P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue No. 197
27th October 2015
Geoffrey Klempner -- special blogging issue
I. Glass House Philosopher I, page 13 (1999)
II. Glass House Philosopher II, page 15 (2004)
III. Hedgehog Philosopher, day 31 (2011)
IV. Sophist Weblog, page 6 (2012)
V. Glass House Philosopher III, page 18 (2015)
FROM THE LIST MANAGER
On 11th October 2015, Pathways to Philosophy celebrated its 20th
birthday. The web has changed enormously in the last two decades, but
Pathways has maintained a solid internet presence from 1997, when the
first Pathways to Philosophy web site was launched, growing and
developing in pace with the exponential growth of the world wide web.
I was one of the first wave of internet bloggers, starting Glass
House Philosopher in August 1999. Coincidentally, and quite unknown
to me, in the very same month a small San Francisco company called
Pyra Labs launched Blogger -- which you might have heard of.
I didn't need a 'blogging platform', as they are now called, as I was
perfectly at home composing pages in raw HTML and uploading the pages
onto my web server. It was only three or four years later that I
first heard the terms 'blog' and 'blogging'. I called my blog simply
an 'online philosophical notebook'.
Glass House Philosopher came about by accident. One of my Pathways
students Laura Laine Kelley (see Laura's essay 'What is philosophy?'
http://www.philosophypathways.com/guide/laura.html) wanted to use the
Six Pathways programs as part of her BA degree at Antioch College,
USA. Laura asked me to write a short bio to support her submission to
the Humanities Faculty. What better excuse for creating a new web
site? On the home page, I wrote a brief account of my career in
philosophy, 'My Philosophical Life' which concluded with a rallying
I am one of a new breed. Call us the Internet Sophists.
Whether more will follow our example, only time will tell.
I believe the university departments have had their day.
Time has come for a more democratic arrangement. The world
wide web offers a paradigm for a radically new approach to
teaching and publishing. Whether the universities like it
or not, the changes have already begun. If they want to
survive, it is time to get on board.
-- And 'get on board' they certainly have. I was wrong about one
thing, though: the term 'internet sophist' has never caught on. I
suspect that the negative associations of 'sophist' were just too
strong. However, that has not deterred me. As a philosopher outside
the academy (see the interview by Jules Evans at
geoffrey-klempner-on-taking-philosophy-beyond-academia/) I can't
think of a more appropriate term. I am a sophist, but I am also a
philosopher. I see no contradiction in that.
My Sophist weblog was launched in 2012. if you visit the page, you
will see a black and white image showing a bust of Gorgias of
Leontini, Greek Sophist c.485 - c.380 BCE.
According to the historian Pliny,
Gorgias of Leontini was the first man to dedicate a solid
gold statue of himself, which he did... in the temple of
Delphi. So great was the profit from teaching the art of
(Natural History XXXIII 83, accessed at
When you hover your mouse over the picture of Gorgias, it changes
magically to gold -- a way of tipping my hat. As I explain in Glass
There are different ways you can look at this. We could
read it as self-glorification. But maybe Gorgias saw it
more as a sacrifice. A gift of his wealth, in the grand
manner of Ford, Carnegie or Guggenheim. According to
Isocrates, 'although he had so great an advantage toward
laying up more wealth than any other man, he left at his
death only a thousand staters' (ibid). -- The rest, one may
surmise, went to the god Apollo.
In stark contrast to the career of the famed Gorgias, I never
expected Pathways to Philosophy to make my fortune, and I was not
proved wrong. However, I am fortunate in not needing many of the
things that are considered necessary for a 'comfortable life'. I am
also glad to be out of the limelight, so that I can carry on with my
own philosophical work undisturbed by the kinds of routine annoyance
that plague academic celebrities and intellectual talk show stars.
And, of course, being outside the Academy, I am working for myself
which is the biggest bonus of all.
Last month, I decided to start a third online notebook at Glass House
Philosopher after a gap of nine years. In between notebooks II and
III, are my blogs Hedgehog Philosopher and Sophist. (For those who
are interested, a complete listing of all my personal sites can be
found in my 'Brief CV' at http://philosophypathways.com/vita.html.)
It feels good to be back home. The glass house which decorates the
front page of Glass House Philosopher is the Palm House at Kew
Gardens in London, one of my favourite photography destinations when
I was doing my Philosophy degree at Birkbeck College London during
1972-6. Forty years later, I am still pondering the same
philosophical problems -- and I still have time to take my camera out
Glass House Philosopher
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2015
I. GLASS HOUSE PHILOSOPHER I, PAGE 13 (1999)
Tuesday, 14th September 1999
Last night, I was enrolling a new Introduction to Philosophy evening
class at the local adult education centre. I recognized a couple of
my regulars. More will come at the first meeting, a week from
tomorrow. There were half a dozen new recruits. We've made our
minimum number, at any rate.
Thinking of the new faces, I am trying to imagine what the first
meeting will be like. It's impossible to tell. There's no common
denominator. The people who lined up could have been plucked off the
street. Yet out of all the inhabitants of Sheffield -- the class was
well publicised -- they are the one's who chose to come. They are
coming for a purpose.
These are very special people.
The evening class is my life line. I don't mind starting from the
very beginning, time and again. They have come to find out what
philosophy is. The first thing I shall say to the class is that I
don't know. By stimulating your questions, I hope to help you
discover for yourselves. Then perhaps you can tell me. -- It's a well
tried ploy, but it works. In my case, it happens to be pretty close to
the truth. This is my tune. I don't have a second string.
Any one of the students sitting at tables arranged in a horse shoe
could have been me when I first started out. Somehow, I feel, the
soul of philosophy is out there. You won't find it poring over piles
of books. You won't find it dredging through the remains of the past.
There's only so much history of philosophy you can take before the
dust chokes you. The dust and cobwebs of centuries. You have to bring
the questions back to life.
Student democracy is one of the great traditions of the Workers'
Educational Association. I will present a selection of topics and
books to study, and the class will decide with a vote. I am there to
cater for their needs, their interests. Obviously, I have my own
needs and my own agenda. I won't get everything my way, but I expect
some quid pro quo. The class know that I need them as much as they
need me, that's the important thing.
Right now, I need some ideas.
One of my regulars shoved me a hastily scribbled list of introductory
books found on the shelves of Waterstones, a large book shop in the
centre of Sheffield. Two of the books, Think by Simon Blackburn, and
Beginning Philosophy by Richard Double -- both recently published by
Oxford -- I have not come across before. I'll give them a look.
There's a thought gnawing at the corner of my brain. Something to do
with dialogue and the soul of philosophy. I can't focus on it. It is
as if there's a wall in between.
Thinking once again about Socrates' famous experiment with the slave
boy in Plato's dialogue the Meno. 'All learning is really
recollection'. Well, nobody believes that. It is a fantastical
theory, taken at face value. Plato is not just saying that we all
have the potential to learn. Nor is he making the point that
philosophical, like maths or geometry is a priori, or known 'prior'
to experience. He is saying that the knowledge in question is
actually in our heads, waiting to be teased out. Phew!
The knowledge isn't in your head and it isn't in mine. It's in the
space between us. Philosophical discoveries are about the world. This
world, not Plato's heaven. But the world is more than just facts. It
has a primordial shape (Heidegger) a logical structure
(Wittgenstein). More metaphors! But there's something else, something
I am still trying to put into words. It's to do with how you get at
the shape, the structure, how you dig it out.
Too many philosophers are stuck on the idea of 'analysis', or
'deconstruction'. Something you do by a special kind of thinking,
that grinds things down, breaks them up, revealing their inner
workings. It's a microscopical view of philosophy. Yet there has
always been the polar opposite to this view, the notion that
philosophy involves synopsis, or seeing things together in their
relationships. Plato's vision was synoptic just as much as it was
This is the point where dialogue comes in. Or, at least, I think
that's what I want to say. Not just as a means to an end. Rather, as
the product, the theory, the vision itself emerging from the chaos
When people get together to talk philosophy they have 'discussions'.
They have 'dialogues'. What is so significant about that? -- You've
missed it already. The thought has slipped through your fingers. It's
not that each of us has a little bit of the truth, and we all have to
cooperate in putting the pieces together. It's not that the truth is
somehow destined to win out in the contest of conflicting opinions.
None of that.
How about this? In authentic philosophical dialogue, we are speaking
for ourselves, but not just for ourselves. In giving form to our
thoughts, the world speaks through us. When my class starts next
Wednesday, we are going to let the world speak.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 1999
II. GLASS HOUSE PHILOSOPHER II, PAGE 15 (2004)
Wednesday, 21st April 2004
Anatomy of error. The idea of a 'dialectic of illusion' is important
to me. But what exactly is an illusion? How does it differ from mere
I remember a snippet from the Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin, famous
for method of precise analysis of 'ordinary language', where he talks
about the common confusion between the words 'error' and 'mistake'.
Not all errors are mistakes. When you make a mistake, you erroneously
take something to be something else. In his famous essay 'Other Minds'
(Philosophical Papers OUP) Austin gives the example of a bird watcher
mistaking one species of bird for another. On the other hand, if I am
an accountancy clerk adding up a long column of numbers and I get the
addition wrong, there was nothing I 'mistook' for anything else. I
just miscalculated. So, strictly speaking, I made an error but I did
not make a 'mistake'. (Just try telling that to your boss.)
In philosophy, errors arise, not though mistakes or miscalculation
but what one might term, 'flawed thinking'. Your thought process go
awry. Sometimes the error is understandable, as in the rich variety
of logical fallacy catalogued in text books of informal logic. On
other occasions, one's only response is, How on earth did I think
that? Not so much a case of flawed thinking but complete absence of
thought. Your mind was somewhere else.
Surprising how often that happens.
(On second thoughts: 'In philosophy, errors arise, not through
mistakes...'. Is that right? Can't you mistake one theory for
another, as when you are half way through your critique of theory X
when you discover that your critique applies, not to theory X but to
My students are tired of hearing me say, 'Be prepared to consider the
possibility that you might be wrong.' It's not only possible, but
likely. In fact, more than likely. When you think about it, probably
certain. The biggest secret about philosophers is that we spend a
large part of our time discovering we were wrong.
Like the gambler who fallaciously reasons that 'I have lost so many
times, this time I must win,' you congratulate yourself when you have
uncovered a piece of your own flawed thinking as if that were a
certain sign that your thought processes are back on track. The
reality is no more likely to be that than the opposite. You can have
errors within errors within errors, like a series of dreams when you
think you've woken up only to discover that you are still dreaming.
It is not just in arguments where a philosopher's thinking can go
awry. You can take the wrong direction, choose the wrong project,
spend your whole professional life 'barking up a gum tree' (I'd love
to know where that expression comes from). When that happens, the
most likely diagnosis is unwillingness to admit you were wrong some
time in the past. (Yes, but you can also abandon a project for the
wrong reasons, give up just when you were close to reaching your
'I could be wrong about everything.' How helpful is that to me now?
Could I go back? how far back would I have to go? Discounting my
undergraduate years, it would have to be 1977 or 1978. That's when I
took the decisive fork in the path that has led me here. It is
pointless to speculate.
Do you always discover you were wrong, or sometimes just decide? ('I
now realize that my enthusiasm for X was just infatuation,' you say.
In the field of personal relationships, we know how easy it is to
deceive oneself about such things. We give ourselves permission to
forget, to obliterate how real it was at the time, how much X
mattered to us.)
-- Enough, already!
This isn't what I'm interested in right now. One could write a book
about the anatomy and genealogy of philosophical error. But I'm on
the track of a very special kind of flawed philosophical thinking,
which reveals not so much normal thought processes malfunctioning or
breaking down in various ways but rather a systematic weakness or
vulnerability which inevitably leads to error.
The ego and truth illusions belong to every person to whom
the dialectic addresses itself, distinguished from mere
error only by that universality; illusions of an ultimate
reality of metaphysical facts beyond the reach of language,
whose exposure as illusion simultaneously rejects the
project of transcendent metaphysics. The motivation for
this project, the attempt to take up a metaphysical
attitude to a world viewed sub specie aeternitatis,
ultimately translates into the antinomy of idealism and
realism; an irresolvable conflict between two opposing
conceptions of the nature of thought's representations; a
transcendental ego versus a transcendent truth... But
dialectic can claim no results, no established
propositions; only at most a change in the inner state of
the reader who has worked it through. Metaphysics indeed
sets forever the same task, demanding completion but never
Metaphysics of Meaning (D.Phil thesis 1982) Abstract
I have an acutely painful memory of typing and re-typing my one page
Abstract using an old Smith Corona 7000 electric typewriter that my
father had given me from his office. The very last task before
sending the thesis off to the binders. Every time I typed the page
out, I found something else wrong with it. A task that should have
taken an hour took a whole day. At the end, I felt so disgusted I was
ready to throw the whole thesis in the bin, give up my ambitions for a
doctorate and get a job as a postman.
Maybe this was so wrong, so wrong-headed that some unconscious voice
-- my better half? -- was shouting at me to stop in my tracks, give
up this pointless line of inquiry.
Later, I realized that that was just the voice of self-doubt, nothing
more. My clumsy fingers were tripping over themselves out of sheer
anxiety and excitement that my long project was finally coming to
But that was then and this is now.
On balance, I think I was wrong.
Metaphysics is more than just a dialectic of illusion. You can't make
a positive out of a bare negative. There must be more to say, even if
only, 'This is how reality looks when you take the illusion away.'
On second thoughts, No, that's too superficial, to unsubtle, too
How confident am I that there is a sharp conceptual dividing line
between 'mere philosophical error' and 'metaphysical illusion'?
Suppose the boundary between error and illusions turns out to be more
or less fuzzy, what then? (I remember my old Prof, David Hamlyn
remarking that 'there are no statistical truths in philosophy'.)
Here are two things I know:
-- If (as I believed then) metaphysics is the dialectic of
metaphysical illusion, then the ultimate subject matter of
metaphysics is the metaphysical attitude.
-- If (as I believed when I wrote Naive Metaphysics) metaphysics is
nothing but the working through of the consequences of naive
metaphysical wonder ('Why is there I?' 'Why is there a world?') then
the ultimate subject matter of metaphysics is the metaphysical
Either way, the investigator belongs in the frame.
There is something paradoxical about the idea that the subject matter
of metaphysics is metaphysics.
Consider what one might say about science, or about history. There
can be a science of science, a scientific investigation into the way
science is conducted, for example, from the perspective of the
science of psychology or the science of sociology. But that is
necessarily a part (and a small part) not the whole of science.
Similarly, there can be a history of history, a historical
investigation into the different forms that historical investigation
has taken at different times, or the historical development of the
idea of history.
Aristotle in the Metaphysics defines his investigation as the science
of 'Being qua Being'. Aristotle would have said the same things about
metaphysics that I have said about science and history. It has an
object, a target, just as they have. Being is the target, not the
investigator investigating Being. So an important point is being made
when one denies that there is any external target, and affirms instead
that metaphysics is its own target.
Metaphysics without an object...
Metaphysics of metaphysics...
I am trying these for size, but I don't altogether like them. A
friend of mine who is an accountant once remarked about philosophers,
'disappearing up their own whizz-holes'. Not very poetic, but apt.
My sticking point. There is no transcendent metaphysics. There is no
supernatural realm. If you take that proposition seriously, if you
refuse to take a single step beyond the natural world then you must
either regard the ultimate questions raised by naive metaphysics as
meaningless or you have to go looking for some other, more subtle way
to respond to those questions, which avoids appeal to non-natural
entities, final causes, or any of the other exotic animals that have
appeared down the ages in the pages of metaphysical treatises.
If we take in our hand any volume, of divinity or school
metaphysics for instance; let us ask, 'Does it contain any
abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?' No.
'Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning
matter of fact and existence?' No. commit it then to the
flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and
(David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section
XII, Part III).
From Hume's perspective, metaphysics is just one big error, or one
big illusion. A mad folly conceived in the brains of scholars who
thought that they could use philosophy to find God. It would have
been far better for all concerned if that fatal error that led to a
branch of knowledge called 'metaphysics' had not been made in the
Hume was wrong.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2004
III. HEDGEHOG PHILOSOPHER, DAY 31 (2011)
Sunday, 20th February 2011
Yesterday, I awoke with an incredibly powerful feeling that I
understood something, for the first time, about 'how the pieces fit
together' -- the pieces of my life as a so-called 'philosopher' --
the memory fragments down the years,
in cafes, bars, museums, underground railway stations,
parks, gardens, canal side, river side, tramping the
streets of Oxford and London, art galleries, lecture
theatres, library seats, every desk I have ever known...
If a thought is worth writing down, it's worth writing on
the back of a used envelope, on scrap paper, in the margins
of a newspaper, on your wrist. I had been a philosophy
student for four years, got my degree, before I ever
thought of buying myself a notepad -- a typist's dictation
book, 180 pages spiral bound...
But this isn't about the thoughts I had back then, deep though they
may have been. This is about how important things are to me. But not
in a materialist sense.
Those scraps of paper, they weren't just rubbish from the waste
basket, they were documents which had already served a valuable
purpose, and were now being recycled and given a new purpose. My
computers are old, really old, they have a history which I know
nothing about. They didn't come in shiny boxes with photos of yuppies
surfing the Internet with inane grins on their faces. They have a
meaning which goes beyond their utility, even beyond the fact that I
love things for their utility and what that symbolizes.
I remember something else. I wrote the quoted words on a Psion 3c
palmtop computer seven years ago, while I waited for one of my
daughters (I can't remember which one!) to finish her swimming
lesson. The very fact that, for once, I wasn't using a pen and paper
sparked the memory cascade.
This is about thoughts I had yesterday. I haven't come to the point
yet. But yesterday wasn't the day for writing this blog. Today, the
powerful sense of epiphany has all but gone. But I still remember,
and that's all that matters.
Last week, I wrote this about Heidegger and Levinas in my Editor's
Introduction to Philosophy Pathways Issue 160:
Martin Jenkins' exposition of Heidegger on humanism, and
Sim-Hui Tee's account of Levinas on the 'other', each shows
the historical tradition of metaphysics in a less than
favourable light. What metaphysicians have sought to do is,
in the eyes of each of those original and radical thinkers,
a form of desecration.
For Heidegger, it is the very world we inhabit has become a
mere resource, the Greek philosopher Parmenides' sense of
awe and mystery at the very presence of Being is almost
impossible for us to recall, so lost are we in the world of
beings and our project of gaining mastery through knowledge
and technique. Heidegger's term 'productive metaphysics'
sums up this form of thinking. For Levinas, the
irresistible urge towards 'totalising' knowledge leads us
to lose sight of the metaphysically fundamental ethical
dimension of our nature, wherein the Other stands in a
sacred space infinitely removed from our grasp, beyond all
knowledge and control.
One might say that Heidegger emphasizes the solitude of the
'authentic' subject in touch with the Being of the universe,
while for Levinas when I look out at the world the first
thing I see is the 'face' of the other, the face that
forbids murder, that reminds me of my perpetual ethical
debt. Perhaps, the philosopher one feels more drawn to
shows the kind of thinker you are, or aspire to be?
Yesterday morning, when I woke up, I finally understood the meaning
of what I'd written. At the time, I was too busy with 101 details
making sure that the e-journal was ready to send out. But that's the
way it is with my job. Caught up in the needs of the moment, I allow
myself to forget. Then I remember. I digest. I put things together.
When I wrote my introduction, I wasn't ready to think the words, not
in the way they needed to be thought. The words just came, as they
I have been writing one paragraph per post (allowing for block
quotes) not because I don't have more to say but as a way of putting
a brake on my garrulousness. [18.10.15: paragraphs have been split
up.] I find it too easy to write, and that can be a serious handicap
for a philosopher. But today, remembering what I felt and thought
yesterday, even though I can't think those thoughts or feel those
feelings as I did then, I have to break my own rule -- for the sake
of getting this out into the open, while the memory is still fresh.
A couple of evenings after the Pathways issue went out, in the pub
with a small group of my ex-evening class students, I was chatting
with Brian Tee who took over my class a few years ago (no relation to
Sim-Hui!) about the topic for next week. 'Can you think of something
good to say about boredom?' Brian asked me with a sly grin. I already
knew Brian had lots of good things to say about boredom but he was
just testing me out. I said that it was necessary for philosophers to
feel boredom, in a 'good' way, the sense of time stretching out, as
you wait... 'for a breakthrough?' Brian interjected, No, I said, that
makes it sound like a scientist waiting for inspiration. Like the
famous story of the chemist trying to work out the structure of
benzene who woke up the next morning with the answer after a dream
about playful monkeys.
We kicked the topic of boredom around for a while, but didn't reach a
firm conclusion. Boredom connects with laziness, something I know a
lot about. I agreed with Brian that they're not the same, but they
are connected in important ways. You've got to have the ability to be
lazy (also in a 'good' way) in order to experience the philosopher's
liberating kind of boredom.
Somehow that brought us on to Hubert Dreyfus' lectures on Moby Dick
by Herman Melville. By this time, another of my old students, Angie,
had joined in. I said that Moby Dick is one of the most philosophical
novels ever written, which brought a few titters. No, I insisted, it
was true. One aspect that make the novel so deep is the focus on
details, the contrast between the precise art and science of whaling
and the terrifying sublimity of the face of nature ('the whiteness of
the whale'). While Melville's occasional remarks about philosophers
come across as merely playful, ironic. It's the intense focus on
things, the harpoons, the ropes, the oars, and the men, their
idiosyncrasies and their idees fixes.
One of the first thoughts that came to me when I woke up yesterday
morning was that this is really all about is patience, as you wait
for the world to speak to you. The key is relaxed attentiveness.
That's why Rodin's famous sculpture of 'The Thinker' is a travesty of
the philosopher. The image is far more appropriate to the professional
chess player, furiously cogitating, calculating hundreds or thousands
of lines, the intense focus on the board reflected in the
A better image of the philosopher would be a lone figure on a river
bank, fishing, attentive to every ripple in the water, ready to do
what is necessary -- ready for hours and even then the fish don't
always come. I should have said this to Brian, because Brian loves
fishing, or at least he used to when he had the time. Now he has a
I have the time. I can wait. But my waiting is an attentive waiting,
a respectful waiting. And, as I wait, I appreciate the deep mystery
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2011
IV. SOPHIST WEBLOG, PAGE 6 (2012)
Thursday, 13th December 2012
Day six. I can't go out. That feeling of release that you get when
striding out under a bright sky won't come today. There's no denying
I feel embattled. I need to protect my attic fortress.
The looming prospect of my talk at the University of London is a
plausible reason. Returning 36 years after leaving Birkbeck with my
First Class degree and prize for 'outstanding performance', destined,
as my teachers believed -- as I allowed myself to believe -- for a
glorious career as an academic philosopher; this will be a kind of
Yet as I already hinted, as I believe, I am not the one facing the
reckoning -- they are. For allowing the discipline of philosophy to
fall into such a parlous state. A fine irony indeed, if the only one
capable of defending the true values of the philosopher... is a
This morning, the best part of the day, as always, was devoted to
reviews of work sent to me by students who have paid, in advance, for
the service. And I am expected to give value for money. (I even
provide a '28 day no-quibble money back guarantee'.)
There is no shame in earning money for honest toil. And I am
scrupulously honest in the way that I work, or try to be. Because I
am also kind, when kindness is required (for those students who are
struggling, painfully aware of their intellectual limitations,
desperately in need of encouragement). And kindness is a relatively
short distance from flattery. It's a fine line.
I am very good at what I do. The results of my students taking the
University of London BA speak for themselves. A matter for
All this just to make the case that the title of 'sophist' isn't some
kind of inverted snobbery or conceit on my part. It is the plain
truth, the unassailable reality of my day to day working life.
It's taken me six days to get to this point. I'm not going to dwell
on it. But there is something else. It's about something David Hamlyn
said to me (I will mention this in my talk) when I met him at Birkbeck
after I had started my graduate studies at Oxford. I'd come to discuss
my thesis topic, 'The Metaphysics of Meaning'. That would have been
Hamlyn had written a book on the History of Western Philosophy. He
knew about every era, every notable philosopher and philosophical
movement. 'You can study the entire history of philosophy,' he said,
'and the only outcome is that you are left feeling that there is
nothing new to say.' -- What an admission!
There's nothing new to say that some philosopher hasn't said before.
Nothing new under the sun. 'Those ignorant of the history of
philosophy are doomed to repeat it,' as the saying goes. Deep down,
at that very moment, I made the decision that was to to shape my life
as a student of philosophy right up to the present day. I don't want
to know what Hamlyn knows. I don't want to ever feel like this!
Today, I am a generalist. I can mentor students taking any philosophy
course, not because I am an 'expert' -- more often than not, they know
more than I do. They have read the books and articles, I haven't. My
focus is on performance. I daresay I have a rare talent for it.
A performance coach. A sophist. Q.E.D.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2012
V. GLASS HOUSE PHILOSOPHER III, PAGE 18 (2015)
Monday, 26th October 2015
The three principles of dialectical logic:
I. The principle of egocentricity
II. The reality principle
III. The rationality of the real
-- One of the ground rules in setting out 'principles' or 'axioms' is
that none of the items is derivable from the others, individually or
in combination. This has to the smallest set that captures our
intuitions/ beliefs/ knowledge of the domain in question -- which in
this case is metaphysical inquiry.
Good examples of a priori principles can be found in Leibniz: apart
from the famous Principle of Sufficient Reason, Leibniz describes
principles of least distance (in optics), least action (in mechanics)
and conservation (in physics). Though a priori, these are still
contingent in the widest sense, in that the physical world could have
been one in which laws to not conform to our sense of what would be
the most economical/ reasonable order of things. (Maybe a case could
be made for deriving Leibniz's physical principles from the Principle
of Sufficient Reason, I'm not sure. My strong intuition is that the
PSR is at a different, more abstract level.)
Quine makes a related point with his metaphor of the 'web of belief'
and propositions located at greater or lesser distance from the
'periphery', where our beliefs make contact with experience. Even the
laws of classical logic, according to Quine, could conceivably be up
I want to draw a strict line between metaphysics and science. In
science, we have to be open to the possibility that experimental data
will overturn our theory, or even the principles that govern the
selection of a theory. The physical world may be much stranger than
we assumed. In metaphysics, by contrast, there is no empirical
content, no possibility of empirical falsification. That's just the
kind of inquiry that it is.
Which of course is what puts the 'possibility of metaphysics' in
question, just as the logical positivists claimed.
When Einstein complained about the Copenhagen interpretation of
Quantum Mechanics, 'God does not play dice with the universe,' he was
implicitly appealing to Principle III, the rationality of the real.
The problem is that the theory suggested as an alternative, 'hidden
variables', is merely another physical theory. Any physical theory is
up for grabs, just as Quine said. We have to go by the evidence.
If the real is rational, then it is entirely possible that this
cannot be expressed in the form of a physical theory. The Copenhagen
interpretation could be true. That's the best description of reality
you'll ever get from physics. Which implies a gap, unbridgeable by
merely physical inquiry, between reality and 'ultimate reality'.
Meanwhile, the most important result that emerged from my Sophist
notebook was here:
So then, finally, what IS so wrong with my 'theory of
subjective and objective worlds' in Naive Metaphysics?
I mistook a 'principle for the construction of a theory'
(egocentricity) for a theory. I tried to make a theory
Mistaking the principle for the construction of a theory for a
theory: there is a lot in this to unpack, and I need to go carefully.
My gut feeling is that this is right.
I noted wryly that I was using the term 'dialectic' in a 'somewhat
non-standard sense' (page 40). This is typical of something that
happens in philosophy. What I am putting forward is a better concept
of 'dialectic'. According to Humpty Dumpty a word 'means just what I
choose it to mean', but the point is finding the best most fruitful,
insightful meaning. Which I think I have done.
My three principles of dialectical logic capture the arena, the ball
park in which metaphysical inquiry takes place. If you question any
one of these principles (I claim) then you are not doing metaphysics.
However, having located the ball park, you still have a lot of work
to do. You have to actually go ahead and 'construct a theory', using
whatever tools of reasoning are available, consistent with the three
principles of dialectical logic.
Each of the principles is familiar to students of the history of
philosophy. Most obviously, the 'rationality of the real' (Hegel).
The reality principle (alluding to Freud) is my gloss on
Wittgenstein's critique of the 'private object': there is no object
whose reality is constituted by its own appearance. The principle of
egocentricity has been the motive force in the idealist tradition,
most notably in Fichte (about whom I don't know nearly enough).
According to my understanding, however, the principle of
egocentricity -- when clearly understood as the principle that 'I am
the one asking the question' -- has nothing to do with idealism. The
very same problem arises, the inability to locate the 'I', whether
you construct your metaphysic out of 'matter' (realism) or out of
In Sophist, the topic of dialectical logic receives a mere three
pages of discussion before I allow myself to be distracted by my
YouTube videos (http://youtube.com/user/GVKlempner). Maybe, I just
wasn't ready to go forward with this. As I am now?
-- I just remembered a quote from The Bourne Ultimatum 2007. In a
memory sequence at the climax of the movie, Dr Hirsch says to Jason
Bourne: 'You're not a liar, are you? Or too weak to see this through?
This is it.'
I have the feeling that this IS it. This is where the investigation
starts. I must not allow myself to lose track this time. I will
follow the argument wherever it leads.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2015
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
reflect those of the Editors.