Philosophy & Consciousness

2 07 2013

I have been thinking about philosophy a lot these days. The value of speculative philosophy has been at the forefront of that. I’ve talked a little around that topic with mention of a philosophy of error, but that only captures part of the thrust of speculative philosophy. Alongside the concern with error and its capacity to deepen our understanding, there is also a concern with consciousness.That concern with consciousness provides a counterpoint to the concern with error and, moreover, provides philosophy with a foundation and direction that error alone cannot. I want to talk toward and around that point a little.

Philosophy is famously (or infamously) amorphous. Sometimes it means little more than having to do with some folks we call philosophers; other times, it seems to be an opinion about the nature of this or that thing. I can be philosophical by reading Nietzsche, wondering if quarks really exist, talking about the virtues of capitalism or communism, explaining why I think a certain medical procedure is ethical or not, considering whether human nature is altruistic, and talking about what makes me happy or sad. Questions or statements of meaningfulness often find their way to the philosophical banner, whether they are about living a meaningful life or making sense of what a statement or idea means. Philosophy abuts both religion and science, sometimes in competition with them, sometimes cooperating with them, sometimes serving as the middleman negotiating between them. Go very far with this, it starts to seem like everything has to do with philosophy.

Of course, if something has to do with everything, there is a danger that it itself is nothing. After all, if it can be applied to any subject, doesn’t that imply that it, in fact, has no proper content of its own? Like the skeptical neuroscientist who suggests consciousness has no real effect on the world, that it is merely an epiphenomenon of strictly determined biological and chemical processes, might philosophy be just the epiphenomenon of ‘real’ knowledge? Or, perhaps, might we wonder if what we call ‘philosophy’ is nothing more than a too-big-for-its-britches word that refers to just thinking about stuff in a deliberately peculiar fashion?

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