nature of reality that makes it knowable, and what is it about our own natures that makes it possible for us to know it? These are the fundamental questions of philosophy and the branch of philosophy that answers those questions is called metaphysics.
If reality is immutable, absolute, and ruthless, it exists independently of anyone's knowledge or consciousness of it, and any aspect of it that we are conscious of must be exactly what we are conscious of, or what we are conscious of is not reality. The absolute reality we are directly conscious of is physical existence. The study of the physical world is not philosophical, but the province of the physical sciences. It is those aspects of reality we cannot be directly conscious of that philosophy studies and includes life, consciousness, and the human mind. The study of the nature of life is viology. The study of the nature of consciousness and the human mind is philosophical psychology. Life, consciousness, and the human mind, like all other aspects of reality, including the physical, exist independently of anyone's knowledge or consciousness of them and make up "material existence." The philosophical study of the nature of material existence is a subset of metaphysics called ontology.
All of these, metaphysics, ontology, viology, and philosophical psychology, describe the reality all our knowledge is about, and the nature of the human mind that makes knowledge possible. What knowledge actually is and how we can know what is true, and what is not true, is the branch of philosophy called epistemology. It is the most important branch of philosophy.
Epistemology is not just the study of knowledge, but all aspects of the human mind, including the atributes of the mind: volition (the ability and necessity of conscious choice), rationality (the ability and necessity to think and reason), and intellect (the ability and necessity to gain knowledge).
It is the mind that distinguishes human beings from all other creatures and determines how they must live if they are to live successfully. The principles by which human beings must make their choices if they are to be successful and enjoy their lives as human beings are called moral principles and make up the branch of philosophy called ethics.
Ethical principles pertain only to individual human beings and every individual's nature requires them to live by those principles, and would, even if they were the only human being on the planet. But no one is a solitary human being, and it is natural to desire and enjoy the society of others, and social interactions are necessary to a fulfilled human life. The principles that determine how ethical individuals relate to other human beings are delineated in the branch of philosophy called politics. It is the least well understood branch of philosophy with the possible exception of aesthetics.
Epistemology is the most important branch of philosophy; the most sublime branch of philosophy and the one toward which all the others converge is the branch of philosophy called aesthetics which describes the purpose and objective of life itself, which are beauty and the highest forms of joy called bliss and ecstasy.
The following is an outline of philosophy:
The Science of Human Living
- Metaphysics (The nature of existence and reality.)
- Ontology (The nature of material existence.)
- Viology (The nature of life.)
- Psychology (The nature of the mind and human consciousness.)
- Epistemology (The nature of knowledge.)
- Ethics (The nature of moral principles.)
- Politics (The nature of ethics in human relationships.)
- Aesthetics (The nature of beauty and joy.)
Philosophy and the sciences are disciplines of discovery, not authority. The question, in these fields, "who decides," what is true or correct is not only invalid, but viciously deceptive. No one decides what truth is, because truth is what describes reality as it is. No expert, authority, peer review, or consensus determines what is true. It is reality alone that determines what is true; the philosopher or scientist can only discover that truth, not determine or dictate it.
Philosophy, like science, is entirely objective. The difference between the sciences and philosophy is that the sciences are restricted to the study of that aspect of reality we refer to as the physical, and philosophy studies the relationship of the physical to everything else, including the ultimate nature of reality and all that exists that is not physical such as life, consciousness, and the human mind, and the principles determined by the nature of reality identified as ethics, politics, and aesthetics.
Like science, philosophy is a technical discipline, and parts of it can be tedious and demanding. Like science, there are no short-cuts or easy ways to master it. Many philosophical principles can be popularized, just as many scientific principles can be, but philosophy itself will never be a popular subject.
Attempts to popularize philosophy are bound to end disastrously. Such attempts end as half-truths and almost always devolve into ideologies which are promoted like religions. One test for the validity of any supposed knowledge is the extent to which it is debated, promoted, or propagandized. The final arbiter of truth is not the number of people who believe or agree with it; the final arbiter of truth is reality itself. If one knows the truth, they know it, even if they are the only person in the world who does.
In general, philosophy is not as difficult as most of the sciences, and anyone willing to make the effort can learn the general principles of philosophy. Professional philosophers and academics have made philosophy much more difficult than it needs to be, but it is not a subject that can be fully appreciated without effort. It is the most important of all knowledge, yet most people are not willing to make the effort to learn it, and spend most of their lives evading it and suffering the consequences.
Yet, everyone has a philosophy. Most could not identify their philosophy or explain what it is. One's philosophy is all one believes about the nature of reality, what one assumes life is, the value they put on knowledge and the ability to reason and what they think knowledge is and how they believe they ought to relate to others, and most of all, what they think the purpose of their life is and what they are living for. All people have such views and beliefs but they are not beliefs they came to by means of reason, but ideas picked up along the way from their parents, teachers, friends, their favorite "authorities", or various media—and most of what they have picked up is wrong; and they never learn that since one's philosophy is the basis for all their choices and actions in life, it is their philosophy that is the reason for their failures and unhappiness.