Wednesday 7 June 2023

A (very) brief history of (my) Philosophy

I suppose the first philosophical (basic metaphysical) ideas that I heard-about and understood, was the debate between Empiricism and Idealism. Roughly: either we get knowledge of reality from externally - e.g. perceptions and experiences; or else, the mind generates reality. 

My eventual conclusion was that - while one might prefer one to the other, if this was a forced-choice of either-or; and while both have elements that I intuitively felt to be valid: both are wrong. 

I later became committed to Systems Theory (in the Niklas Luhmann formulation); which is a completely abstract model of reality that states its own assumptions. 

What I got from this is that there is only knowledge within Systems - and out-with a System is only 'environment' about which nothing can be said - 'environment can only be known by a System being brought-within that System. 

(I later applied this by analogy to Beings versus not-Beings - to divine creation versus primordial chaos.)

After eventually understanding it, a rejected ST because it did not explain where Systems come-from; excluded values (although in practice implicitly valuing efficiency hence complexity); and because it was abstract

The core abstraction of ST was that it was based on communications: all Systems were "made of" communications. And yet, by its own account, all communications were indirect hence uncertain - indeed their meaning came from The System itself - which "decided" what was a communication, and what it "meant". 

In essence, ST is circular, explicitly so - much like mathematics. It can be coherent within its own lights' but any applicability is conjectural and unknowable (except by proliferating Systems, Systems to check Systems... which is merely to kick the can).  

Because Systems Theory was abstract, there was co connection between its models and The World, and no way of knowing whether or not ST was applicable in any particular instance. 

Even worse, ST provided no way of knowing whether some-thing was "a System" - or not - or where its boundaries lay. 

The work of ST Coleridge, Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield made a link between what were (de facto) "Systems" and life: i.e. organisms and other 'units' of biology. In short, they made the connections between Systems and Beings - that genuine Systems were Beings; thus alive, conscious, purposive. 

Yet in their formulations there was still excessive abstraction; such that Beings were "explained" in terms of abstract entities/ tendencies/ forces/ powers...

From which I moved to my current philosophy that understand Beings as the fundamental reality of creation. 

Other elements needed to be added to answer the questions I could not ignore (the nature of God and creation etc); but a further major element added to the perspective of Systems Theory (and which I got from Steiner) was that there cannot be only communication (which is indirect, multi-step, and mediated), but that there must at root be the possibility of direct knowing between Beings.


No Longer Reading said...

This is interesting. Seeing the progression of concepts is helpful.

I also agree that idealism and empiricism aren't the only two options.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - Obviously I left-out a lot because I wanted to focus on Systems Theory and what came after - in particular, I would perhaps have called myself a Pragmatist - rooted in Richard Rorty, William James, and via Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance leading into the Systems Theory era which first got me interested in philosophy aged 17.

I now perceive that pragmatism is a type of utilitarianism - and an (impossible) attempt to provide Leftism with a coherent (and non-destructive) morality.