This lecture tried to give a picture of the contemporary state of philosophy. Philosophy is in a state of disarray. It appears that academic philosophy really has nothing new to add to philosophy so like the sophists of old they deconstruct language and entertain folks with what seems like clever talk but in the end are really not saying anything that is slightly meaningful. Philosophy has moved on to psychology and psychology itself has reached the end of its tethers and the world awaits a new epistemology.
THE DECONSTRUCTIONISTS PSEUDO THINKERS
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
Some people build and some people destroy; some construct and others deconstruct. When a man sees his job as deconstructing what other people constructed you can pretty much bet that he has assessed himself as having no original thoughts to contribute to intellectual discourse and he has to be taken at his word and written off as having nothing to say. In my judgment the various persons generally referred to as deconstructionists had nothing to say and did not contribute any seminal ideas to philosophy or anything for that matter (their linguistics included). These people are noise makers and boy did they make a great deal of noise.
The universities are full of them; they write controversial papers saying something to the effect that those who were perceived to have made seminal contribution did not really contribute much and their controversial papers generate heat and they are given tenure at their schools and thereafter they are academic noise makers.
These people have jobs because society needs critiques otherwise they wouldn't be able to feed themselves and would die off as they probably should for they are animals that cannot do what it takes to survive on their own. To survive on your own you ought to have a good or service that other people find useful hence demand it, buy it, exchange value with you, give their money for your product. But these folks have no products that other people really want to buy. They managed to keep themselves at the universities because they hoodwinked society into thinking that "the humanities" ought to be kept alive for they enrich our minds, even if they do not have any new ideas to sell.
Physicists study the nature of the atom. Technologists use their findings to develop electronic technology and nuclear industry that gives society electronic gizmos and electricity hence are useful to society. But deconstructionists do nothing that remotely has any social value. These people are the ultimate bourgeois scholars; they are like the old scholastics and ought to be swept out of academia with a clean broom; they waste student's times.
If you are going to teach something to young people the least that you can do is teach them what they can earn a living with. I actually think that it is unconscionable for professors to teach students what they know that if they graduate in it they are not going to obtain jobs with it. Many a student who studied this deconstruction nonsense is a street sweeper.
Here are the people that I will briefly review under this heading: Henry Bergson, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Norm Chomsky (if I can only tell what he is talking about beyond his social activism). Of this crowd only Henry Bergson said something that remotely made some kind of sense and qualifies as philosophical.
Henri Bergson was a Frenchman of Jewish descent. He wrote many books but what he contributed to philosophical discourse is his suggestion that it seems to him that there is a vital force that is not material operating in the universe. This élan vital, life force, somehow transcends matter and gives impetus to the operation of matter. As it were, matter in itself is inert or is neutral but a non-material force uses it to do work.
Our bodies are obviously composed of matter. Our bodies are the same as dogs' bodies; both are only slightly different from the composition of plants. Human beings, animals, trees, in a word, all biological organisms are composed of the various elements, which in turn are composed of atoms, which are composed of particles and which are composed of sub-particles like quarks.
Ultimately, you can reduce our bodies and all the elements to sub-particles and eventually to nothing. That is to say that our bodies are nothing; matter is nothing.
There must be a force that is not material that works with this nothingness to do the things they do.
We do think and Bergson thinks that the force that makes us think is not our bodies; our thinking is not epiphenomenal. As it were, our bodies are like cars and there are drivers driving them from point A to point B. Something other than matter used matter, our bodies, to do what it wants to do.
This is another way of saying that there is spirit and that there is matter. It is restating Descartes dualism. It is a mechanical view of phenomena. If you accept Descartes then you accept Bergson except that Bergson wrote in the early part of the twentieth century and had the advantage of improved science, whereas Descartes wrote in the seventeenth century when what passed for science was Newtonian mechanics and Leibniz's geometry.
Bergson took on material monists (those who believed that only matter exists and that matter produced our thinking and that there is no such thing as something that is not material) head on. One can say that, at least, he had the courage of his convictions. He was at Paris Salons and cafes arguing his points with passion and writing about them and as these Europeans always do eventually came to the colonies, America, to bring their light to the benighted primitive natives, white Americans.
How shall we say it, Bergson was a literary writer and wrote good books but in terms of philosophy he really did not say any thing new that could not be surmised from Plato and Descartes? Thus, he is a minor figure in the world of philosophy.
At least Bergson was somewhat useful. Bertrand Russell was not useful at all. He was from the upper classes of Britain and had the best education that that class oriented society could offer. Having bagged his doctorate in mathematics and coauthored the monumental Principia Mathematica with Alfred North Whitehead, he changed course and now fancied himself a philosopher. He even wrote a book that summarized Western philosophy (Will Durant wrote a similar book and made a best seller of it).
Bertrand Russell called his approach to philosophy analytical philosophy. Let me summarize what is useful in his approach and leave the bullshit out. He was essentially an English empiricist. He believed that we can only access knowledge through our senses and any talk of extra sensory knowledge is poppycock. Reality is external to us, it is independent of our body; the world was not produced by our minds as idealistic monists claim. A rock that hits your body makes you feel pain so the rock is not produced by your mind, it is out there. This is, of course, a refutation of Berkeley's solipsism.
We have heard all these before. Empiricist and objectivists have been telling us for sometime now that the world is external to us and is not in our minds, nothing new here. The world is independent of us and we perceive it with our senses. We may not perceive it correctly; we may distort it and give it meanings that are influenced by our minds but in its objective state it is outside us.
Russell dismissed German idealism as silly and not worth the term philosophy. Okay. What is his contribution? He said that philosophy ought to do what physics does. Philosophers ought to see the world as objective and deconstruct it, break it down as physicists have broken down the atom into parts. We can keep on breaking the factual world down into smaller parts. Like the atom we can keep on breaking it (facts out there) down until we reach the smallest part.
Interestingly Russell is an Aristotelian in the sense that he believed in universals. There are universal truths, facts that we can find out and they are beyond us to change.
I suppose that one of those universals is that war is wrong? Russell was a pacifist. He opposed the First World War (and was kicked out of Cambridge because of it) and thereafter all wars (although he was smart enough to recognize that since Adolf Hitler insisted on war that we had to use war to stop him otherwise he would have marched into Britain and reduced his beloved Cambridge into an army barracks).
Russell was full of it. Observation of animals shows that they are always fighting. Nothing could be more objective as war. Human beings are predatory animals and have always fought each other for the control of territories and will probably always do. If you want peace you must be prepared for war. If you disarm your country, your neighbors would gladly take it over. Didn't white Americans take over Indians territory?
Where in the world did Russell get the idea that pacifism is natural? In fact, pacifism is unnatural. Consider that without war people will multiply and soon overwhelm the resources of the world and die from starvation. See, Nigeria is now reported to be over 150 million persons and if no one checks the rabbit like breeding of these people they will soon run out of resources to feed themselves and like Thomas Malthus animals will kill each other to have access to the scarce resources available to them. A little war (or family planning, restriction of the number of children per family to no more than two) would check the growth of the population.
Russell was all over the place opposing war. And, of course, the war mongering Americans did not like him. Cambridge threw him out and New York gave him a job and while there continued his opposition to war. Then he offended America's interesting Christians. He wrote books expressing his opposition to Christianity, and what he believed. He did not say anything new. We all know the usual arguments. Jesus is not real. There is no evidence that he ever existed. The whole story is a made up story concocted by clever Jews to get the gentiles to see them as their savior. Even if there was an actual Jesus, there is no evidence that he died and resurrected from death. The Jesus story is a myth. Myths are part of the human scene. Consider the Greek myth that Achilles was not born of male impregnation of a woman, that the gods got his mother pregnant. Heroes must be more than human in how they came into this world.
Russell's school boy criticisms of Christianity enraged American Christians and they hounded him out of his teaching job at New York.
Look, Russell was a rascal, a controversial rascal but other than making controversial statements that generated much heat really did not contribute anything new to philosophy. He was an English empiricists and that is all there is to him.
His friend and fellow Cambridge scholar, Ludwig Joseph Johan Wittgenstein, took absurdity to the extreme. This man wrote a book called Tractatus and in it claimed that he had solved all the problems of philosophy. He has done it, it is all explained between those two covers, finis, now go home and go tend your garden. He actually was not heard from for ten years until he came back out saying that nothing he said in his Magnus opus was useful and that now he has new insights (in a new book called Philosophical investigations).
I actually took a whole semester course on this guy. It was the worst expenditure of my time and resources. I kept asking myself what is this guy saying, what am I learning? Since I paid over two thousand dollars for the course I kept asking: am I getting my money's worth. I did not feel like I got my money's worth; I felt that I was swindled. I resented Wittgenstein and Professor Nixon for wasting my time on this trash.
What is it that the man is saying? Honestly I cannot tell you, nor can anyone really tell you. So why was he such a sensation at the universities? It is probably because he came at the time when university philosophy had nothing else to say and needed the escape provided by this snake oil sales man.
His approach is part of what is called analytic (linguistic) philosophy. Like Russell Wittgenstein says that language is composed of propositions and that those could be broken down, deconstructed. Complex truths can be broken-down into simpler truths and that this can be done, again and again until we reach the simplest truth. When we reach the basic truth we have reached the essence of things.
Like Russell he believed that the world is made of facts. Our minds perceive those external facts.
Our minds think in images. We make mental images of the external facts/objects we perceive. Our thoughts are then expressed in language. Language distorts facts?
Because of the problem of language we really do not understand what people are trying to communicate (do you understand what I am trying to say here, you have your ideas which may not be what I am really trying to communicate).
We distort each others thoughts and Wittgenstein set out to remove this distortion of language. He wanted to invent a new language with which we can communicate our thoughts so that they are understood by other folks and not have them distorted.
This grandiose German had no less an objective than to invent a new language for all mankind, a new language that would make communication rational and logical.
This is quite a goal, my friend. It probably made him feel important that one man can invent a language for the entire world; languages evolve gradually, over thousands of years and this man wants to sit in his office and change them, come up with a better language.
Some one ought to have sent him to a psychiatrist for treatment for delusion disorder, grandiose type, instead of him wasting our time with his nonsensical fantasies.
Of course, this man was backing after the wrong tree and had to give it up. In the meantime, the erudite discourses he wrote in his unreadable tomes were embraced by idle academic philosophers who, while the world burned, talked nonsense about deconstruction and reconstruction of language so that they can then use it to teach about their brave new world. Silly.
The Frenchman, Michel Foucault entered the deconstructionist fray. He began with the premise that knowledge is relative. What one culture construes as meaningful may not be so construed in another culture. Therefore, what is true? Everything is relative. You have to look at what your culture said as true in relation to what other cultures said is true and recognize that none of them is really saying the ultimate truth. So what to do then?
Foucault says that we should simply take note of others different perception of reality (he called it "othering"). Others, be they individuals, races, sexes etc having different perception of the meaning of things and you should accept that fact. This leads to cultural relativism; indeed, to individual relativism.
There are no universally accepted truths. Aristotle's universals are wrong, everything depends on people; reality is made by each of us.
Indeed, what we call mental illness is a social construct. Foucault looked at the history of how we treat the mentally ill and showed the changing approaches to them, from Christians saying that schizophrenics were possessed by the devil hence mental illness is a moral issue, to be healed by being good persons, which, of course, did not heal them, to our contemporary tendency to seeing mental illness as a biological variable and herding the mentally ill into psychiatric hospitals and filling their asses with deadly medications that destroy their bodies and eventually kill them. We think that we do all these out of good will but we are really using the bodies of the mentally ill to experiment about the brain, we use them to study about the nature of the brain, we are not motivated to heal them at all.
Foucault then addressed his attention to human sexuality and wrote tomes on it. Apparently, he was a homosexual for he contracted HIV and died of AIDs. Suffice it to say that his writing on sexuality is an attempt to justify his belief that sex is pleasurable and that folks ought to be allowed to pursue that pleasure as they see fit.
If only he knew that some of us see sex as disgusting and wished that human beings did not have to engage in this very animalizing aspect of us.
Look, Foucault was a child and talked childish talk and his talk does not amount to adult philosophy. But as I said before, his type of childish talk currently dominate academic philosophy.
These people are deconstructing society and replacing it with their infantile conceptions of how it ought to be (devoid of the empirical realities that shaped its evolution). Society and people are to be remade in our mental images, not shaped by physical realities. Of course, these idealistic views do not change any thing; they do not even go beyond the walls of academia. They are irrelevant to the real world.
Extended adolescents called graduate students wax strong talking about deconstructionism. A few women study them and want to deconstruct men, change men from brutes to what they consider how civilized men ought to be: gentle. These idiots forget that men are aggressive animals by biological make up; they ignore biological reality. This fad masquerading as serious scholarship will come to pass as reality dawns on people.
Jacques Derrida took the philosophical school of deconstruction to its max. Break down things, break down language and then reconstruct them to fit your fancy as to how they ought to be. Society is screwed up; men dominate women, deconstruct that society, and then reconstruct it so that women control men. How about biology? Do not let such a simple reality enter your mind.
Reality is thought, our minds made all of it up. All you have to do is use your mind to reconstruct whatever you think men and women are and wham you change reality.
I do not know where this idiot view of things comes from. Biology is fate and these idiots do not recognize that simple fact. You do what your body disposes you to do. You cannot win the Olympic medal for one hundred meters dash if you are four hundred pounds fat. You need a muscle lean body to run. If you are not given the athletic body that facilitates running all you can do is wish to be an Olympic champion but champion you are not going to be. It is true that determination and practice can lead folks to accomplish a lot but they cannot change reality.
If you are born with average intelligence you are not going to be a genius and come up with a grand unified theory of everything (that unifies the weak and strong nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity).
In my view, these deconstructionists are not scholars, certainly not scientists; they are sophists making noise over language and hoodwinking folks with their seeming good language skills. In the end they deceive no one but themselves and the young minds called students that read their rubbish masquerading as knowledge. Luckily, when students Leave College they throw away their text books on deconstructionism and face the real world as it is. They have to make a living, you know.
In several writings I pointed out that in the twentieth century philosophy transmuted itself to psychology. The century began with Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalysis speculating on the human mind, talking about the conscious and unconscious minds. The club soon broke up and folks moved on to establish their own schools. We had Adlerian, Jungian, Hornian and other psychoanalytic schools. Soon folk realized that psychoanalysis is mere talk and yielded no therapeutic results. So, they tried to return to English empiricism.
Folk had had enough of German idealism masquerading as psychoanalysis, and it was time to return to realistic English empiricism. Psychology turned to behaviorism, to observing actual human behavior rather than speculating on what is going on in the so-called mind.
Behaviorism ran its course and gave way to the study of the human brain. Efforts were made to reduce all psychological processes to the workings of the brain. The various neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA etc were used to explain all mental disorders (schizophrenia is seen as a function of excess dopamine, mania is seen as a function of excess norepinephrine, depression is seen as a function of deficient serotonin, anxiety is seen as a result of deficient GABA).
Medications were designed to alter the state of these brain chemicals. Those appear to calm the mentally ill down but do not cure them. In the meantime those medications have serious adverse effects; they actually kill the mentally ill.
Soon, there will be a revolt against the neuroscience and neuro psychiatry. Some of us have seen through this nonsense and left the field. The reality is that we do not know why some folks go mad. We do not know because we do not yet understand how the mind works.
Is the mind produced by matter or by a little man in our brain? We return to the age old philosophical debate on matter and spirit, empiricism and idealism. The fact is that we really do not know anything for sure.
In this sea of not knowing some overfed college folk who have nothing to contribute called themselves deconstructionists and looked at language and like Greek sophists attempted to clarify it but really do not have anything new to contribute to intellectual discourse. Their sophisticated language is entertaining but that doesn't deceive us into thinking that they are really teaching us anything new and useful.
The twentieth century is the century of the physical sciences. We have made great strides in physics, chemistry and biology. This is good.
Some say that science, too, has reached its end? I do not know. All I know is that I am up to date on science and can tell you that despite all the noise nothing new really has come from science since the 1970s.
Of course, technology is moving in quantum leaps. But technology is manipulating what is already known by science. All the wonders of electronics, from computers to the internet, radio, television etc are rooted in the science of electronics which had been known by the 1920s when quantum mechanics explained that the atom is composed of electrons, protons and neutrons. Physics broke down those three particles to numerous sub- particles. Beyond that we have not learned any new thing in science. But we do make noise and noise is not knowledge.
Philosophy has not contributed any new idea to intellectual discourse since the end of psychology. Deconstructionists are noise makers.
*I choose to end this series of lectures here. I have written on those other persons and subjects that I would have written on. I have written on the psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists; I have written on the various religions, especially the Asian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and their new age versions in the West. When I feel like it I will edit these lectures, add references and bibliography to them and publish them. In the meantime I hope that you have learned something from reading them. I wrote all of them in five days and in the nature of things probably goofed a lot. In time I will correct my mistakes.
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
August 29, 2009