What Philosophy Is

Philosophy is not a process of acquiring new knowledge about the world. Rather, it is a process of clarifying our existing knowledge.

When we do philosophy, we are not learning anything new; rather, we are learning more thoroughly things that we already know. It is like we are taking the pieces of knowledge we have, and attempting to assemble them into a finished puzzle.

So philosophy should not lead us to any surprising conclusions. At the end of the day, what philosophy tells us should add up to what we knew all along. It should tell us that we live in the world that we experience every day, and that it works the way that it seems to work.

There are surprising conclusions that philosophers sometimes attempt to advance. For instance, philosophers may attempt to argue that time does not exist, that there is life after death, that God exists, etc.

I would like to say that these ideas are not in the domain of philosophy; rather, they are in the domain of mysticism. Mysticism, in turn, is part of what mystics know about the world, and mystic philosophers must take it into account in assembling the puzzle.

Only a non-mystic philosopher would be surprised by the conclusion that time does not exist; and they would not argue for it to begin with.

The thought that philosophical dialectic can lead us to believe that time does not exist, is both false and confusing. It is only mystical intuitions that can lead us to this conclusion. And if we think that philosophical dialectic can lead us to it, we will be led into a blind alley. We can avoid this whole class of blind alleys by maintaining that in philosophy our conclusions should never surprise us.

The task of philosophy is not to determine whether or not time exists. Rather, the non-mystic philosopher begins with the premise that time exists, and attempts to clarify their thinking about time. The mystic philosopher begins with the premise that time does not exist, and attempts to clarify their thinking about the illusion of time, the reality of timelessness, and the relationship between the two.

There is no big, unknown thing lying behind the questions of epistemology and metaphysics. There is nothing scary under these rocks. There is no new information, critical to our functioning, lying behind these questions. When we have finished with epistemology and metaphysics, it all adds up to normality.

In that case, why care about epistemology and metaphysics? Firstly, if we are confused, it is good to find our way out of the confusion. Secondly, if we can think clearly about philosophy, this will clarify our thinking about everything else. Thirdly, there is a form of aesthetic rapture to be gained from thinking clearly about reality.

But there is nothing else. There is no great secret, either wonderful or scary, which we might find in epistemology and metaphysics. The black hole of skepticism doesn’t go anywhere; it’s just a vortex of confusion that we can get stuck in. The solution is to get our thinking clear. Once our thinking is clear, we will see exactly the same world that we saw before; we will only see it more clearly.

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  1. Why I Believe What I Believe « antitheology

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