Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Message must justify the Means

To conclude my review of the foundations of Jaki's philosophy, this week we consider his stance that "only if one takes the realist alternative is it possible to work out a philosophical system which can be communicated by a real means such as a book." [Numbers Decide p. 18-19]

In Cosmos and Creator (p. 94) Jaki recalls Spinoza's succinct survey of the choices available in philosophy:
"The Scholastics start from things, Descartes from thought, I start from God" [1]

On page 87, Jaki describes how this variety of competing philosophical systems easily give the impression of a cacophony and he suggests that "the only thing they have in common is that they are published in books". Jaki's realism places much importance on books and already in Cosmos and Creator we witness the seeds of what was to become the key-stone of Jaki's philosophical work Means to Message:

Since any book is a tangible product and obviously made for a purpose, any book written either against tangible reality or against the reality of purpose is the very refutation of its author's claim. But a book is also a refutation of the slighting of the excellence of thinking, that age-old citadel of metaphysics.
Materialists and positivists, be they logical or not, who must exorcise even the most rudimentary form of metaphysics which is embodied in thinking about any physical thing, are also refuted by the very books they write. A book is a thing, if it is anything. But a thing, any thing, is so loaded with metaphysical realism that, tellingly enough, Wittgenstein's second statement in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the defensive declaration that 'the world is the totality of facts not things'. [Cosmos and Creator p.88-89]

But yet the Tractatus was not the aspired end of philsophy but rather an 'illusory march', since the Tractatus itself was as much a thing as it was a fact. Wittgenstein's search for clarity ignored the means that carried his message and hence it degenerated into mere 'talk about talk'.

Objects cannot be vindicated in terms of something else. The registering of objects cannot be reduced to any other proposition which is still addressed to others. The use of means, of any means, obligates the philosopher to recognize the objective truth of means, so many objects. This is a truth, the very first to be unfolded from among the steps that allow one to go from means to messages. This truth cannot be evaded, let alone be refuted, because the refutation itself is an act of communication, an implicit falling back on objective means whereby alone can other philosophers be reached. [Means to Message p. 13]

Wittgenstein sensed that cheating was to be expected in professional philosophizing (c.f. Means p. 12) and through Jaki's emphasis on the means, he exposes the "clever maneuvers" required when objects are denied their right to independent existence and relegated to the "disembodied conceptual shadows" of either the mind or sensations.

Realist philosophy surpasses these contortions and hence qualifies as the true love of wisdom, since as Jaki reminds us "whatever else a treatise on truth must account for, it must first do full justice to that most immediate reality which any object is." [Means to Message p. 16]

~ Jakian Thomist

[1] Jaki relies on Gilson for this quotation. I have found it quoted slightly differently in T.S. Gregory's introduction to Andrew Boyle's 1959 translation of Spinoza's ethics: "The popular philosopy starts from creatures: Descartes starts from mind: I start from God." (page v). According to Gregory this was communicated to Leibniz. This translation also features in v.1 of Leon Brunschvicg's Ecrits philosophiques (1951).

No comments: