Understanding Philosophy; The Limitless Boundaries of An In-Absolute Answer

When trying to discuss the concept behind a subject, whether it be literal or figurative, it’s always best to start with the basics; in a sense, it’s best to start simple and expand, instead of jumping in with little foresight to the topic at hand. Interestingly, I’ve somehow made it a point to constantly avoid the simple (and initial) points, and opt instead to begin with the complexities. It saves some time, and it makes the overall debate in my mind proceed with a greater sense of ease. That being said, when talking about something as complex, grand, and convoluted as philosophy, there’s a need to point out the fact that philosophy is actually a two part study. On one hand, philosophy is the study of ideas and opinions expressed by a single individual, or by a collective who all believe in the same thing. On the other, it’s also the study of these philosophers, and their lives, in order to better understand the philosophy they produce, and the philosophy they adhere to.

Of course, philosophy is an extensive topic, and trying to simplify it to a core set of tenets does very little, especially when the point is to create a debate, or an argument fulled purely by opinion. Despite this fact, I cannot continue without stating the most obvious, true, and often disregarded fact that philosophy is a matter of opinion, a fluid concept, and the basis for almost every human aspect. Hilariously, philosophy is also a plausible explanation for most sciences; after all, understanding quantum physics requires a knowledge or science, mathematics, and philosophy. Of course, it’s not just quantum physics, but (and I do truly mean) everything else as well. In this way, the three points that I’ve mentioned up until now effectively argue themselves: philosophy is the study of ideas and opinions, the study of the teachers and students of these ideas, and a plausible explanation for everything.

As an added point, I must also mention that the questions that philosophy asks can also be answered through the use of science. Certainly, philosophy is not a science in any sense of the term, and it must be identified as a humanity but, despite this truth, the questions that arise in science can be answered by philosophy, the answers that philosophy produces can be refuted by science, and vice verse, so on and so forth, etc. until oblivion. It’s due to this truth that philosophy and science are exactly the same, while being polar opposites; philosophy connects science by providing unscientific answers to scientific questions.

Does a falling tree make noise if no one is there to hear it? The answer is yes, thanks to the law of conservation of energy, and also no, because sound must be heard for it to exist; philosophers, however, chose not to look at the right answer to the question so much as the implications that the answer poses, in addition to the possible answers. It’s the exact same reason that the “Chicken crossing the road” paradigm is so interesting; the answer is straightforward, but the implications the answer provides are near endless.

In the time I’ve spent trying to understand philosophy, and philosophers, I’ve come to the conclusion that while science’s answers are fact, philosophy’s answers to the same questions can be refuted, denied, challenged, dismissed, rejected, accused, argued, and critiqued to an infinite degree, and even under these circumstances both parties can be wrong. It’s a conclusion that’s led me to believe that understanding philosophy is, quite literally, the most difficult thing any intellectual (and I don’t mean intellectual in the high brow, sipping Chardonnay while discussing the merits of Tolstoy definition) organism can do.

In this sense, understanding philosophy is akin to understanding generations of human evolution, and centuries of revolutionary thought and behaviour. In this sense, one does not understand philosophy by using a straightforward definition. Quite the contrary, one doesn’t take philosophy literally to understand it; the literal, straightforward, defined point-of-view is that of science, not philosophy, and approaching a philosophical inquiry from a scientific point-of-view isn’t wrong so much as redundant. Unlike science, which serves to provide a definitive framework of the existing universe with fact and definition, philosophy attempts to accomplish the same thing, but from a less defined position. I digress, as my original point was the fluid mentality one must assume when engaging in philosophy.

Perhaps the foremost examples of this truth (irony, at its best) is the scene from Star Wars Episode III that sparked the idea for this article. The pivotal scene takes place near the end of the film on the planet of Mustafar, where a completely transformed Darth Vader duels with his once mentor Obi-Wan. As Vader produces his “With me or against me” philosophy (I’m aware that I’m milking my example, yes), Obi-Wan refutes that “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” essentially stating that only a Sith sees the Universe in terms of Black and White, while neglecting the various shades of Grey that are sparsely spread out. The importance of these words come into play once a person takes Obi-Wan’s words literally, because doing so reveals that his statement is, without a doubt, an absolute.

Obi-Wan’s use of the word “Only” disproves his entire point (if one assumes that his meaning was that only Sith, the sworn enemy of Jedi in the Star Wars Universe, deal, react, and associate themselves with absolutes) since Obi-Wan himself has produced an absolute statement. Therein, interestingly, lies the close association with philosophy and science that I mentioned earlier. It’s the implication of Obi-Wan’s quote that is important, not the statement itself; what he tries to argue is that only a Sith deals in absolutes when faced with “No other choice,” as Anakin Skywalker was faced with before his transformation into Darth Vader (Dark lord of the Sith). Furthermore, Obi-Wan’s quote effectively reduces all Jedi who have ever produced an absolute statement to being nothing more than evil despots bent on conquering the galaxy in an attempt to prove their own philosophies.

Obviously, however, Obi-Wan’s words are not meant to be taken literally, since doing so would have been both redundant, and counter productive to his cause. Obi-Wan’s purpose was to persuade Vader away from the duties of a Dark lord of the Sith and, instead, back to the just ways of the Jedi (whom Vader had, ironically, painstakingly slaughtered, a few scenes ago). The quote is a literary device, meant to provide Vader with a way back to the light side of both the Force, and morality, and while the meaning behind it is equally important, the words are not meant to be taken literally. Therein lies the most vital point that must be derived from philosophy: the words of the wise aren’t meant to be taken literally as rules or restrictions. The words of philosophers, intellectuals, and thinkers must be taken as guidelines for the way an individual can think and can act, specifically because the thoughts of a single person can be be muddled, formatted, and simply changed to suit the point-of-view of anyone else. My opinion is proof of this.

I suppose that philosophy is meant to be taken seriously, but not literally, and while an individual might express a single point-of-view once, their opinion can change, their personality can undergo a rapid evolution (or devolution), and the thoughts they once called their own can become something more, or something entirely different. Human thought evolves, continuously, and while adhering to a core tenet is both admirable and remarkable, the fact remains that one’s philosophy changes and is expected to change as they do. I suppose that, whether the philosophy has to do with a Jedi, a Dark Knight, a Socialist revolutionary, or a citizen of a democracy, it is limitless, and the potential it has can only be speculated. The most anyone can do is try to understand the position, and act based on the data then.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

  1. Extremely well written, and very interesting. I too will now spend hours thinking about moral dilemmas, thanks.

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