Monday, June 12, 2017

The Existentialist Cowboy: Life, Logic and Meaning:

The Existentialist Cowboy: Life, Logic and Meaning: "An ancient problem is unresolved by 21st Century technology: how can we as human beings learn to think better, to free ourselves from superstition and prejudice, to achieve the full potential implied in our very 'humaness'?


Plato espoused an ideal Republic ruled by 'philosopher kings'. However, we don't live in an ideal society. We live in a imperfect democracy and, in theory at least, sovereignty resides with the people. We rule ourselves. So --if we are to achieve Plato's ideal, WE must become the philosopher-kings and achieve the enlightenment that is implicit in that concept. How is this possible in a demographically segmented society about which it is said that more and more people know more and more about less and less?"

May I humbly submit a three-fold plan:

1. Clear Thinking.

Language, Truth, & Logic by A.J. Ayer should be required reading in American high schools. Language, Truth & Logic is the quintessential explanation of the "verifiability criterion of meaning" --the cornerstone of logical positivism, which, in turn, is, arguably the foundation of Western scientific inquiry just as the Russell/Whitehead Principia Mathematica sought to ground mathematics upon a foundation of pure logic.Ayer identifies the characteristics of "significant propositions" -- propositions which purport to contain real and meaningful information about the world; information that is verifiable. It is the ability to state, at least in theory, the conditions under which a proposition may be shown to be either true or false that imbues that sentence with communicable meaning. In a world in which no one has a monopoly on truth and many are willing to pervert it, it is essential that verifiable statements be so identified.

2. Values.

However logical, Ayer's "Logical Positivism" is seen by many to be lacking the "human touch". It is thought by some to be untenable from a practical standpoint. Enter Jacob Bronowski whose critique of the "logical positivist" position in his Science and Human Values pointed out an underlying, unproved social injunction implied in Ayer's analytical methods. That implied imperative is:

"We OUGHT to act in such a way that what IS true can be verified to be so." Ironically, Bronouski's critique may have saved logical positivism from its own inflexible consistency, placing its edifice not upon an unassailable axiom but rather upon an affirmation of values which will not admit of proof. What true and lasting ethic could not be based upon the pure pursuit of truth?

3. Responsibility.

Another well-thumbed book (at least in my library) is Jean-Paul Sartre's Existentialism and Human Emotion. It is all very well to think clearly and to pursue truth. Sartre, however, addresses a more fundamental issue. While traditional philosophy had asked: "What is the meaning of life?", Sartre phrased it in existentialist terms: "How am I to make my life meaningful?" He points out that quality of "humanness" that we spoke of is not given a priori. We invent it as we, in fact, invent ourselves. If life has meaning, it is the meaning that we make of it.

As Sartre thus states existentialism's first principle: "Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself." True existentialism lies in freely choosing for ourselves what we shall become --and taking sole responsibility for that choice.

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