Lifeworld of the (Analytic) Metaphysicians
|Eric Schliesser -- ``Those who|
like obnoxious in-jokes will be
happy to learn that I almost used
a picture of a balloon flying over
Ghent to accompany this caption.''
Sometimes it is clear what this would entail (the dark pessimism of Schopenhauer, the fearful opportunism of Lao Tzu, the meliorative optimism of Condorcet and les philosophes) but I often think people give up too quickly in seeking for this emotional basis. For instance, people rarely see this in analytic philosophers or schools of thought, and while this is quite right in some cases (e.g. some are not consistent, or speak in too pro-forma a style) in other cases I think people are just missing what is not obvious.
Tim Williamson, I have long felt and argued before, is a philosopher from whom one does get, I think, a real sense of an underlying emotional basis to their work. So I'll illustrate what I mean here with a broad impressionistic sweep over his work. Williamson's is a world over which we have less control than we may think, a world which in all sorts of subtle ways reveals itself to be beyond our grasp or ken, and which we can modify around the edges (in ways that may even be very important to us), but in some deep and fundamental sense we must learn to accept and conform ourselves too.
Even the aspects of Williamson that don' seem to comport with this readily turn out to. For instance, Williamson on some occasions argues that knowledge that it might be thought hard to get (knowledge of counter-factuals, say) is actually quite readily attainable, and stresses a link between knowledge and speech-action, in particular assertion. This seems suggestive of a somewhat different lifephilosophy, somewhat less fatalistic than perhaps the above sounded. But, even here I think the underlying unity of the picture of the lifeworld is revealed, because these initially incongruent elements of his thought can very easily be weaved in. What one sees here is this kind of sense of futility -- for the knowledge which is surprisingly easy to get (concerning counter-factuals) turns out to ground or underlie the discovery that a load of things you might have thought were contingent are actually necessarily as they are.
|Timothy Williamson -- ``One might|
question the wisdom of some grad student
treating my philosophy in exactly
the kind of vague, loose, impressionistic
way I frequently protest against. But, hey,
you do you. Who needs a job anyway?''
For my part, I really value the ability to produce such an emotionally coherent philosophy in humanistic thinkers. One -- not the only, nor even the most important, but one -- valuable thing I think we can offer as humanists is placing facts, arguments, perspectives, into such a light as they provide a kind of unified perspective on the world, that they can shape and guide a coherent approach to life's many problems and joys. I don't think this need be the explicit subject matter of what is done, indeed I think it is often best done kind of obliquely as one focuses on more immediate or precisely formulated problems. Indeed, a lot of what I say here is shaped by my reading of Carnap, who I think also deliberately did this obliquely, and ends up painting a very different picture from Williamson. But some of my favourite thinkers are such precisely because they have the ability to conjure in me a window into their lifeworld. I think analytic philosophy has greater potential to contribute to this kind of humanistic project than even some of its own practitioners admit; and as I develop as a thinker I aspire to have such a vision emerge from my own work.
Eric Schliesser's post, I think, does a great job of not just pointing to Williamson's lifeworld but also exemplifying what it would be to live in it. One gets the sense that even in the face of personal and social catastrophe, even where others cannot be brought to see it, there is still a value to be found in discovering the world as it is and acclimatising to it, terrible tough it may be. The determination to gain that knowledge and comport oneself accordingly just is a good, and that value is invariant across the waxing and waning of fortune.