Lindsay Perigo
Lindsay Perigo

Editorial - Philosophy of Life

Philosophy is pursued in spite of philosophy professors, not because of them.

- Joseph Rowlands

One of the features I savour about The Free Radical is that it's a meeting place for people from divergent strands of the Objectivist & libertarian movements. People who might not ordinarily speak to each other - actively disapprove of each other, even - are, within these pages, brought together. Sometimes they have even been known to engage each other. This is not eclecticism for its own sake, nor does it mean I believe there's no right & wrong in matters of contention, that all opinions are equally valid & that everything should be up for perennial debate. It reflects my belief that debate is a very useful tool for sorting out right from wrong, truth from falsehood - & that parties who disagree in good faith should feel free to discuss their disagreements in this magazine. Their integrity, after all, is protected by the editorial disclaimer published in every issue: "The opinions expressed by the writers herein are not necessarily those of the editor, or of each other."

When I personally disagree with one of my contributors, I usually don't bother to say so. On this occasion, I'm going to make an exception & take issue with Bryan Register (page 36), since the subject is something dear to my heart - philosophy. I appreciate that Mr Register believes that the fact that philosophy is dear to my heart doesn't qualify me to talk about it, but talk about it I shall.

Mr Register is responding to a reply by Cameron Pritchard to Bryan's own response to Cameron's article, "The Fouling of Philosophy" (see TFRs 45 & 46). Cameron may well have something further to say in the next issue, but I was tempted to suggest to him that the only response necessary was a cryptic note at the bottom of Mr Register's article: "See above. I rest my case." Cameron's case all along has been that philosophers in academia have reduced their discipline to "an array of absurd word games." Mr Register's articles have furnished ample evidence that this is so.

"Philosophy," says Bryan, "is hard. It does not come in the form of inspiring passages from people with a good outlook on life, even if something else of value does come in that form. [Good? Of value? Judged by what, if not by philosophy?] It comes, patiently, in the form of insights dragged from texts and reflection by the exercise of very-tedious-and-puzzling-to-the-layman-and-novice logical analysis, consideration of alternatives, and checking of premises. It is not for everybody. It is most certainly not for anybody who thinks that the history of philosophy is deeply repugnant and that analysis is sophistry. And my goal was to convince Pritchard and others not to think those things - that is, I was trying to invite them to philosophy."

"Hard"? "Tedious"? "Puzzling"? What sort of invitation is that?!

Worse, there's no pay-off for all the tedium - at least, not one that can count as philosophy:

"[Pritchard] compares a very tedious passage from a handout by a teacher of his with a very lively passage from Lindsay Perigo. Both passages are about the difference between life and death and whether one is better than the other. Pritchard says that the bit from Lindsay 'is philosophy in its most glorious, uplifting, and meaningful sense.' It might be glorious and uplifting, and it's certainly meaningful, but it's not philosophy. [Does Mr Register regard the "tedious" handout as philosophy? No answer.]

"Rand was aware of the difference between sense of life and philosophy. Sense of life is intuitive, pre-analytic, and can't count as knowledge. Philosophy is systematic, rigorous, tightly argued, and can count as knowledge. Lindsay was expressing a sentiment which, were it rendered systematic and rigorous and tightly argued for, might then have become philosophy. But it wasn't philosophy yet."

Is the picture becoming clearer here? Mr Register seems to require that unless a "glorious, uplifting & meaningful" statement about life - a statement, I submit, that expresses knowledge, else how could it be "meaningful," & does so joyously (Heaven forbid!) - is accompanied by "systematic, rigorous, tightly-argued" underpinnings it cannot count as philosophy. Or more precisely, it cannot be classified as a philosophical statement. I trust Mr Register has enough respect for me to know that I could & would furnish such underpinnings if I chose; that it was neither necessary nor appropriate for me to do in the context from which I was quoted. The point is, Mr Register is rendering philosophy not just "hard" but impossible. If one had to come out with the whole kit & kaboodle every time one wanted to say or write something philosophical, one could never say or write anything.

It's noteworthy that Bryan never specifies by what criterion he disqualifies my statement from philosophy - he never, in other words, defines philosophy itself. He describes it - hard, tedious, etc. - but he never defines it (I invite him to do so in the next round). If he really believes that it consists solely of turgid technicalities, then he truly has confirmed Cameron's critique of the academy - & I cannot imagine anyone wanting to accept his "invitation" to something so unappetising.

Nor - even more noteworthy - does Mr Register ever tell us what he actually believes, even though Cameron threw that gauntlet down in TFR 46. This is a common trait among academic philosophers. They will tell you in tortuous detail how someone else's beliefs are vulnerable to attack, but never commit to a credo of their own - fearful, perhaps, that it too might be subject to the same nit-picking, hair-splitting pedantry in which they specialise?

In essence, Mr Register is severing philosophy from what it is all about - life & living. Philosophy entails the application of logic to reality with a view to acquiring a comprehensive, integrated view of existence & enjoying the fruits thereof. Yes, the first part does require effort, but that effort itself should be joyful, not "tedious" - because there is a priceless payoff: the second part! Mr Register, I submit, is arrested at the first stage; he has made it an end in itself - at which point it becomes indeed a series of absurd, rationalistic, deductive word games, a playground for pretentious poseurs who write for each other's amusement, trying to outdo each other in footnotes, references, learned allusions, etc., all of it irrelevant to real life. It's rather like the intellectual equivalent of an adolescent jack-off competition - momentarily diverting for those who want to participate, perhaps, but ultimately tiresome, pointless & nothing like the real thing. The real thing - all of it - is glorious, uplifting & meaningful. And all of it is philosophy.

Perhaps I could invite Mr Register to it?

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