About the Weakness of Philosophy

12 юли, 2012 | Публикувано в: Articles | Автор: Сергей Герджиков
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Serghey Gherdjikov

Sofia University

A certain man was sentenced to death by hanging.

On a Sunday morning the judge, who never told lies, said: “You will face death in the course of one of the days of the forthcoming week.  The precise time will be given to you on the morning of your last day of life.”  The prisoner returned to his cell and thought. His flow of reasoning was as follows:

“They cannot hang me on Sunday, the last day of the week, because then I will know about the execution not on Sunday’s morning, but on Saturday, since they say nothing in the morning of the last day but one. It violates the clause, that I am to know about the day of the execution only in the morning of the same day. Hence, they cannot hang me on Sunday. Saturday is a possible last day. However, they cannot hang me on Saturday, because, if we exclude Sunday,  Saturday remains the last day; so, I will know the day of the execution even on Friday morning. It violates the condition. Hence, they cannot hang me on Saturday either.” It is obvious, that the same argument could be applied to any of the days of the week.

In that manner the convict concluded, that he could not be hanged because of the inevitable violation of the clause, formulated by the judge.

Will the power of reasoning save the prisoner’s life? Is his conclusion valid in a situation, when a judge, executioners and a convict act?


Let me now formulate the main question for this treatise.

            Is philosophy valid as argumentation, when man faces pain and death? Does it give him the strength, that we men are taught to expect from wisdom, knowledge and mind?

I need an elucidation. I do not seek from philosophy an unbearably difficult mission. I wait from it something, what human being in general seeks wisdom for. For what else, if not for power in the face of his weakness, man seeks wisdom? Is not all the rest just vanity? The weakness of philosophy as a scholastic methodology, as interpretation of religion, ethics and art is not our topic in this treatise.


pain and reflection


All contours of good reasoning lose shape in the mist of pain. Thoughtful preparation, which sometimes is possible before the expected pain comes, concentration on safety, gathering of one’s strength – as a rule all this proves useless in the face of the always new and unexpectedly powerful or unexpectedly weak suffer. Expectations extinct imperturbability. Each time everything proves to be essentially different. Skill is not valid. Reflection before the new try somehow reduces man’s vital forces. Our knowledge of the forthcoming ordeal, the very understanding of it, which lives in the thinking, focuses the pain and multiplies it. The power of mind happens to be inadequate – we can well realize the essence of the things and still remain weak before them. Besides, a prolonged reflection drains us of our spiritual powers.

Quite the opposite: when a new pain attacks human being in a non-reflected way, it seems to strike elastically and the human’s wholeness is fully in power to overcome. In any case – this wholeness does not waste energies to prepare itself, it is ready to defend itself from the very beginning.

It is valid for the physical, as well as for the spiritual pain. Each new feeling in the mainstream of experience could possibly be a compensation. Focusing upon ordeal beyond the possible action prevents new feelings from poping up.

What has this all to do with philosophy? The reason is in the fact, that philosophy is a reflection, thinking, arguing exactly of the discussed kind: it is thinking, born by the turbulence of our finality. Philosophy tries to embrace the situation here and in its wholeness, and speculates about it as of troubled existence of a limited conscious creature in a complete world, created under unknown circumstances.

The mortal human finds a thought and uses it like a weapon. But it proves to be ultimately weak and destined not to be able to adequately embrace situation, in which human is not the decision maker. Even worse: the thought itself becomes poison because it threatens our human wholeness. The ever-changing world confutes the weak wisdom and disrobes it. The world’s mystery has a different nature, where the spontaneous and active living seems to know more things and to orientate itself adequately, unlike the formed and limited thinking.

Here I do not speak about pure consciousness or mind, but I do mean human’s thought activity and the latter’s forms, philosophy being one of them.


insincerity in wisdom


One knows well enough that there are important and unimportant thoughts. The level of importance could be defined as an extent to which thoughts embrace the whole of human situation – of our life and of the moment, when we act.

How can we understand, when and to what extent that the embrace is successful? How can we pick up Truth from the collection of the world’s wisdom? This is where the circumspect philo- of the term philosophy is rooted, and it hints about the philosophy’s inclination, rather than of its domination over wisdom. In this case we have to choose between philosophy and what is called “wisdom” and “truth” in religion, science and mystics. Thus for thinking, the most possible way out is skeptical abstinence. And the most possible way out for living is not to count on wisdom and not to think about the “whole situation” – clear enough, that it is beyond human’s powers.

The solidity of the too many “wisdoms”, which is not a harmony but cacophony, clearly reduces and not increases our power.

To remain at the level of skepticism is worth this negative discourse, but it is pitiful and unbearable for life. This is why in the fullest moments of our limitness the latter throws away the reflection. Really, it is crazy to speculate about the “whole situation”, when we make love, when we enjoy sunset or when we eat; when we ache a lot, when we feel sorry for someone, or in the moment when life expires. The “vivid” joy and the “vivid” suffering can not be mastered by any abstract or picturesque imagination. Esthetisized “heroism” of human’s “rebellious essence” is nothing in the face of what we are around for. It could happen to be not so lofty and not so mysterious, if we pay attention to things which normally remain out of philosophy’s attention. Naturally, the mute truths given in the pain and in the joy are out of science’s, philosophy’s, religion’s and art’s limits. Human’s “spiritual forms” are not apt to embrace it just because they are forms.

            Widely known is the biblical phrase about lots of wisdom equal to lots of sorrows. What is new, is the fact, that scholastic wisdom of the West and of the new epochs is at the same distance from life, at which, at which the ancient wisdom is, and we attend to it with a compensating hope. Zen’s “empty mind” looks attractive to me, but if I were a Zen Buddhist, I would rather feel the same weakness, which I am sensing in the captivity for example of Western medicine. I have my reasons to utter this, because the harmonious Zen mindfulness, which follows life closely, proves to be superfluous exactly because of this. If Zen tells me to live like a bird flies, it just tells me nothing. Because for me it is late to be like a bird, I am seeking truth and how to ease my troubled mind. I want to know what I am heading to, and not just to live naturally. Behold, my mind and my consciousness seem to vanish, when I go to sleep. Who can convince me, that they are immortal?

On the other side, could we look seriously at such mental delimitations in human lives as “high and low”, “beastlike and human”, “instinct and mental”, “thing and person”, “empirical and intelligible”, “das Man and existence”, “daily things VS existence”, “absurdity and rebellion”. Man’s “dark”, “animal”, “real”, “material”, “instinctive” side, no doubt, is more vivid and adequate and is never erroneous in its health. A beast or a natural man die in peace and leave everything in order. What can we say about ourselves, when we panic in the face of our death and scatter around us the results of our powerlessness, dreadfully confusing our neighbors’ and our own lives.

Every new attempt is a new pain or a new joy. Every new speculation is a new tension that deprives us of our power. It reduces joy and increases pain. However, it could fetch us excitement if moved by ephemeral rules of the game: for instance, writing an article for a competition. Then joy comes not out of reached truth, but from success in shaping a form.

But where we do not have the time and power to thing about forms, when we are in a strait, reflection is our shelter in the form of a sincere speculation. Then we find the radical powerlessness of wisdoms. In a sincere speculation  in the face of expiring life and world we find, that there is nothing that could hold us back. Only amazement of a really boundless flow, through which we move, remain with us and hope in Something alive, absolutely strong and eternal, which “knows” why it has sent us here and in which direction it will carry us.

The more difficult and complex is the thinking, the stronger is the knowledge about incompleteness. It is so in mathematics and in the logic, in natural sciences and is proven by modern theoretical maze. Same is in the chaotic “social” sciences. The world religions in their struggle for “purity” are touching. They are focused on their doctrinal identity, and forget completely, that in a religion the point is hope and Gnostic contact with pure and eternal existence, not our fabrications of creation’s scenario and history.

The other side of the same powerlessness is the terribly lack of intelligence and verbose writings of mystics and occultists.

Mind can get out of it even now, and dwell on the consolation, that mystery leaves room for a worthy effort. That finality is better than infinity. That man moves on and makes progress only because he lacks clarity and is finite. But cannot we imagine man’s existence with worthy knowledge about man’s roots and future? Or knowledge, given once and forever, similar to the way how man’s body knows how to produce itself at the unthinkably complex levels of organization?

Constructive thinking arranges mental things. Speculation includes questions into networks of concepts, which we build. But in the face of the real reality every explanation is infinitely weak. It is unacceptable and inadequate. What is the value of the complex mathematical formulas of an electron and of a proton, when billions arranged electrons and protons in the double DNA spiral decipher and synthesize new copies to each of its chain, only in eight minutes?

Each of our successful arrangements of the “world’s picture” is an artifactual construction, which disintegrates as vapor in the face of the evermoving life, pain and suffering. When I am explaining to my dying friend, that there are steps in his process of dying and according to Kubler-Ross’ model he will go through anger, despair, apathy and reconciliation, he will doubt about my moral and brain health. And when I suggest, that according to Jaspers he should behave himself heroically not to fall into moduses of dailyness but to go for pure existence, he has the right to through me away from his life. But whom am I to prefer? Epicur or Nagarjuna? Monten or Pascal? Nitzsche or Shankara? Heidegger or Camus? What to respond to the one’s sentenced to die question – according to the reason, is there surely anything after all this?

Thus the infinitely great efforts of the most powerful minds of the mankind prove to be “multi-truthful” and annihilate. Because not only lack of clarity and demonstratibility on this question, but even the slightest doubt mean lack or power.

But are not enough and worthy of spirit the wholeness of a great speculation and its strong conclusions themselves? I answer, that it could be seen in the face of pain and death. Otherwise they can perfectly play the game of speculation – vain as any other game. If in thin case this vision is thrown on the dust, it is not worthy. It is an entertainment. (“Entertainment” is beautifully arranged and “winged” speculations about absurdity, suicide and rebellion).


weakness of philosophy


Lets follow this apparently external to philosophy speculation, which is as vain and inferior as are all the others, because again it lacks support except experience and reason. (I understand that we can better feel our weakness, than prove our force). Philosophy is a building. It has floors and wings of its own. Lets look in them, abiding by the accepted scale.

A. Ontology. Kant demonstrates ontology’s weakness by its antinomies. Hegel however again finds a “way out”. As far as the antinomies are inevitable, why do not we take them for truth? But a truth received in this way costs exactly as much as all other, “nailed” to the “plank” of Absolute truths because of the vain mind’s ambition, blinded by its self-love before the Infinite. Has anyone reached or found a holy spiritual wholeness due to the absolute dialectic ontology? Has anyone been an obstacle to history and its unpredictable track in Germany, because of the philosophical inference about the Prussian monarchy as Absolute state?

Anyhow, philosophy has shown its dangerous lack of power and its poisonous danger through dialectically grounded Historical materialism and Scientific communism. It showed this also through speculative and non-empirical political economy. (Not that empirical science is a very world. But it at least does not want to build new worlds). The demiurgical claim for arranging the human world according to the reason’s speculations, which was that much widespread in the New and Newest times, is already proved not to be true at the fall of this century. But the same claim shows also that if philosophy and wisdom really are powerful, they should be able to change the human world.

But they cannot.

We can only play with categories of “existence – nonexistence”, “something – nothing”, “time – eternity”, “cause – freedom”. We can build any ontological schemes and propose systems of categories. These categories obviously give support to each other and are only an artifact. Reason creates them and even can use them for “description of the world”. But what we have a need for, and that philosophy exists for, is more important than any description of the world. Descriptions and explanations of the world are as many as one could wish. We want the world itself along with its light – clean and unblemished by our incomplete creatures. We need truth about the situation, about where we came from and where we are heading to.

All definite, finite, acknowledged or “caught” in the nets of speculation things created are relative and worthless according to the ancient Madhjamika of Nagarjuna. This is so because definiteness puts notions in a net of finite and due to this worthless notions in the face of the infinite. Their ground for being separate, existing and cognition lies outside of them. This is called shunyaemptiness. Knowledge about this does not help the reason to orientate and to leave a mistaken reflection on the things. Because there is nothing outside of it. And consciousness about the Emptiness in question does not help much. Skepticism and criticism with their vision of the weakness do not stand at a much more powerful position. Power is not in understanding the weakness, but in overcoming it. It seems to be possible out of philosophy and wisdom – I do not mean to throw those forms away, but simply not to be bounded to them, not to await the impossible from them, which, due to a sorrowful misconception of the mind is imbedded into the “notion” and the name of philosophy.

If we go to the end, to the “pure existence”, which is so “spontaneous” and “undefined” as “nothing” (Hegel), then we understand the fraud. Where existence and nothingness are the one, there we find the trace of the infinite and fruitless game, of the reflection, which is not limited by almost nothing and inapt of anything serious. If existence and nothing are “one”, then it is the same to be or not to be. According to Sartre however the “nothingness” itself is the moving force in human life, because choosing happens through denial. But we do not chose our thirst for living and the drive for our eyes and hands. We do not chose our fear of death and strive to go beyond the death’s veil. We do not chose our body and spirit, we just “use” them. Our fear never asks about philosophical grounds. It is born and extincts by some other way. The concrete fear is temporarily rubbed away by any action. This action can not be born by philosophizing. Despite the fact that exactly philosophizing can be the action, which brings consolation.

B. Epistemology. It is the same vain and entertainment. Lets pay close attention to the words by Hume about mind’s power in cognition. According to him no matter how strong our initial faith is. It will certainly crumble to nothing as it is so deeply examined that takes her power. As I think about the natural incorrectness of my reciocination, I less trust my opinion in comparison to be the cases when I just look at the objects on which I am using my own judgment. If I go further and analyze each of my contentions about my own abilities, according to the requirements of the logic the result of this will be endless lessening at the end a complete vanishing of the faith and the reality (A treatise of Human Nature)


Lets check this by thought. Lets start with the “evident”. What are we to chose? The surest! “I think, ergo, I exist”. Lets accept this to be truth with possibility’s value estimated to one. But at the first step we meet a negative reasoning, which reduces the value under one. When I do not think I exist too. I do not think, therefore I exist. Because the consciousness itself, that some or even all things, in which I doubt, do not exist, is not thinking but only consciousness. It could well be lacking of sense. It could well be pure intellectual observance of my existence. Now, one can object, that it is thinking as well. I claim, that “thinking” is thinking a thought. Anyhow, the “I think, ergo I exist” is not reasoning and even less – deduction. It is a pseudo-expression of the direct perception of my existence. In this way one can go on and even one can not go on. Because immediately appear questions: What is reasoning? What is mind? What do we mean saying “direct perception”? What is perception and consciousness? If the answers to all these questions presuppose possibilities in an undefined multitude of directions, then no one can guaranty even a bit, that our reliable starting thought is true. And the whole of that calculation of ways and possibilities is just a game, which contributes nothing strong-minded to clarifying of our situation in the world.

Speculation about philosophy as a kind of science’s beginning is a part of ”epistemology” too. However, if we do not speak about history but about sense (abstract), then how can we speak about philosophic beginnings of science? Can the uncertain in its own beginnings epistemology and philosophy as a whole to be the ground for the too heavy and fast rising building of sciences? Is there a philosopher who could seriously believe, that science is made rationally according to methods, based within philosophy? Can one distinguish any grounds in the sea of the historically shaped shifts of senses and thoughts to science and vice versa? If philosophy is the ground for experimental science, and if it happens that certain statements in the latter contradict some philosophic affirmations, then the scientific statements should be removed; but in this case there will be a greater chaos in science than in philosophy. Because how can we know which philosophy is to be taken as the basis?

Truth, writhed on paper, is just a temporary accordance between epistemic text and some harder units of such a text. Each experimentally proved utterance sooner or later finds its denial. Only pseudo-knowledge is irrefutable. Only an empirically unvalid statement is “unshakable”, because it is lifeless and cannot be checked. We live however with our “untrue truths” and act according to them. Our world does not want finite truths. Only the passage between the world wants them. But there is no one here who could offer them.

Knowledge-artifact should not be confused with knowledge-life. One thing is to know, that man is mortal, and another thing is to know, that I am dying. One thing is to read theory about seeing. Another thing is to see. A man born blind never knows what it is like to see. And when we speak about knowledge-life, then we have no need of any abstract notions. We are just our existence-knowledge. Here untruth is not separated from truth. There is no sense in, nor room for, separation. Ingenious knowledge is impossible and every written and spoken out knowledge ultimately comes from this knowledge-life. And what we call “notions” are clear established experiences – units of life. From here we could even make a new ontology-epistemology, that would resemble  “Philosophy of life”, “Phenomenology” or “Madhyamika”. Then our speculation will loose its sense as “meta-philosophical”.

Notion is a game. Drinking can also be a game, as can all that we do on this earth. But both epistemology and a gulp of water in some moments put down their game masks and become a strong and “critical” life. Then we forget about rules, according to which philosophies and sciences are built. We forget about conceptions. They remain at the other shore of time. Here, where we are, is life, that oscillates in its mortality and does not think about what is waiting for it.

And now follows our answer to the question in the beginning of this treatise. In the face of pain and death our philosophical speculations are invalid. They are “realities” of the same “kind” and give us no strength.


This is the end of the history started at the beginning. The history of the sentenced to be hung. He had proved irrefutably that they could not hang him, otherwise they could not meet the judge’s clause.

On Tuesday’s morning the sentenced was waked up from his calm sleep   and was told that today he would be killed. By his own speculation he reached the conclusion, that neither on Monday nor on any other day of the week it could happen. So he was caught unprepared. Thus the judge’s condition was fulfilled. The sentenced to die knew about the day of the execution on the morning of the same day.

The death sentence was executed.