Philosophy While There Is Plenty to Criticize Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


While there is plenty to criticize in the work of Descartes, Locke, and Hume, one cannot justifiably claim that Jose Vasconcelos criticisms of traditional Western views on the nature of knowledge apply to these theorists if only because Vasconcelos' criticisms do not really apply to anything, as his criticisms are largely based on straw men. This is not to say that traditional Western views on the nature of knowledge should be free from criticism, but rather that the problems with these traditional views are more fundamental than Vasconcelos realizes, to the point that Vasconcelos suffers from many of these same issues. Essentially, both Vasconcelos and the previously mentioned authors suffer from a simply ignorance regarding the functioning of the human brain, the nature of consciousness and memory, and the evolutionary processes by which organisms and ideas evolve, with this ignorance born out of an implicit or explicit maintenance of religiously constrained thinking.

While it would of course be enjoyable to engage in a robust "trolling" of these philosophers, rather than attempt to detail all of the various ways in which these author's ignorance reveals itself in their texts, it will instead be more useful to propose how one not confined by these limitations is able to describe knowledge and the way in which it is obtained. Put simply, the creation and consideration of all knowledge is essentially biological. While the humanities in general and philosophy in particular have continuously striven to erect a wall between the "hard" sciences regarding physical laws and processes and the humanities' more ephemeral cultural considerations, this distinction is largely arbitrary and only serves to further ghettoize philosophy, thus precluding it from producing politically effective work (due to the fact that any human production in the modern world cannot be produced in isolation, and thus is essentially political, serving either to reinforce the dominant power structures or challenge them). All thought, and thus knowledge, is the product of the human body, both in terms of the sensory information gathered and the synthesis of that information.

Recognizing this does away with a number of previous "problems" in Western philosophy far more elegantly than any of Vasconcelos' criticisms, because questions of empiricism vs. rationalism or the mind vs. The body disintegrate in the face of the realization that the biological basis of consciousness and thought is all that anyone has to go on. While one is entirely free to question the reality of physical existence or propose some other plane of reality or consciousness, there is no evidence in support of this skepticism or arbitrary divisions, such that any philosophers attempting to say something useful or intelligible must always return to biological foundations, because anything else is merely an exercise in magical realism, like a debate over the proper taxonomical category of imaginary animals.

Thus, the potential for consciousness, thought, and knowledge is entirely contained within the human body, so while one may reasonably argue that these phenomena are examples of an emergent complexity born out of a relatively simple arrangement of and interaction between constituent parts, to suggest that consciousness, thought, or knowledge are somehow existent or meaningful outside of the human body is as laughable as suggesting that the meaning gained from reading this sentence is somehow distinct and extricable from the sentence itself and the experience of reading it.

Furthermore, recognizing that human knowledge is inherently and inextricably tied to the evolution of human biology does away with any of the assumed differences between modes of thinking based on regional or cultural distinction. While there are undoubtedly differences in Eastern and Western philosophy, these differences do not represent fundamentally different modes of thinking, but rather different flavors of human thought, as all human thought is continuously and forever bound together by its shared biological underpinnings. In this way, one may begin to consider the similarity between different modes of thought, rather than abandon useful investigation in the face of seemingly impenetrable differences.

It is worth pointing out that this is not merely a dodge; proposing the dominance of biology and evolution over thought and knowledge is not a means of obviating the need to consider different modes of knowing, but rather offers a useful starting point for this consideration, because if one begins with the faulty assumption that there are somehow fundamentally different modes and methods of knowing depending on one's cultural background, then there is ultimately no point
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in continuing on with any discussion or analysis, because one cannot hope to reach any essential conclusions regarding knowledge due to the impossibility of bridging this (self-imposed) gap. Thus, while some of Vasconcelos' criticisms may even be accurate, they cannot serve to generate useful insights into the nature of knowledge and knowing because they criticize Western philosophical thought from an equally flawed and unsustainable perspective.

While one may view Vasconcelos' motivation behind his criticisms as admirable, he ultimately suffers from the same ideological rigidity as the philosophers he criticizes, and as such one cannot claim that his criticisms are relevant or applicable. In reality, Vasconcelos' work is merely another entry in a long line of philosophers arguing amongst themselves without ever realizing that the only work performed by those arguments is the maintenance of an ignorance which serves to reinforce the dominant power structures of society.

There is no reasonable argument for the existence of an essential self or soul, although acknowledging this fairly simple fact requires deflating a number of comfortable illusions regarding human experience and the relationship of consciousness to the body. In particular, one must discard the notion that there exists any kind of separation between the mind and body and address the concept of emergence as it relates to consciousness. Thus, one may read John Locke and David Hume's conceptions of personal identity as two blind men's accounts of the proverbial elephant, while Plato and Descartes' theories of the soul may be almost entirely discarded, based as they are on reductive and unintelligible assumptions regarding biology, psychology, and the nature of consciousness.

Before explaining in detail why the notion of an essential self or soul is largely a comfortable fantasy, it will be worthwhile to briefly explain how this notion became so common. Initially one may blame Plato, who formulated a theory of the soul in order to fit the problem of personal identity into his altogether laughable dichotomy of the material world and the world of essential Forms or ideas. Plato claimed that the soul was that part of a human which existed in the world of ideas, only temporarily inhabiting the body until death. Descartes essentially follows along in this same line, although, like all of the superstitious attention to religious dogma present in his works, he manages to clean up the language so that it does not come across as quite so apparently fantastical.

Thus, where Plato discussed a soul coming from an eternal world of essential ideas, Descartes simply proposes a distinction between the mind and body in which the mind is something immaterial which nonetheless receives information from the physical body, leaving the reader to follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion (which is essentially that there is a soul, and it is eternal). The claim of a mind-body division and the subsequent notion of an essential self or soul is attractive for a number of reasons, because it obviates the very basic human fear of death by proposing that some part of an individual is immortal, thus rendering physical death less frightening. This fact explains why the notion of a soul is crucial to nearly any organized religion, because religions rely on being able to convince their followers that there is something more to reality than the synthesis of sensory information and that the only way to experience that metaphysical reality is by following the dictates of said religion.

From here, religions are able to essentially transport the fear of death from the physical world to the immaterial, because even though the notion of a soul obviates the threat of physical death, religions use the notion of a soul to claim that disobedience will result in a kind of eternal death or punishment for the soul itself. Religions which focus on imposing moralizing precepts in the name of protecting the sanctity of some eternal soul essentially play off of a combination of fear and vanity, using human beings' desire to imagine themselves as somehow unique amongst organisms and thus deserving of existence following physical death as a means to control those physical bodies by controlling their minds. Thus, while the notion of an essential self or soul likely arose out of humans' ignorance concerning the functioning of the brain and its relationship to consciousness, this concept was reiterated and maintained because it provides such an ideal means of controlling large populations who would otherwise rebel from the altogether arbitrary rules imposed by religion.

One of the most crucial ways in which the hegemony of the soul has been challenged is by John Locke,…

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