The 5 Depths of Philosophizing
I was just about to become an adult when I first started to build my own system of philosophy.
Once, when I was even younger than that, I’d heard of a philosopher who put at the center of philosophy the question. As such, when I first started building my own system, I did so by creating something for which I now call a questionity, or: a structure of questions that shapes and spurs into being a philosophical inquiry.
Possibly the philosopher I heard of back then was Wittgenstein, because what I ended up producing might look something like his systematic approach. Just, instead of statements, I focused on questions.
Winding forward some decade or so, I would also hear about the philosopher Deleuze, who in his book Difference and Repetition rather put the problem at the center of philosophy.
The difference between a question and a problem is at first glance elusive. But giving it some thought, one might realize that while a problem intends a final solution, a question can have any number of answers. Indeed, a question can be open by design, while a proper problem always wants to end. A question can be satisfied many times over. A problem is satisfied once, when it is solved.
Viewed this way, I would say that the problem is a special case of the question, and that in some ways, the philosophical question represents a kind of deeper, more fundamental description of philosophical activity – of philosophizing – than does the problem.
But having arrived at this view I also feel like I’m left with a problem (ironically). Because not everything I do in the name of philosophical curiosity, can be represented as either a question, nor some activity related to a concrete question. In other words, there seems to be something for which is deeper, or preceding, even of the philosophical question.
Wondering, that’s the term I’ve chosen for this phenomenon. Philosophical wonder. Unlike the question, it has tangents, offshoots of inquiry, it doesn’t stay self-similar with one meaning, or fall into one ambition. Wondering is our focus, shifting, taking each stop on its way seriously, but never lingering too long. It’s the free growth of curiosity, the spreading out, and alternating of directions. Like the question, wondering has an origin, but unlike the question, working it out it becomes many. However, questions can also take on the appearance of the many, like an ensemble of questions; like the questionities I made in my teens. But this is not what wondering is. Wondering is a journey of the mind, and its ensemble, for comparison, is the multitude of mind’s journeys. Furthermore, wondering, unlike the question, is not restricted to what can be articulated in language, even in the broadest sense of the latter. For wondering is just this: chained directions of curiosity, and the time spent wondering. Which is why we can call it a journey, for it is just that: a path trodden by the working outs of the world.
In wonder, there is so much to be curious about. Such a wide open world to inquire into. Yet, wonder also has its limitations. A proper wondering is, after all, some attempt at figuring something out. It assumes that the world is to be figured out. Wondering, like the question, and like the problem, is an act aiming at achieving some order of the world, some result. We resort to wonder when we don’t know the problem we face, nor the question we wish to ask. But this does not mean we do not come at the world empty-handed, without apparatuses mental or physical, by which we wonder with. No, the one who wonders may not know what they want to aim for, but they know what they will aim with.
So we dig deeper, reaching for something even more fundamental, a basis for philosophical curiosity so much broader in its carry-weight than wonder. And here we reach the depths of the perspective. At the perspective we have no origin, no direction, no focus. To philosophize in the perspective is to carry in one’s mind a vast quantity of philosophical ideas, of possibilities and their relations, and to carry this all at once. In wondering we may deal with one idea, at a time, forging a path through all the ideas visited. In the perspective there is no such thing as the singular idea. The perspective loads into mind an excess of ideas, producing from them the clarity of their relations. Perspective is the working out of a totality of ideas. In the ensemble of perspectives, this can take the form of comparing perspectives, in the singular form, it is the acquaintance with, and ultimately the judging of, the ensemble of loaded ideas. Really, to undertake philosophizing in the perspective, is to try and understand what it is like to have an opinion, what it is like to believe, what it is like to see the world through some other lens. It is to mentally become something else, for a time, and in so doing, leave oneself behind.
Empathy, in its many forms, from the natural instinctual kind, to the intellectual investigative kind, relies on the perspective. The perspective is where we go when any singular train of thought, or even an ensemble train of thoughts, is not enough to understand something. It is where we go when understanding is not even our objective, but we just want to become acquainted with what some set of ideas is like. It’s not an analysis, it’s an educational trip. Of course, we say this is what we seek, but really if we want to know, in truth, what some philosophical idea is like, if we want to take upon ourselves philosophical curiosity in its fullness, then we need to go deeper still. For perspectives have the flaws of being first of all, self-similar, and second of all, mental. But to be a person with some ideas or some curiosity about the world is so much more than what is self-similar or what is mental. We’re not the static being in isolated thought of which the perspective assume.
So, we go deeper, to this last, deepest level of philosophizing: to openness of being. No longer do we constrain ourselves to what our trained and cultured intellect can handle. No longer do we wish to constrain the ideas or the forms of curiosity with which we work. In opening up our body and mind jointly, philosophy turns into this soaking in, digesting, and eventual becoming of the philosophical ideas to which we are exposed. To the gradual transformation of ourselves as the ideas manifest in all of their expressive capacities. For here we discover that philosophical truth does not always lend itself meaningfully to just words. But rather than this discovery being a newfound weakness, we find here it to be a great strength. Because in being not just limited to words, but to being fully blended in with body and mind, the ideas achieve a form of totality of trial, and totality of exposure, that the words and customs of language cannot rightly express.
In becoming body and mind, philosophical ideas are more complete, more robust. Should they eventually be translated into language (or back into language), one finds therein this new originality, of having been embodied, tried and tested in the uniqueness of the soul. No longer is the idea merely some copy of what’s spoken or recorded, or some tangent of language like an analogue, reformulation, or expanded explanation. The idea has instead become involved with the living through of its embodied manifestation. It has taken upon itself a bit of reality, it has become entangled with and formed by its relationship to the life of an individual and what is unique and possible of the both of them, idea and individual, together.
Openness of body and mind takes the idea and makes it known with all that is at the disposal of being (body parts, cybernetic augmentations, social connections, etc.). At this level, the ensemble is not the many ideas lived through, but the same idea lived through many bodies and many minds. Like an individual in radically different stages of their life, or in the idea spreading through a whole community of individuals, each of which supplies a new original component to it as they live the idea to its fullest.
Openness of being. Down here we come no further.
So, let’s summarize our digging. At the level of the problem, we rush to a satisfactory answer. At level of the question, we allow ourselves not just the time to answer, but we even let for our satisfactory answers to be endless series. At the level of wonder, philosophy expands its ambition to tangents and offshoots of inquiry. At the level of perspective, philosophy view a totality of ideas in the mind, but seeks no answers. Rather, it only wants to know what this whole of ideas is like. Lastly, at the level of openness of being, self-transformation of the idea, in its full embodiment inside an individual, is our only ambition. Altogether then, we go from our own supremacy over the idea, to down here, at the bottom, letting the idea itself hold supremacy of us.
But why dig this deep? It’s because problems are restrictions, a shackle upon wisdom, a confinement to the little corner of mind that deals with the particular problem-solving that is reason. Questions, meanwhile, restrict us to what can be said, to the possible meaningful responses of a phrase. And wonder, having escaped the singular question and its dependence on language, still restrict us to a familiar structure, within which our philosophical curiosity is confined like an experiment to dangerous to let loose. In the perspective, we lose some this structure, but still, we essentialize ideas as merely mental, leaving out of philosophy what remains of being in its fullness, and leaving out what becomes of ideas should they be allowed a body to live in.
So we lose restrictions. But, does this mean that any of the depths of philosophizing are inherently better than the others? For sure, that depends upon context. For one might imagine that going deeper is making something better, but going deeper we don’t just gain, we also lose our ability to articulate. In particular, if philosophy is to be fully a social exercise, its manner of inspecting the world must take a social form, so that the deepest depths of philosophizing has to create a projection of itself onto the higher levels, losing itself along that way. So that even when one goes to the length of living the idea, the idea can only resurface as this projection, as a form distorted and incomplete. Which nonetheless may bring about an important and interesting originality with its expression, the greatest reason in my opinion for going here. But it will never be the same spoken as lived. And for this reason, the perspective and the openness of being should be known as the levels of individual curiosity. For even when done together, there are barriers to what can be shared. But staying at the higher levels is likely to be inadequate as well. For these are the levels of philosophical games of argument played out purely in one’s head, or with the heads of one’s peers. No wonder serious philosophy can seem so abstract and detached from reality, because in its most shared expression, it is literally unlived.