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The Curse of Philosophy (Week 40 of Wisdom)

Man tends to question everything, but this is a burden to him. The questions, instead of disappearing, multiply. Because no answer is acceptable (lacks the full truth); at the end of each attempt is a justification for a new attempt. The inquiry never stops. And as he questions more, he then questions his need to question.

It bewilders him, why it is so important, that a finite being, with limited reasoning abilities and knowledge, decides to spend his little time asking questions that may take a lifetime to answer (even if he does succeed, the future may prove this answer to be wrong)?

­­­­­Excessive curiosity about metaphysical questions can be harmful, especially when they come at the expense of more urgent concerns. You cannot avoid being disturbed by some sense of existential guilt, that perhaps, you are too serious about what ought to be taken casually, and too casual about what ought to be taken seriously.

And yet the desire for philosophy is not baseless. In Less Than Nothing, Zizek writes about the value of the philosophical impulse, which has no apparent adaptive purpose.

“The point is not only that, on top of its adaptive functions (how to find one’s way in the environment, etc.), consciousness is also bothered by enigmas having no evolutionary, adaptive function (humor, art, metaphysical questions). The further (and crucial) point is that this useless supplement, this compulsive fixation on problems which a priori cannot be solved, retroactively enabled an explosion of procedures (techniques, insights) which themselves had a major survival value. It is as if, in order to assert its priority over other living beings in the struggle for survival, the human animal has to forsake the struggle for survival itself and focus on other questions. Victory in the struggle for survival can only be gained as a by-product: if one focuses directly on the struggle, one loses. Only a being obsessed with impossible or insoluble problems can make a breakthrough in possible knowledge.”

To survive, man must conceive of questions that are not directly related to survival. In the same way that to make money, man has to conceive of questions not directly related to making money.

Philosophy can either be a tool of clarity, or it can be a bewildering trap. The “finite being” problem may not be the fault of philosophy, but the fault of the finite being. It is his responsibility to balance his need for philosophy with other needs, and when engaging in philosophy, to identify the right questions. He must learn to eliminate the questions that are not relevant, or badly formulated.

“In truth, only one kind of objection is worthwhile: the objection which shows that the question raised by a philosopher is not a good question, that it does not force the nature of things enough, that it should be raised in another way, that we should raise it in a better way, or that we should raise a different question”

Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity

One reply on “The Curse of Philosophy (Week 40 of Wisdom)”

This was a very poetic take that I found fascinating.
One issue, you use “he” to describe the philosopher, which excludes and gaslights philosophers of other genders.
Again this was a very good article over all.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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