International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue No. 197 27th October 2015


Geoffrey Klempner -- special blogging issue

I. Glass House Philosopher I, page 13 (1999)

II. Glass House Philosopher II, page 15 (2004)

III. Hedgehog Philosopher, day 31 (2011)

IV. Sophist Weblog, page 6 (2012)

V. Glass House Philosopher III, page 18 (2015)



On 11th October 2015, Pathways to Philosophy celebrated its 20th birthday. The web has changed enormously in the last two decades, but Pathways has maintained a solid internet presence from 1997, when the first Pathways to Philosophy web site was launched, growing and developing in pace with the exponential growth of the world wide web.

I was one of the first wave of internet bloggers, starting Glass House Philosopher in August 1999. Coincidentally, and quite unknown to me, in the very same month a small San Francisco company called Pyra Labs launched Blogger -- which you might have heard of.

I didn't need a 'blogging platform', as they are now called, as I was perfectly at home composing pages in raw HTML and uploading the pages onto my web server. It was only three or four years later that I first heard the terms 'blog' and 'blogging'. I called my blog simply an 'online philosophical notebook'.

Glass House Philosopher came about by accident. One of my Pathways students Laura Laine Kelley (see Laura's essay 'What is philosophy?' https:---) wanted to use the Six Pathways programs as part of her BA degree at Antioch College, USA. Laura asked me to write a short bio to support her submission to the Humanities Faculty. What better excuse for creating a new web site? On the home page, I wrote a brief account of my career in philosophy, 'My Philosophical Life' which concluded with a rallying call:

     I am one of a new breed. Call us the Internet Sophists.
     Whether more will follow our example, only time will tell.
     I believe the university departments have had their day.
     Time has come for a more democratic arrangement. The world
     wide web offers a paradigm for a radically new approach to
     teaching and publishing. Whether the universities like it
     or not, the changes have already begun. If they want to
     survive, it is time to get on board.


-- And 'get on board' they certainly have. I was wrong about one thing, though: the term 'internet sophist' has never caught on. I suspect that the negative associations of 'sophist' were just too strong. However, that has not deterred me. As a philosopher outside the academy (see the interview by Jules Evans at http:---) I can't think of a more appropriate term. I am a sophist, but I am also a philosopher. I see no contradiction in that.

My Sophist weblog was launched in 2012. if you visit the page, you will see a black and white image showing a bust of Gorgias of Leontini, Greek Sophist c.485 - c.380 BCE.

According to the historian Pliny,

     Gorgias of Leontini was the first man to dedicate a solid
     gold statue of himself, which he did... in the temple of
     Delphi. So great was the profit from teaching the art of
     (Natural History XXXIII 83, accessed at

When you hover your mouse over the picture of Gorgias, it changes magically to gold -- a way of tipping my hat. As I explain in Glass House Philosopher,

     There are different ways you can look at this. We could
     read it as self-glorification. But maybe Gorgias saw it
     more as a sacrifice. A gift of his wealth, in the grand
     manner of Ford, Carnegie or Guggenheim. According to
     Isocrates, 'although he had so great an advantage toward
     laying up more wealth than any other man, he left at his
     death only a thousand staters' (ibid). -- The rest, one may
     surmise, went to the god Apollo.


In stark contrast to the career of the famed Gorgias, I never expected Pathways to Philosophy to make my fortune, and I was not proved wrong. However, I am fortunate in not needing many of the things that are considered necessary for a 'comfortable life'. I am also glad to be out of the limelight, so that I can carry on with my own philosophical work undisturbed by the kinds of routine annoyance that plague academic celebrities and intellectual talk show stars. And, of course, being outside the Academy, I am working for myself which is the biggest bonus of all.

Last month, I decided to start a third online notebook at Glass House Philosopher after a gap of nine years. In between notebooks II and III, are my blogs Hedgehog Philosopher and Sophist. (For those who are interested, a complete listing of all my personal sites can be found in my 'Brief CV' at https:---.)

It feels good to be back home. The glass house which decorates the front page of Glass House Philosopher is the Palm House at Kew Gardens in London, one of my favourite photography destinations when I was doing my Philosophy degree at Birkbeck College London during 1972-6. Forty years later, I am still pondering the same philosophical problems -- and I still have time to take my camera out occasionally.

  Glass House Philosopher

  Hedgehog Philosopher

  Sophist Weblog

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2015





Tuesday, 14th September 1999

Last night, I was enrolling a new Introduction to Philosophy evening class at the local adult education centre. I recognized a couple of my regulars. More will come at the first meeting, a week from tomorrow. There were half a dozen new recruits. We've made our minimum number, at any rate.

Thinking of the new faces, I am trying to imagine what the first meeting will be like. It's impossible to tell. There's no common denominator. The people who lined up could have been plucked off the street. Yet out of all the inhabitants of Sheffield -- the class was well publicised -- they are the one's who chose to come. They are coming for a purpose.

These are very special people.

The evening class is my life line. I don't mind starting from the very beginning, time and again. They have come to find out what philosophy is. The first thing I shall say to the class is that I don't know. By stimulating your questions, I hope to help you discover for yourselves. Then perhaps you can tell me. -- It's a well tried ploy, but it works. In my case, it happens to be pretty close to the truth. This is my tune. I don't have a second string.

Any one of the students sitting at tables arranged in a horse shoe could have been me when I first started out. Somehow, I feel, the soul of philosophy is out there. You won't find it poring over piles of books. You won't find it dredging through the remains of the past. There's only so much history of philosophy you can take before the dust chokes you. The dust and cobwebs of centuries. You have to bring the questions back to life.

Student democracy is one of the great traditions of the Workers' Educational Association. I will present a selection of topics and books to study, and the class will decide with a vote. I am there to cater for their needs, their interests. Obviously, I have my own needs and my own agenda. I won't get everything my way, but I expect some quid pro quo. The class know that I need them as much as they need me, that's the important thing.

Right now, I need some ideas.

One of my regulars shoved me a hastily scribbled list of introductory books found on the shelves of Waterstones, a large book shop in the centre of Sheffield. Two of the books, Think by Simon Blackburn, and Beginning Philosophy by Richard Double -- both recently published by Oxford -- I have not come across before. I'll give them a look.

Thanks Brian!

There's a thought gnawing at the corner of my brain. Something to do with dialogue and the soul of philosophy. I can't focus on it. It is as if there's a wall in between.

Thinking once again about Socrates' famous experiment with the slave boy in Plato's dialogue the Meno. 'All learning is really recollection'. Well, nobody believes that. It is a fantastical theory, taken at face value. Plato is not just saying that we all have the potential to learn. Nor is he making the point that philosophical, like maths or geometry is a priori, or known 'prior' to experience. He is saying that the knowledge in question is actually in our heads, waiting to be teased out. Phew!

The knowledge isn't in your head and it isn't in mine. It's in the space between us. Philosophical discoveries are about the world. This world, not Plato's heaven. But the world is more than just facts. It has a primordial shape (Heidegger) a logical structure (Wittgenstein). More metaphors! But there's something else, something I am still trying to put into words. It's to do with how you get at the shape, the structure, how you dig it out.

Too many philosophers are stuck on the idea of 'analysis', or 'deconstruction'. Something you do by a special kind of thinking, that grinds things down, breaks them up, revealing their inner workings. It's a microscopical view of philosophy. Yet there has always been the polar opposite to this view, the notion that philosophy involves synopsis, or seeing things together in their relationships. Plato's vision was synoptic just as much as it was analytic.

This is the point where dialogue comes in. Or, at least, I think that's what I want to say. Not just as a means to an end. Rather, as the product, the theory, the vision itself emerging from the chaos and confusion.

When people get together to talk philosophy they have 'discussions'. They have 'dialogues'. What is so significant about that? -- You've missed it already. The thought has slipped through your fingers. It's not that each of us has a little bit of the truth, and we all have to cooperate in putting the pieces together. It's not that the truth is somehow destined to win out in the contest of conflicting opinions. None of that.

How about this? In authentic philosophical dialogue, we are speaking for ourselves, but not just for ourselves. In giving form to our thoughts, the world speaks through us. When my class starts next Wednesday, we are going to let the world speak.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 1999





Wednesday, 21st April 2004

Anatomy of error. The idea of a 'dialectic of illusion' is important to me. But what exactly is an illusion? How does it differ from mere error?

I remember a snippet from the Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin, famous for method of precise analysis of 'ordinary language', where he talks about the common confusion between the words 'error' and 'mistake'.

Not all errors are mistakes. When you make a mistake, you erroneously take something to be something else. In his famous essay 'Other Minds' (Philosophical Papers OUP) Austin gives the example of a bird watcher mistaking one species of bird for another. On the other hand, if I am an accountancy clerk adding up a long column of numbers and I get the addition wrong, there was nothing I 'mistook' for anything else. I just miscalculated. So, strictly speaking, I made an error but I did not make a 'mistake'. (Just try telling that to your boss.)

In philosophy, errors arise, not though mistakes or miscalculation but what one might term, 'flawed thinking'. Your thought process go awry. Sometimes the error is understandable, as in the rich variety of logical fallacy catalogued in text books of informal logic. On other occasions, one's only response is, How on earth did I think that? Not so much a case of flawed thinking but complete absence of thought. Your mind was somewhere else.

Surprising how often that happens.

(On second thoughts: 'In philosophy, errors arise, not through mistakes...'. Is that right? Can't you mistake one theory for another, as when you are half way through your critique of theory X when you discover that your critique applies, not to theory X but to theory Y?)

My students are tired of hearing me say, 'Be prepared to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.' It's not only possible, but likely. In fact, more than likely. When you think about it, probably certain. The biggest secret about philosophers is that we spend a large part of our time discovering we were wrong.

Like the gambler who fallaciously reasons that 'I have lost so many times, this time I must win,' you congratulate yourself when you have uncovered a piece of your own flawed thinking as if that were a certain sign that your thought processes are back on track. The reality is no more likely to be that than the opposite. You can have errors within errors within errors, like a series of dreams when you think you've woken up only to discover that you are still dreaming.

It is not just in arguments where a philosopher's thinking can go awry. You can take the wrong direction, choose the wrong project, spend your whole professional life 'barking up a gum tree' (I'd love to know where that expression comes from). When that happens, the most likely diagnosis is unwillingness to admit you were wrong some time in the past. (Yes, but you can also abandon a project for the wrong reasons, give up just when you were close to reaching your goal.)

'I could be wrong about everything.' How helpful is that to me now? Could I go back? how far back would I have to go? Discounting my undergraduate years, it would have to be 1977 or 1978. That's when I took the decisive fork in the path that has led me here. It is pointless to speculate.

Do you always discover you were wrong, or sometimes just decide? ('I now realize that my enthusiasm for X was just infatuation,' you say. In the field of personal relationships, we know how easy it is to deceive oneself about such things. We give ourselves permission to forget, to obliterate how real it was at the time, how much X mattered to us.)

-- Enough, already!

This isn't what I'm interested in right now. One could write a book about the anatomy and genealogy of philosophical error. But I'm on the track of a very special kind of flawed philosophical thinking, which reveals not so much normal thought processes malfunctioning or breaking down in various ways but rather a systematic weakness or vulnerability which inevitably leads to error.

     The ego and truth illusions belong to every person to whom
     the dialectic addresses itself, distinguished from mere
     error only by that universality; illusions of an ultimate
     reality of metaphysical facts beyond the reach of language,
     whose exposure as illusion simultaneously rejects the
     project of transcendent metaphysics. The motivation for
     this project, the attempt to take up a metaphysical
     attitude to a world viewed sub specie aeternitatis,
     ultimately translates into the antinomy of idealism and
     realism; an irresolvable conflict between two opposing
     conceptions of the nature of thought's representations; a
     transcendental ego versus a transcendent truth... But
     dialectic can claim no results, no established
     propositions; only at most a change in the inner state of
     the reader who has worked it through. Metaphysics indeed
     sets forever the same task, demanding completion but never
     Metaphysics of Meaning (D.Phil thesis 1982) Abstract

I have an acutely painful memory of typing and re-typing my one page Abstract using an old Smith Corona 7000 electric typewriter that my father had given me from his office. The very last task before sending the thesis off to the binders. Every time I typed the page out, I found something else wrong with it. A task that should have taken an hour took a whole day. At the end, I felt so disgusted I was ready to throw the whole thesis in the bin, give up my ambitions for a doctorate and get a job as a postman.

Maybe this was so wrong, so wrong-headed that some unconscious voice -- my better half? -- was shouting at me to stop in my tracks, give up this pointless line of inquiry.

Later, I realized that that was just the voice of self-doubt, nothing more. My clumsy fingers were tripping over themselves out of sheer anxiety and excitement that my long project was finally coming to fruition.

But that was then and this is now.

On balance, I think I was wrong.

Metaphysics is more than just a dialectic of illusion. You can't make a positive out of a bare negative. There must be more to say, even if only, 'This is how reality looks when you take the illusion away.'

On second thoughts, No, that's too superficial, to unsubtle, too easy!

How confident am I that there is a sharp conceptual dividing line between 'mere philosophical error' and 'metaphysical illusion'? Suppose the boundary between error and illusions turns out to be more or less fuzzy, what then? (I remember my old Prof, David Hamlyn remarking that 'there are no statistical truths in philosophy'.)

Here are two things I know:

-- If (as I believed then) metaphysics is the dialectic of metaphysical illusion, then the ultimate subject matter of metaphysics is the metaphysical attitude.

-- If (as I believed when I wrote Naive Metaphysics) metaphysics is nothing but the working through of the consequences of naive metaphysical wonder ('Why is there I?' 'Why is there a world?') then the ultimate subject matter of metaphysics is the metaphysical attitude.

Either way, the investigator belongs in the frame.

So what??

There is something paradoxical about the idea that the subject matter of metaphysics is metaphysics.

Consider what one might say about science, or about history. There can be a science of science, a scientific investigation into the way science is conducted, for example, from the perspective of the science of psychology or the science of sociology. But that is necessarily a part (and a small part) not the whole of science. Similarly, there can be a history of history, a historical investigation into the different forms that historical investigation has taken at different times, or the historical development of the idea of history.

Aristotle in the Metaphysics defines his investigation as the science of 'Being qua Being'. Aristotle would have said the same things about metaphysics that I have said about science and history. It has an object, a target, just as they have. Being is the target, not the investigator investigating Being. So an important point is being made when one denies that there is any external target, and affirms instead that metaphysics is its own target.

Metaphysics without an object...

Metaphysics of metaphysics...


I am trying these for size, but I don't altogether like them. A friend of mine who is an accountant once remarked about philosophers, 'disappearing up their own whizz-holes'. Not very poetic, but apt.

My sticking point. There is no transcendent metaphysics. There is no supernatural realm. If you take that proposition seriously, if you refuse to take a single step beyond the natural world then you must either regard the ultimate questions raised by naive metaphysics as meaningless or you have to go looking for some other, more subtle way to respond to those questions, which avoids appeal to non-natural entities, final causes, or any of the other exotic animals that have appeared down the ages in the pages of metaphysical treatises.

     If we take in our hand any volume, of divinity or school
     metaphysics for instance; let us ask, 'Does it contain any
     abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?' No.
     'Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning
     matter of fact and existence?' No. commit it then to the
     flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and
     (David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section
     XII, Part III).
From Hume's perspective, metaphysics is just one big error, or one big illusion. A mad folly conceived in the brains of scholars who thought that they could use philosophy to find God. It would have been far better for all concerned if that fatal error that led to a branch of knowledge called 'metaphysics' had not been made in the first place.

Hume was wrong.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2004





Sunday, 20th February 2011

Yesterday, I awoke with an incredibly powerful feeling that I understood something, for the first time, about 'how the pieces fit together' -- the pieces of my life as a so-called 'philosopher' -- the memory fragments down the years,

     in cafes, bars, museums, underground railway stations,
     parks, gardens, canal side, river side, tramping the
     streets of Oxford and London, art galleries, lecture
     theatres, library seats, every desk I have ever known...
     If a thought is worth writing down, it's worth writing on
     the back of a used envelope, on scrap paper, in the margins
     of a newspaper, on your wrist. I had been a philosophy
     student for four years, got my degree, before I ever
     thought of buying myself a notepad -- a typist's dictation
     book, 180 pages spiral bound...
But this isn't about the thoughts I had back then, deep though they may have been. This is about how important things are to me. But not in a materialist sense.

Those scraps of paper, they weren't just rubbish from the waste basket, they were documents which had already served a valuable purpose, and were now being recycled and given a new purpose. My computers are old, really old, they have a history which I know nothing about. They didn't come in shiny boxes with photos of yuppies surfing the Internet with inane grins on their faces. They have a meaning which goes beyond their utility, even beyond the fact that I love things for their utility and what that symbolizes.

I remember something else. I wrote the quoted words on a Psion 3c palmtop computer seven years ago, while I waited for one of my daughters (I can't remember which one!) to finish her swimming lesson. The very fact that, for once, I wasn't using a pen and paper sparked the memory cascade.

This is about thoughts I had yesterday. I haven't come to the point yet. But yesterday wasn't the day for writing this blog. Today, the powerful sense of epiphany has all but gone. But I still remember, and that's all that matters.

Last week, I wrote this about Heidegger and Levinas in my Editor's Introduction to Philosophy Pathways Issue 160:

     Martin Jenkins' exposition of Heidegger on humanism, and
     Sim-Hui Tee's account of Levinas on the 'other', each shows
     the historical tradition of metaphysics in a less than
     favourable light. What metaphysicians have sought to do is,
     in the eyes of each of those original and radical thinkers,
     a form of desecration.
     For Heidegger, it is the very world we inhabit has become a
     mere resource, the Greek philosopher Parmenides' sense of
     awe and mystery at the very presence of Being is almost
     impossible for us to recall, so lost are we in the world of
     beings and our project of gaining mastery through knowledge
     and technique. Heidegger's term 'productive metaphysics'
     sums up this form of thinking. For Levinas, the
     irresistible urge towards 'totalising' knowledge leads us
     to lose sight of the metaphysically fundamental ethical
     dimension of our nature, wherein the Other stands in a
     sacred space infinitely removed from our grasp, beyond all
     knowledge and control.
     One might say that Heidegger emphasizes the solitude of the
     'authentic' subject in touch with the Being of the universe,
     while for Levinas when I look out at the world the first
     thing I see is the 'face' of the other, the face that
     forbids murder, that reminds me of my perpetual ethical
     debt. Perhaps, the philosopher one feels more drawn to
     shows the kind of thinker you are, or aspire to be?

Yesterday morning, when I woke up, I finally understood the meaning of what I'd written. At the time, I was too busy with 101 details making sure that the e-journal was ready to send out. But that's the way it is with my job. Caught up in the needs of the moment, I allow myself to forget. Then I remember. I digest. I put things together. When I wrote my introduction, I wasn't ready to think the words, not in the way they needed to be thought. The words just came, as they always do.

I have been writing one paragraph per post (allowing for block quotes) not because I don't have more to say but as a way of putting a brake on my garrulousness. [18.10.15: paragraphs have been split up.] I find it too easy to write, and that can be a serious handicap for a philosopher. But today, remembering what I felt and thought yesterday, even though I can't think those thoughts or feel those feelings as I did then, I have to break my own rule -- for the sake of getting this out into the open, while the memory is still fresh.

A couple of evenings after the Pathways issue went out, in the pub with a small group of my ex-evening class students, I was chatting with Brian Tee who took over my class a few years ago (no relation to Sim-Hui!) about the topic for next week. 'Can you think of something good to say about boredom?' Brian asked me with a sly grin. I already knew Brian had lots of good things to say about boredom but he was just testing me out. I said that it was necessary for philosophers to feel boredom, in a 'good' way, the sense of time stretching out, as you wait... 'for a breakthrough?' Brian interjected, No, I said, that makes it sound like a scientist waiting for inspiration. Like the famous story of the chemist trying to work out the structure of benzene who woke up the next morning with the answer after a dream about playful monkeys.

We kicked the topic of boredom around for a while, but didn't reach a firm conclusion. Boredom connects with laziness, something I know a lot about. I agreed with Brian that they're not the same, but they are connected in important ways. You've got to have the ability to be lazy (also in a 'good' way) in order to experience the philosopher's liberating kind of boredom.

Somehow that brought us on to Hubert Dreyfus' lectures on Moby Dick by Herman Melville. By this time, another of my old students, Angie, had joined in. I said that Moby Dick is one of the most philosophical novels ever written, which brought a few titters. No, I insisted, it was true. One aspect that make the novel so deep is the focus on details, the contrast between the precise art and science of whaling and the terrifying sublimity of the face of nature ('the whiteness of the whale'). While Melville's occasional remarks about philosophers come across as merely playful, ironic. It's the intense focus on things, the harpoons, the ropes, the oars, and the men, their idiosyncrasies and their idees fixes.

One of the first thoughts that came to me when I woke up yesterday morning was that this is really all about is patience, as you wait for the world to speak to you. The key is relaxed attentiveness. That's why Rodin's famous sculpture of 'The Thinker' is a travesty of the philosopher. The image is far more appropriate to the professional chess player, furiously cogitating, calculating hundreds or thousands of lines, the intense focus on the board reflected in the grandmaster's face.

A better image of the philosopher would be a lone figure on a river bank, fishing, attentive to every ripple in the water, ready to do what is necessary -- ready for hours and even then the fish don't always come. I should have said this to Brian, because Brian loves fishing, or at least he used to when he had the time. Now he has a bookshop. (http:---)

I have the time. I can wait. But my waiting is an attentive waiting, a respectful waiting. And, as I wait, I appreciate the deep mystery of things.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2011





Thursday, 13th December 2012

Day six. I can't go out. That feeling of release that you get when striding out under a bright sky won't come today. There's no denying I feel embattled. I need to protect my attic fortress.

The looming prospect of my talk at the University of London is a plausible reason. Returning 36 years after leaving Birkbeck with my First Class degree and prize for 'outstanding performance', destined, as my teachers believed -- as I allowed myself to believe -- for a glorious career as an academic philosopher; this will be a kind of reckoning.

Yet as I already hinted, as I believe, I am not the one facing the reckoning -- they are. For allowing the discipline of philosophy to fall into such a parlous state. A fine irony indeed, if the only one capable of defending the true values of the philosopher... is a sophist.

This morning, the best part of the day, as always, was devoted to reviews of work sent to me by students who have paid, in advance, for the service. And I am expected to give value for money. (I even provide a '28 day no-quibble money back guarantee'.)

There is no shame in earning money for honest toil. And I am scrupulously honest in the way that I work, or try to be. Because I am also kind, when kindness is required (for those students who are struggling, painfully aware of their intellectual limitations, desperately in need of encouragement). And kindness is a relatively short distance from flattery. It's a fine line.

I am very good at what I do. The results of my students taking the University of London BA speak for themselves. A matter for professional pride.

All this just to make the case that the title of 'sophist' isn't some kind of inverted snobbery or conceit on my part. It is the plain truth, the unassailable reality of my day to day working life.

It's taken me six days to get to this point. I'm not going to dwell on it. But there is something else. It's about something David Hamlyn said to me (I will mention this in my talk) when I met him at Birkbeck after I had started my graduate studies at Oxford. I'd come to discuss my thesis topic, 'The Metaphysics of Meaning'. That would have been around 1978.

Hamlyn had written a book on the History of Western Philosophy. He knew about every era, every notable philosopher and philosophical movement. 'You can study the entire history of philosophy,' he said, 'and the only outcome is that you are left feeling that there is nothing new to say.' -- What an admission!

There's nothing new to say that some philosopher hasn't said before. Nothing new under the sun. 'Those ignorant of the history of philosophy are doomed to repeat it,' as the saying goes. Deep down, at that very moment, I made the decision that was to to shape my life as a student of philosophy right up to the present day. I don't want to know what Hamlyn knows. I don't want to ever feel like this!

Today, I am a generalist. I can mentor students taking any philosophy course, not because I am an 'expert' -- more often than not, they know more than I do. They have read the books and articles, I haven't. My focus is on performance. I daresay I have a rare talent for it.

A performance coach. A sophist. Q.E.D.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2012





Monday, 26th October 2015

The three principles of dialectical logic:

     I. The principle of egocentricity

     II. The reality principle

     III. The rationality of the real

     (from http:---)

-- One of the ground rules in setting out 'principles' or 'axioms' is that none of the items is derivable from the others, individually or in combination. This has to the smallest set that captures our intuitions/ beliefs/ knowledge of the domain in question -- which in this case is metaphysical inquiry.

Good examples of a priori principles can be found in Leibniz: apart from the famous Principle of Sufficient Reason, Leibniz describes principles of least distance (in optics), least action (in mechanics) and conservation (in physics). Though a priori, these are still contingent in the widest sense, in that the physical world could have been one in which laws to not conform to our sense of what would be the most economical/ reasonable order of things. (Maybe a case could be made for deriving Leibniz's physical principles from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, I'm not sure. My strong intuition is that the PSR is at a different, more abstract level.)

Quine makes a related point with his metaphor of the 'web of belief' and propositions located at greater or lesser distance from the 'periphery', where our beliefs make contact with experience. Even the laws of classical logic, according to Quine, could conceivably be up for grabs.

I want to draw a strict line between metaphysics and science. In science, we have to be open to the possibility that experimental data will overturn our theory, or even the principles that govern the selection of a theory. The physical world may be much stranger than we assumed. In metaphysics, by contrast, there is no empirical content, no possibility of empirical falsification. That's just the kind of inquiry that it is.

Which of course is what puts the 'possibility of metaphysics' in question, just as the logical positivists claimed.

When Einstein complained about the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, 'God does not play dice with the universe,' he was implicitly appealing to Principle III, the rationality of the real. The problem is that the theory suggested as an alternative, 'hidden variables', is merely another physical theory. Any physical theory is up for grabs, just as Quine said. We have to go by the evidence.

If the real is rational, then it is entirely possible that this cannot be expressed in the form of a physical theory. The Copenhagen interpretation could be true. That's the best description of reality you'll ever get from physics. Which implies a gap, unbridgeable by merely physical inquiry, between reality and 'ultimate reality'.

Meanwhile, the most important result that emerged from my Sophist notebook was here:

     So then, finally, what IS so wrong with my 'theory of
     subjective and objective worlds' in Naive Metaphysics?
     I mistook a 'principle for the construction of a theory'
     (egocentricity) for a theory. I tried to make a theory
     of it.
Mistaking the principle for the construction of a theory for a theory: there is a lot in this to unpack, and I need to go carefully. My gut feeling is that this is right.

I noted wryly that I was using the term 'dialectic' in a 'somewhat non-standard sense' (page 40). This is typical of something that happens in philosophy. What I am putting forward is a better concept of 'dialectic'. According to Humpty Dumpty a word 'means just what I choose it to mean', but the point is finding the best most fruitful, insightful meaning. Which I think I have done.

My three principles of dialectical logic capture the arena, the ball park in which metaphysical inquiry takes place. If you question any one of these principles (I claim) then you are not doing metaphysics. Period.

However, having located the ball park, you still have a lot of work to do. You have to actually go ahead and 'construct a theory', using whatever tools of reasoning are available, consistent with the three principles of dialectical logic.

Each of the principles is familiar to students of the history of philosophy. Most obviously, the 'rationality of the real' (Hegel). The reality principle (alluding to Freud) is my gloss on Wittgenstein's critique of the 'private object': there is no object whose reality is constituted by its own appearance. The principle of egocentricity has been the motive force in the idealist tradition, most notably in Fichte (about whom I don't know nearly enough). According to my understanding, however, the principle of egocentricity -- when clearly understood as the principle that 'I am the one asking the question' -- has nothing to do with idealism. The very same problem arises, the inability to locate the 'I', whether you construct your metaphysic out of 'matter' (realism) or out of 'mind' (idealism).

In Sophist, the topic of dialectical logic receives a mere three pages of discussion before I allow myself to be distracted by my YouTube videos (http:---). Maybe, I just wasn't ready to go forward with this. As I am now?

-- I just remembered a quote from The Bourne Ultimatum 2007. In a memory sequence at the climax of the movie, Dr Hirsch says to Jason Bourne: 'You're not a liar, are you? Or too weak to see this through? This is it.'

I have the feeling that this IS it. This is where the investigation starts. I must not allow myself to lose track this time. I will follow the argument wherever it leads.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2015


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020