Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Definition of Prejudice

Recently I’ve become interested in the conditions necessary for philosophical debate and their bearing upon the nature of said debate. This is because there is no doubt that certain conditions have to prevail for this curious event to take place at all. This being the case, these conditions, surely, merit investigation for what they might reveal about the truth of the human condition. I am blithely assuming here, of course that whales don’t hold colloquies, and that neither a chimpanzee symposium nor a forum of ravens has ever taken place. Dolphins have never been known to reflect on their mortality to all appearances. I may be wrong of course but I will persist in my delusion until it is proved otherwise.

What predicates the presence of two reasonably compos mentis humans sitting across a table from each other in a condition where they are capable of verbal communication, discussion and debate? And what do such presences signify?

To determine this we need a psychology – not the psychology of which we find ourselves in possession. This psychology comes out of the stable of deterministic materialism and biological behaviourism and, so, is permeated with conclusions that derive from its very inheritance. This psychology can’t help but look at us as just another animal, as its tools were honed in the study of the surface appearance of animal “behaviours”. It is, therefore, by nature, uninterested in what informs creatures or even the idea that anything can inform their actions and motivations. Beyond hormones and other chemicals that is.

The fact that the two philosophers are participating in an activity that no other creature indulges in does not give this psychology pause for thought. It does not stop to ask itself – “What is this creature that is capable of philosophizing (loving knowledge by etymology) and of practicing science (knowledge by etymology)?” (Here I take knowledge to mean reflection on our condition). It does not trouble itself to work out before it begins its enquiries exactly what it is in the nature of humans that distinguishes them from animals. It just lazily assumes, in the face of contrary evidence, that they are just another form of animal. It may be right but it has no right to jump to this conclusion without proper proof. This is the definition of prejudice – coming to the table with your mind already made up and flying in the face of the evidence.

Thus, the most fascinating thing about philosophical debate is not its content but the very fact that it takes place at all. That we do it at all proves that we are different. The fact that I am asking this question means that you should accord me more respect than that which you accord to a lab rat and also that I will not willingly consent to being examined on the stage of a microscope nor to being summed up by what might be seen there if I did. The fact of my curiosity about my condition is a stumbling block to the psychology we find at our disposal.

A proper psychology (the study of the soul/mind/spirit etymologically depending on your Greek) would acknowledge the peculiar thing that the two philosophers are doing and also the fact that it is going to take some explaining. That explanation is, at the very least, going to bring in ideas that are never employed in explaining the actions of Colubus monkeys. This whole enterprise will equate to a change up to a new level of complexity rather than the dragging down of the human to the simply animal level that the psychology we have indulges in.

Seated alongside the philosophers’ table a proper psychologist would observe, and make it his objects of study (and what a study!), the phenomena of highly complex linguistic communication, two self-aware consciousnesses capable of reflecting on their condition, their awareness of their own mortality, a sense of what is proper and improper in terms of the conduct of debate and a delusion(?) that they are free to think whatever they choose to think and to conclude whatever seems reasonable. And all of this founded inside a creature that shares all of the characteristics of the other animals in that it is full of hormones, requires nourishment, the disposal of waste products and sleep. Now explain that and, whatever you do, don’t just gloss over it!

Finally, one has to ask whether philosophical conclusions that would seem to ignore or discount the conditions on which the fact of philosophical discourse are predicated have any value as they are, in a sense, impossible.

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