This is something I wrote in 1969, when I was 20 years old. I looked at it again recently and felt it was still quite interesting. I have made no substantial changes to it, only tried to improve the style.
 
 

Philosophical, Magical and Mystical Reflections

by

John S Moore

. 'What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle'. Philosophical Investigations § 309.

Does there have to be just one possible way? Other philosophers may be thought to have made comparable claims. Kant and the logical positivists invited the criticism that the fundamental structure of their thought rules itself out. The verification principle cannot be consistently applied to itself without collapsing, and Kant's transcendental idealism is as open to criticism as any other metaphysical system of which it is designed to deny the possibility. We might say Plato shows the fly the way out of the fly bottle, in his discussion of being and not being in The Sophist.

'The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.' § 119

If meaning is really identified with use, then surely it should not matter too much what pictures we have to help us use words properly. If metaphysics offered helpful pictures might not it be of service? Plato or Kant might be of practical use to those who agreed with them. What further help could Wittgenstein himself promise? Best to supply such help his books should aim to be masterpieces of propaganda aiming directly and primarily at persuasion. He talks about what we say, and about what we want to say and about the muddles into which this can lead us. A philosophical argument is like a wheel turning dislocated from the rest of the machinery of which it should be a part. This is a picture to enable us to understand better his philosophy.

Cavell attacks David Pole for attempting to make Wittgenstein crudely explicit. Wittgenstein's argumentation is deep and subtle. Why should this be necessary? Is it to persuade us more effectively? Style is inseparable from argument. It is not that Wittgenstein is trying to disguise all handles anyone might use to refute him, anymore than it's a poet's intention to evade criticism of any of his ideas by refusing to point an explicit moral. It is a difficult matter so to adjust thought that it never strays outside certain determined provinces. The Maoist might set you to work, the hedonist might tell you to drown your doubts in sensual pleasure. Wittgenstein would set you right by giving you such a picture of language and of your doubts that the latter cease to trouble you anymore. How many tortoises are there among philosophers, how many who would refuse to dissolve all their doubts in the proposed way? If philosophical doubts are an illness, and if Wittgenstein's style of philosophy provides a possible cure, then how is it better than any of the other philosophical doctrines to which people have given their complete adherence?

Wittgenstein might say 'If you don't want to think certain things you needn't. If the words used in your philosophical puzzles were not meant for straightforward practical uses, you would never have learnt them in the first place'. He says he is destroying only houses of cards. What counts as a house of cards? He cannot mean only philosophical statements that misuse words which were never meant to be used in philosophical statements, because he would want to include talk about 'sense datum', 'transcendental idealism', 'raw feel', 'substance' etc. The sort of thoughts which mess up your mind perhaps. Of thought they come and by thought they shall be destroyed.

Wittgenstein's position in the Tractatus was the apotheosis of formal logic. The Sheffer stroke notation stood for the one simple logical operation. Perhaps someone might still find this picture of the world intelligible and credible. Is the concept of a language game any more workable than the concept of logical rules in the attempt to show what makes language and thought possible? It cannot be sufficient to accept Wittgenstein's later philosophy simply as a convenient and easy way of dealing with philosophical problems. He claims to have given the means for solving (or dissolving) many age old philosophical problems. Tractatus philosophy, or the verification principle, would also dissolve these. A lot of people used to accept the verification principle in spite of the many objections to which it seemed exposed. For those who are not disturbed by the ladder idea in the Tractatus, the Tractatus might well provide the key to the final solution of all philosophical problems as Wittgenstein himself at one time maintained. But what can the logician reply to Carroll's obstinate tortoise (What the Tortoise said to Achilles) who refuses to take the step to which we say he is logically compelled? Sometimes thought drives itself into a trap and mental confusion results.

Paradoxes became philosophically important when they interfered with modern set theory. One of the purposes of Russell's theory of types and his theory of descriptions was to show us ways of thinking ourselves out of certain paradoxes, in the case of the former, the one about the class of classes which are not members of themselves and in the case of the latter the one about George IV wanting to know whether Scott was the author of Waverley. For some people philosophical problems are solved adequately by such logical means.

The attempt to find an all subsuming logic was the attempt to make the world more intelligible in as monistic a way as possible. 'The logical structure of the world' was conceived as analogous to the physical structure, but where irresolvable disagreement creeps into logic this analogy must break down. A statement is only obvious if a very large number of people accept it without question. Scepticism works when it convinces people. Some onto whom the tortoise is turned might try to avoid it by refusing to uphold rational thought, holding it to be barren and sterile. Someone wrote that all philosophers must write ignoramus across their life's work. On this view whatever they write on rational lines will plunge them into dilemma if they are honest enough to go as far as this.

'To say nothing except what can be said, ie the propositions of natural science, ie something that has nothing to do with philosophy and then when someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other, he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy, but it would be the only strictly correct method'. (Tractatus 6.53)

Accepting this would depend on a faith in the logical system. To justify the logical system we have to be told something like credo ut intelligam. We realise that all the talk explaining it to us was senseless, but are supposed to end up accepting it. The Wittgenstein of the Tractatus was oracular rather than propagandist. This suggests the irrationality of faith. Take something on authority, believe it, and see what starts happening to you.

Later Wittgenstein gives long accounts of misleading views of what is involved when we use words like 'intend'. He describes pictures which have some appeal but which do not work. He then gives a factual account of when we would use such words, how we should know that they are being used correctly etc. This, he would have us believe, is quite enough. The question is whether you are satisfied.

Russell said that Wittgenstein gave up thinking for action, (presumably like any good fascist). There is something in this. Wittgenstein seems to think that old style philosophical thought was parasitic on thought with a practical purpose, and seems to say only thought with a practical purpose is of any use, non philosophical thought is just part of the way in which a form of life lives.

Normally I say I know certain things. Suppose a train of thought leads me to the proposition that I cannot know a lot what I previously thought I knew. I am persuaded out of this by someone who tells me my picture of what 'know' means is out of joint, and that is all. Must I agree? However many facts Wittgenstein points out about language and usage, no one is obliged to agree with his conclusions about them. Try to make sense of alternative positions. Someone might hold that concepts ought to fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Or that paradoxes really are insoluble, that it is no answer simply to tell us not to think them. We may be able to retrace our steps and new paths towards a non paradoxical conclusion, but this does not alter the fact that a paradox can present itself to thought if certain questions are raised. There is a card game where I must lose if I start first, provided my opponent knows how to do it. Are we to say 'you must never start first or never play the game? ' As you can't win the game, you can't evade the paradox unless you alter the rules. Situations arise in ordinary life which we call dilemmas which have nothing to do with thought gone wrong, but rather with emotions etc. People have nervous and psychotic breakdowns.

'Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language'. (Zettel 55)

Philosophers try to make the world thinkable. Sometimes the world may be made more thinkable by knowing when to confess ignorance. Russell wants to reduce the framework of actual and possible experience to as few simple logical laws as possible. TE Hulme, in Speculations simply asserts discontinuities in the world, completely incompatible realms. Even saying this, is a form of defining, trying to make intelligible.

Philosophers have often presupposed certain logical rules in the construction of their theories, transformation rules, if we like. Aristotle stated logical laws which had to be just simple. Russell and others stated a lot more. Early Wittgenstein tried to reduce them as much as he possibly could. But the assumptions involved in doing this destroy themselves. If we take ever more basic assumptions, the rules we formulate are destroyed just the same. This is a metalogical statement about the concept 'rule'. But is it really so very basic, or does the right to claim anything like that evade us as much as it always has done?. Metaphilosophy is arguably more important than philosophy itself. Perhaps if looked at in this way, philosophy can be said to have advanced.

We point out some facts about life and language. Certain consequences are supposed to follow. What connection can there be but a logical one? I keep feeling I am getting very close to what I want to say though I doubt whether I should ever be able to write anything that is really satisfactory. Yet perhaps I am not trying to say something more fundamental than logic, just to answer certain questions in a logical way. The verificiationist rules out a nonsensical sentence like 'the Absolute is green' by the application of a simple principle. Wittgenstein wants to rule it out without any such rule. But might one not still derive a logic for it?

All criticisms of Wittgenstein's later philosophy that I have read, seem to miss the mark, they are not convincing enough. I think it is very useful to have really believed Wittgensteinianism if one is to see how it fails. Its faults are really greater than less ambitious philosophies that are not concerned with making no assumptions at all.

What might be achieved by departing from ordinary usage? Ordinary logical analytical philosophy tries to get people to agree with its conclusions via agreement with its principle. One is to accept the theory of descriptions for example, before one applies it. On Wittgenstein's later view, the only way of seeing what these logical rules are, is to examine how people use them . He does not want to argue for the self evidence of anything. He can only be vindicated insofar as people agree with him. If all language is a game, then what he is trying to do in the Philosophical Investigations is also a game, one very largely of persuasion. If people refuse to be persuaded the game is undermined. And Wittgenstein is hardly in a position where he can call everyone else wrong and himself right (except as part of his propaganda). The position may seem to give credence to might is right doctrines. A struggle for souls. If that is the significance of his ideas, how such a doctrine could satisfy Wittgenstein personally, is hard to see. It is strange to think of someone trying to persuade himself. It is not as if he can take comfort in a standard of truth. It could be that his method just happened to work for him. That would be a psychological fact about him. If open to doubt at all then it may be just a provisional expedient that happened to satisfy one man, like the myriads of other philosophical 'solutions' that have been provided of the age old philosophical problems.

'In ultimate matters the argumetnum ad hominem is the only argument possible and indeed the only one in which anyone much believes' ( Frederic B Fitch, quoting WM Urban, quoting Lowes Dickninson).

'A theory about all theories may be said to have attained the maximum theoretical generality. At such a level all other levels may be dealt with. There is no level which is 'higher' in the sense that it can deal with the theories not dealt with on the level of maximum theoretical generality. To deny that there is such a level is already to be proposing a theory about all theories and hence to be presenting a theory which is itself of the level of maximum theoretical generality. Thus an ad hominem argument can be used against the conception that no such level is to be found'.

Russell tries to build up a logical system, which, if we follow, will not lead us into contradiction. Now is this logical system, insofar as it leads us away from contradiction, open to question? Or is rather Russell's logical system like Orwellian Newspeak, in that it eliminates thoughtcrime, by depriving us of the language in which to think it? Russell admits that in definition we need apparent variables, to deny the possibility of Fitch's theory of maximum theoretical generality would be to make a universal statement. It seems as if Russell can be dragged down into the same kind of bog as the later Wittgenstein. Philosophy looks like an endless round of puzzle and counter puzzle. Like an onion which expands as it is peeled so that it never gets any smaller. But it cannot even be seized and understood as onion, because all I have done in so naming it is to pull of another layer. (Peer Gynt).

Russell wants to refuse to allow any statement purporting to say something about reality as a whole. But in communicating this refusal, he has to resort to propaganda just like the later Wittgenstein. He can perhaps claim to have discovered a convenient way of avoiding these paradoxes, and in that sense he is right. If it does not make sense to talk of a level of maximum theoretical generality, is this just because he lays it down as so? But is he making a statement of maximum theoretical generality in denying the possibility of such a level? Unless it appears as self evident that there is no such level, to state the theory of types, to recommend a change in linguistic usage, must involve explicitly denying that any theory can be about all theories including itself.

It might be argued that that to say that religion is meaningless is to make a religious statement. Imagine being given a form to fill in with a box entitled 'religion'. One might write 'none' or 'indifferent'. Just as one might when asked for one's philosophical views, but thinking about it one tries to rationalise one's position. Atheism is one religious view, agnosticism is another. One might coin a word 'meaninglessnessist', to describe one who considers all religious statements to be meaningless. Is a meaninglessnessist open to the counter that meaninglessnessism is as meaningless as religion? 'I am not talking about religion', he might say, 'but only about what purport to be religious statements. I can exclude these as part of a wide variety of pseudo statements which do not attain to the status of statements in that they do not satisfy certain positive criteria'.

Learning to accept the philosophy of the Tractatus, would be rather like learning a language. The child learns to call the sky 'blue'. On our own terms (say the teachers) we can give you no reason why we use these words rather than those to signify these things rather than that. Likewise these are the rules of grammar and thought. Russell would not see himself just as a language teacher, he could not accept Wittgenstein's ladder theory, (which looks suspiciously like 'credo ut intelligam'). So the argumentum ad hominem (always a favourite when arguing with Christians, Marxists, or fanatics and enthusiasts of any sort) should really strike home. Russell is trying to bring philosophy to an end as much as Wittgenstein ever was, and Fitch, like a good Babe of the Abyss, rescues it from the jaws of the dragon. Not that the dragon would have been able to digest it, he would probably have had to excrete it in only a slightly modified form. By trying to remove self reference from philosophy, Russell is trying to replace philosophy by Russellian logic, a sinister sort of pluralistic operation.

Separate theses

1 the failure to prove what cannot be proved leads to irrationalism and oracular philosophy.

2 anything is proved if people will agree that it is so.

Wittgenstein's ladder

1 is a piece of irrationalism, an appeal to what is beyond reason.

2 is an attempt persuade people of the definitive truth of a system.

The Roman Catholic dictum 'credo ut intelligam' fulfils both these functions. Via 1 to 2 and back to establish what had previously proved impossible.

What justification is there for the assertion that logic analyses language? Russell speaks of creating a more exact language. This is not analysing language, but laying down artificial boundaries to circumvent philosophical problems such as how we can say things about things that do not exist, and the paradox of George II wondering whether Scott was the author of Waverley. Analysing sentences into names, definite descriptions are not completely substitutable. Nothing is made any more comprehensible by the theory. I suppose we assume that we understand what is meant by saying. 'the man who wrote this paper is x' and also what is meant by saying 'there is at least one person and no more than one person who wrote this paper'. 'This person is x', more immediately than we understand 'The writer of this paper is x'. What is meant by saying that a phrase is analysable into its component parts? Perhaps that we can form a simple picture of the workings of language.

Is the dispute metaphysical? I do not go through the stage of thinking the truth conditions for all my statements before I make them. What is this relation of meaning? Russell's theory of types might perhaps do the job of definite descriptions, making an easier picture of the workings of language. Talking about the real meaning is like talking about the essence. We simplify language for the sake of logic. But what is the point of logic? Perhaps we can present all language as exemplifying a few simple principles of logic. You might find though, that some of the principles you leave unsaid are more complicated than those you explicitly state, complicating these in turn so they no longer seem so simple as they did at first.

Instead the linguistic philosopher tries to explain in terms of following a rule, ostensive definition.

Quinton thinks the explication of the meaning of a word to be interesting in itself and more complicated than Wittgenstein thinks.

John Wisdom does not deny metaphysics, but he does make the idiosyncrasy platitude central. For him, metaphysical systems are parts, or aspects of the truth. Perhaps he can only really say this by himself taking a metaphysical position. Suppose we call him an 'idiosyncrasy platitudinist'.

The mere moralist just advocates what he regards as the best way to live, he does not try to prove his point by deductive arguments.

Gilbert Ryle criticises John Wisdom's continual metaphilosophising. Is philosophy a perpetual attempt to say something about a field wide enough to include itself? If not does this protect it from criticism? Suppose a philosophy is merely trying to make certain things thinkable? Ryle can sound like those philosophers who thought that after Kant metaphysics had been superseded by the critique of pure reason, that is to say mere classification. To tell someone not to metaphilosophise is like telling him to proceed in your way, ie with your own metaphilosophical assumptions. Nevertheless there is something cool about practising philosophy while refusing ever to touch metaphilosophy. Ryle's 'informal logic' can seem merely a game. See how much some theory will work; when it cracks do not abandon the theory, just admit it has limitations.

Surely not all philosophers have to be great? What about philosophies of modest ambition? Such are often thoroughly immersed in metaphysics. Insinuation has often been used most disreputably. It seems plausible to assert that there is no point in anyone being a philosopher unless he is moved by some impulse which is itself philosophically relevant. It can be played as a game. But games can degenerate into anachronistic idiocies. Surely you must be continually aware of what you are doing and why?

Wittgenstein said he did not understand Kierkegaard as much as he would have liked to have done. Perhaps this was because Wittgenstein was on a bad trip, and Kierkegaard was at least trying to give advice to people on tolerably good ones. Wittgenstein, Kafka, Céline, fascists at heart. On this view, Wittgenstein abdicates his critical function because he knows it can't get him anywhere, and offers, for other people's edification, a conditioning programme which they have to take on trust. A lot of them do take it as the way out, and spend their time applying it, making it strong, these being activities which can be enjoyed for their own sake. But it must proclaim the death of self referential philosophy, this is the hang up. The solution is totalitarian. What sort of life is left for a Popperian believer in openness?

It may seem that self reference and consequent argumentum ad hominem applies to every philosophy possible, and that how to evade the argumentum ad hominem is one of the main problems besetting philosophers. It can then seem that all philosophers are really faced with the same basic problem, from Heraclitus to Heidegger to Bradley, to Wittgenstein and Russell to Shankara, Lao Tsu, Thomas Aquinas etc.

Where philosophy is caught in a trap perhaps myth can help. We may find that philosophical dilemmas have ready made mythic expression. Perhaps there is a place for speuculative thought that falls short of philosophy. We may call it magic. This is not to say that magic is necessarily to be excluded from philosophy proper. It might be said that Thomas Reid and GE Moore used a form of magic in their attempts to solve some philosophical issues. The appeal to common-sense is rather like Dr Johnson's reply to Berkeley by kicking a stone, or his solution to the freewill problem. 'We've got freewill and there's an end of it'. One solves problems by an assertive act of will, establishing desired connections by fiat. The Philosophical Investigations principles are like magical principles, we learn words, and use them and ordinary language is all right. 'The meaning of a word is its use', that is to say there is no more meaning to a word than might appear.

It is a tendentious dogma that magic is sinful, though a very powerful one, deep rooted in Christianity. Magic seems to be condemned in the light of mysticism.

"Tao when put in use for its hollowness is not likely to be filled. In its profundity it seems to be the origin of all things.

In its depth it seems ever to remain.

I do not know whose offspring it is

But it looks like the predecessor of nature". (Tao te Ching)

It is tempting to condemn magic as the opposite of this self effacing obedience. Magic may be dangerous, but this does not mean it is misguided. It can presuppose a state of mental freedom which adherents of creeds find particularly offensive. The freedom is not unlimited. 'To thine own self be true' (from Peer Gynt, not Polonius) is magical advice. The magician does not claim to make up out of his conscious mind everything that happens to him. He is not a solipsist. Nor does he exclude the eventual possibility of self surrender in some form of mysticism. The political character of the Tao te Ching means that a law for good trips is generalised into a law for society as a whole, so that everyone will be far more prone to go off on good trips than before. The magician is a little more of a Hegelian, he believes in accepting what is and synthesising it into the best available trip. The magician is a prophet of culture, the Taoist a tidy minded negativist. Christianity is like Taoism, Nietzsche like the magician.

Wilhelm Reich admires Peer Gynt and writes interestingly about it if a little elusively. Perhaps he sees Peer Gynt as someone on a trip which at times threatens to become extremely bad. The great Boyg is a proponent of the dilemma. The button maker is a figurative representation of that Hell which is worse than death, something which has run itself into unresolvable dilemma. Ibsen does try to moralise, but Reich sees psychological truth behind the moralism. Ibsen is not exactly trying to condemn society for giving Peer a bad trip. Is the Great Boyg a moral figure, or simply a fiendish fact? It is an important thing about the trolls that they are not human, that it is impossible for a human to live like a troll without ultimate Hell. The difference between 'Man to thine own self be true' and 'Troll to thyself be enough', is the difference between open ended action where what ultimate meaning there is comes as an act of grace, and the diabolic hubris that prematurely lays down all its own values. It is well known that only God can do that, only He can be quite self sufficient. That's not to say that man can never become one with God, but that if he tries to build a tower of Babel up to Heaven his power of organisation as well as his strength is eventually going to break down, because the effort required is infinite. Reich is perhaps right when we come to ask why Peer Gynt went off on his bad trip. It seems to have had much to do with the people around him. However, Reich's materialism led him like Marx and Freud, to deny the validity of mysticism. Rejecting ordinary mysticism, he expounded a sexual mysticism of his own, as narrow in in way as that of the orthodox Christian or Hindu.

Mysticism is something to be enjoyed. The enemies of mysticism are like sexual puritans such as William Acton. Rulers who deny their people mystical experience are like the anti fornication legislators of the USA. That is fairly obvious. But the anti mystical attitude of Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell is more like the anti sexual attitude of the child who does not fully understand what he is trying to oppose. Some philosophical systems are like multidimensional works of art, poems, beautiful ways to think and to interpret everything. One problem is the positive one of coming to see them just as this.

One of the purposes of poetry is to give the reader as nearly as possible an experience which the poet has had and wishes to communicate. A straightforward description of his experience in something like scientific jargon, will generally not achieve his purpose. Poetry or prose with this objective needs to excel technically. Often the inspiration which it requires comes from intense and well understood experience. Fake experience can hardly express itself very well as real because it cannot know what it is supposed to convey. Some people who have real experience nevertheless express it sloppily or gushily in romantic excess. The best poetry or prose has a quality of restraint. Feeling that the writer really knows what he is talking about we begin to feel something of what he felt. One of the things the artist does is to increase our pleasure or diminish our pain in contemplating certain things.

Popper considers Hegel's thought to be a poison of the mind. Someone might riposte that a well educated individual should be able to swallow the strongest intellectual potions without harming himself. Remember that tenet of the Marquis de Sade that the greatest pleasures come from conquered repugnances. But even Hegel is hardly as bad as all that. The ratiocinative faculty must be made strong, of course, this is rather like developing a healthy body to stand us while we travel across sand deserts, tropical jungles, arctic wastes etc

The magical philosophy offers an ideal of omnipotence and total freedom, a universe where everything is God. The Tibetan Buddhist offers men the revelation that there is nothing that they can do to become enlightened, that they are so already and their bondage consists in not realising this. The Christian revelation offered faith, the Gnostic revelation knowledge. The magical interpretation blurs the distinction. So does Wittgenstein, early and late.

In the Tractatus Wittgenstein said the sense of the world lies outside the world, when all possible questions have been answered. It can make no difference to what is or is not the case. No consideration about what can be known in any other sense is at all relevant to a spiritual value. It is neither deduced, nor induced, yet we continually try to reason it out because it seems to condition our view of the world. We can say either that it arises out of all things, like Hegel, or that all things derive from it, like Plato.

Oedipus was asked the riddle of the sphinx, he offered an answer. Western culture has largely been an attempt to answer this riddle. Western man will set himself free, he will take nothing on trust. If man is sufficiently honest he will find himself confronted with eternal riddle. This is just the way things are, this perpetual questioning does lead to just a nasty infinite regress. Eliphas Lévi said that the error of Oedipus was that he did not take the sphinx and ride her into Thebes. How to tame the sphinx? The Greek mythmakers did not make Oedipus tame the sphinx, we may perhaps say they were too astute to do this.

Nietzsche gave us man on a tightrope, in that respect like a Stoic. Is his tightrope his critical method? Then it must break. Or does the will to truth commit suicide? To produce a philosophy like that was a great act of self sacrifice. Nietzsche signed himself 'The Crucified One'. Unfortunately there is no obvious resurrection. Jesus thought that man had sinned against God, he had answered the riddle of the Sphinx. So Jesus sacrificed himself, as God, a remarkable act, quite beyond most people. Whether he was resurrected or not is something we can hardly know unless we take him on trust. That is like being cured by Wittgenstein and asking 'whether he had cured himself' So Jesus was a fascist too. Why did Jesus have to suffer and take on the ills of the world? He took on the role of Oedipus in order to give the world a doctrine which would relieve people of the necessity of facing the riddle (ie being in state of mortal sin). That was very benevolent of Jesus, but I don’t want to abandon myself to him. Like Zanoni, I should like to hold out a little longer.

Jehovah created sin, Jesus came to free man from sin. Do we look at him like free Gnostic souls, as someone who became something, founded his own system and left the field open for other people to create theirs, or do we behave like obedient servants, seeing Jesus as under the sway of Jehovah, telling you that no one can be free, that the only alternative to subservience is dilemma and ultimate destruction? But Gnosticism could never be a social thing, blind obedience could. But, someone asks, why should anyone want to found his own system, why should he wander far astray? Because of his daring Faustian spirit. The elect are those who dare, woe to the timid.

Can we play at philosophy as at a game? Schopenhauer certainly did not think so. Maybe there are just many kinds of philosopher. Maybe we could really achieve the ability to stop philosophising when we want to, and maybe we should want to do that. Those who play at philosophy as at a game, are we might say not fully imbued with the spirit of the thing, its unholy ghost.

Could it be said that psychology and sociology and other such disciplines are all involved in metaphysical and epistemological error insofar as they all rest on presuppositions which are open to question? Receding ever further into the conditions of saying anything at all, we have either to abandon our integrity and draw a halt somewhere, or encounter dilemma face to face and risk the fate of Oedipus. Stoicism was brave and terrible philosophy, but no philosopher has ever been able to push to the full extreme the implications of his discipline. The self referential beast is still wild and untamed. Once the animal of the west is safely tamed, man could frolic around with eastern monsters. All that is necessary for a man to be a holy man is that he should appear to have some kind of spiritual authority.

The task of western man is the taming of the Sphinx, equivalent to the mastery of the dim lights that according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead lead you straight to Hell if you focus on them. Oedipus may be said to have abandoned his intellectual integrity by giving an answer to the riddle. Thebes was paralysed by doubt, but this could be satisfied by the first person ready to give a clever answer. Oedipus thought he had killed the sphinx, which may perhaps be said to have cynically disappeared. Having answered the first riddle, having seen that the riddle needed to be answered, he was presented with another question, 'why is your answer correct?' Pathological doubt cannot be cured by giving an answer. Oedipus was fooled as to what he had done. The people accepted his answer because it enabled them to carry on living. He could not accept his answer because he knew subconsciously that it could not still all doubt in his own mind. He tried to ignore this and horror befell, a violence against nature, an unthinkable thing. He had tried to put things right by reason alone, he had submitted to the rules of the game played by the Sphinx.

His fate recalls Frazer's magical thesis about the sacrifice of the God King. Ruling is like initiation. If the ruler is to be a man of the people, a man of the religion, he must sacrifice himself. He has to obey no authority. There is no ground for his behaviour beyond sterile reason. The God King is the Philosopher King, the man with the good of the people in his heart, who gives what he cannot believe, and who sacrifices himself in the production of a system for the well being of his tribe. That he is willing to face death is a symbol of his having the good of the people in his heart. It also perhaps points a symbolic way out of his dilemma in that the king has a special destiny which he must fulfil.

JSM 1969 & 1999


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