I once overheard some desperate wag declare, “Der Wille zum System ist ein Mangel an Rechtschaffenheit.” [“The will to a system is a lack of integrity!”]
What was he talking about? What is a philosophical system? Why is creating or supporting or using them reprehensible? What was he talking about?
A philosophical system is a framework that explains everything essential: what can be known, what is true, how you should live. It is a complete philosophy. And you can put it on like you’d put on a religion. You can wear it. It has grooves into which you can slide your intellectual and emotional thoughts, and it also has an interface with both perceptions and Reality (assuming the system believes in a Reality). So it allows your ideas and feelings to relate adequately to themselves, each other, your daily experience, and (sometimes at least) Reality.
The problem with philosophical systems is that they are just built of ideas, but human life is ideas, feelings, vague notions, and whatever-all-else. So how can a human being expect a contraption made entirely of ideas to adequately answer the questions of his or her life? Also, intellectual ideas cannot prove or disprove their own ultimate viability and/or meaningfulness. So why would you trust a fortress of intellectual ideas to keep you safe and bring you to whole-being victory?
And yet, and yet. Friends, friends, what if we calm down? What if we don’t wear philosophical systems too tightly? What if we just put them on to try a new perspective, to help guide our thinking towards better ways to address our fundamental longing to know what is going on and what should be done about it? What if we just calm the fuck down?
Certainly, a philosophical system will never be literally True, nor ever completely inhabitable/livable by human beings.
However, while a human will never fit completely within a philosophical system — and what a nauseating limit, what a tragedy if a human could fit into a set of ideas! —, systems can help us coherently organize ourselves.
One must merely remember that the intellect’s not all we are: each human conscious moment contains feelings (including both emotions and sense-perceptions), ideas, senses-of-things (prior to ideas and feelings: ur-ideas and ur-feelings together, before differentiating into ideas and feelings; for example the inner sense that eventually gets estimated up into concepts like “what I say and do matters”; another word for “senses-of-things” might be “vague notions”), and — if the song within the storm is correct — most fundamentally a Something Deeper (aka: God, the Light within, etc — we’re poetically pointing through concepts towards what is ultimately prior to concepts) that alone knows what is really going on, what really matters, and what we should actually do. And it is an intellectually unproven and unprovable intellectual prejudice that these various aspects cannot interact meaningfully with one another, with thought-tools like language, and with other human beings. [there’s some translation required to translate, for example, feelings into ideas; and all translations are imperfect; but “imperfect” does not necessarily mean “inadequate”.]
Philosophical systems like those sketched in Plato’s Republic or the Buddha’s teachings can — so long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that human conceptual structures can only be imperfect ladders and platforms in one’s climb to more and more insight into and reliance upon the Truth within — help people organize their conscious moments around the Truth.
One can benefit from trying on, for example, the general sketch of living gently and peaceably while simultaneously reaching for and seeking to flow out of the Form of the Good at one’s center (the “Form of the Good” is here another poetic formulation for that Light within which alone is wise enough to adequately advise your thought as a whole). Playing within such a intellectual/emotional/spiritual framework — presuming you don’t forget it is just a human construct and not itself the Truth (aka: the Form of the Good; aka: God) — help you organize your thought-as-a-whole better and better.
Philosophy is always like Descarte’s “Meditations” in this regard: one person tries to intellectually think-through hisorher own experience of fundamental questions about knowledge, reality, meaning, and morality (ie: formulate a coherent intellectual response to them), and then invites others to try the logic on: to see how it fits their own experiences and thinking-throughs. Even if a philosophy doesn’t spell out a system for understanding reality, it presumes a system: people always do — we always carry within our assumptions more fundamental ones about how to take in, organize, analyze, and evaluate information. So a blatant philosophical system is actually more forthcoming than much philosophical thinking: it takes great pains to tell the reader where it is coming from.
Clutching systems too tightly is indeed destructive, as trying to turn mere human ideas into eternal Truths must be; but humans need some intellectual beliefs to keep their intellects grounded and coherent, and we in any case cannot help but trust some general heuristics for how one should approach life (aka: systems) and we cannot help but believe some things (indeed radical skepticism—supposing that you need to disbelieve everything—is, self-defeatingly, both a system and belief).
So enjoy creating and using philosophical systems! Don’t clutch them too tightly, but that goes for all merely human constructs. We are merely humans, so we need to build and use merely human constructs, but our Good cannot be contained within them, because the do not adequately understand and respond to Love.
Authors: Sommerset Gone and B Willard
Copyright: AMW and Andy Watson