The Rational Human Condition 1, Preface and General Introduction, Section 1.8 –The Biggest Windmills.


THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 1

PREFACE AND GENERAL INTRODUCTION

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section 1.0  What It Is

Section 1.1  Bounded in a Nutshell

Section 1.2  Rational Anthropology vs. Analytic Metaphysics, the Standard Picture, and Scientific Naturalism

Section 1.3  Philosophy and Its History: No Deep Difference

Section 1.4  Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism

Section 1.5  Analytic Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, and Rational Anthropology

Section 1.6  What is a Rational Human Animal?

Section 1.7  An Important Worry and a Preliminary Reply

Section 1.8  The Biggest Windmills


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THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 1

PREFACE AND GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Section 1.8  The Biggest Windmills

Socrates said “know thyself.”

Rational anthropology says: “know the world by knowing yourself; then change your life; and then change the world too.”

My goal in writing the The Rational Human Condition is to launch rational anthropology by working out a true general theory of rational human animals in a thoroughly nonideal world, both natural and social.

But there is a hitch.

Even if, as I argued in section 1.7, the error-theory project is rationally self-refuting or at least self-stultifying, nevertheless it remains at least logically and metaphysically possible that a true general theory of the nature of rational human animals is simply a humanly impossible philosophical goal.

Perhaps, then, I am engaged in a Quixotic task.

If so, alas.

Yet on the other hand, even though it is logically and metaphysically possible that this philosophical goal is humanly impossible, on the other hand, perhaps it is actually not a humanly impossible goal.

Perhaps, in fact and on the contrary, it is humanly really possible.

Consider the simple yet compelling epistemic principle, “it takes one to know one,” meaning, “we have prima facie epistemic authority where our own individual lives and our own kinds of lives are concerned.”

This is a principle so simple and so compelling that even children can spin off it as a joke.

Hence it does seem to me really possible that a conscious, intentional, caring rational human animal, a real human person, prima facie, would be capable of working out a true general theory of the nature of her own kind of life.

Assuming, of course, that she worked at it hard enough and long enough, and did not mind breaking a few logical lances, or taking the occasional dusty tumble off her philosophical horse.

Which leads me into a directly relevant side-passage, by way of concluding this philosophical beginning — I mean this Preface and General Introduction.

Like a great many other admiring readers of Miguel de Cervantes’s lovely, massive Don Quixote, I see it as a truly amazing novel that started out to be nothing but a picaresque parody of misguided ideals of chivalry, and ended up being a sublime early statement of literary Existentialism.

It teaches us that, paradoxically, ridiculously tilting at windmills, on a ragged horse, with a broken lance, can be something well worth spending a lifetime doing.

Now at any rate, as for me, I would far rather spend my life that way, and risk all the risible dusty tumbles, than play the glass bead game.[i]

So even if I am just ridiculously tilting at philosophical windmills, at least they are the biggest windmills I can imagine.

At the same time, however, what Wittgenstein wrote at the end of his Preface to the Tractatus is also entirely apt:

I am conscious that I have fallen far short of the possible. Simply because my powers are insufficient to cope with the task. — May others come and do it better.[ii]

NOTES

[i] The allusion is to Hermann Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel, aka The Glass Bead Game, first published in 1943. In the novel, the glass bead game is an all-absorbing, ultra-high-powered, intellectual pastime — as it were, a cross between Japanese Go, the Enyclopedia Britannica, and Frege’s Begriffsschrift — created and practiced by the highly intelligent, geographically isolated, morally and socially inept, and politically irrelevant inhabitants of the fictional, futuristic land of Castalia, somewhere in Central Europe. The parallels with 19th, 20th, and 21st century professional academic philosophy are obvious.

[ii] L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. C.K. Ogden (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 29.

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