THE PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAY
D. R. Khashaba
Scholarly dissertations by academic philosophers no doubt have their use, but they add nothing to the genuine philosophical heritage; for philosophy is the free exploration of ideas.
The free exploration of ideas does not yield objective knowledge, nor does it arrive at apodeictic or demonstrable truth. The first end of philosophical thinking is to remove confusions and obscurities of ideas to enjoy clearer, more coherent, thinking. At a higher level, philosophical thinking creates notions that infuse order and meaning into what was a chaos.
Socrates, discussing the idea of ‘cause’ (aitia) in the Phaedo, declares himself unsatisfied with the naïve idea that a man grows when by nourishment flesh is added to flesh, bone to bone, and so on. Now this naïve idea is of the selfsame character as what empirical science accepts as an instance of causation and we find it difficult to appreciate Socrates’ dissatisfaction and find it more difficult to see his point when he says that it is the idea Growth that makes the growing of the man understandable.
Socrates of course did not invent the idea of growth. The idea was created by the human mind long ago. People saw a plant or an animal small, then saw it bigger, then saw it bigger still, and that was a baffling mystery; then a woman or man with a creative mind said, “We will call that Growth.” This gathered the disparate appearances of the plant or animal in a whole, gave them unity, and intelligibility. This did not explain the mystery. Nor do the scientist’s elaborate descriptions of the process explain the mystery. The idea attires the chaos in a garb that makes it eligible for membership in our intelligible realm. That is the beginning and end of all understanding. For in truth we know nothing but thanks to the creativity of the mind we create for ourselves an intelligible world of our own,
But I have strayed far away from what I had in mind when I began this essay. Let me put it crudely. Philosophy proper being free exploration of ideas, the exemplary medium for philosophical writing is the Platonic dialogue and next to that the free essay. The best writings of original philosophers were essentially free essays not scholarly dissertations. I will only name a few: Descartes, Hume, Schopenhauer, Santayana, Whitehead, Russell. Kant only harmed himself when he buried his great insights under his cumbrous tectonic structure.
D. R. Khashaba
January 2, 2017
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