Ending the debate of materialism vs. idealism

Robert asked:

Materialism and idealism are side of philosophy which justify that philosophy has got no sense of reality about the universe, it merely confuses the people, hence it must be discouraged at all cost. Discuss.

Answer by Peter Jones

I do not normally respond to text messages since they suggest that the questionner is not serious and they are often, as here, almost impossible to decode, but you seem to raise an interesting issue. I cannot be sure that I’ve disentagled your words correctly, but the way I read them you seem to have drawn an unnecessary conclusion from the failure of Idealism and Materialism. These two doctrines in their common form, by which are symmetrical and directly opposed, are logically absurd. As you say, it would be possible to take this as a sign that philosophy, specifically metaphysics, is a waste of time. It is also possible, however, to take it as sign that these two doctrines are simply wrong.

So, in order to use their failure as an argument against philosophy you would have to show that one of them is correct. If they are both incorrect, then their failure in philosophy would be a proof of the value of doing it. You cannot prove that one of them is correct. Rather, philosophy proves that they are both absurd. Ergo, you cannot show that philosophy should be discouraged rather than encouraged. .

It would certainly be a strange response to the failure of these two doctrines to discourage people from finding out that they both fail. It would be seem more sensible to make philosophy compulsory in schools, so that everybody has this useful information. Then we would all be pondering the question of what this could mean for the truth about the universe. It must mean that there is another possible solution. And there is another solution. You might like to do a search on ‘nondualism’ and ‘dialethism’. These are two very different responses to your problem, between which you will have to choose. In order to prove that philosophy is useless you would have to show that both of these are logically absurd, or perhaps just nondualism, since dialethism is the proposal that the universe itself is logically absurd. If you cannot do that there is nothign to prevent us from assuming that philosophy is reliable, useful and fit for purpose.

Philosophy confuses people, of course, and this is why we should encourage people to do it. Most people prefer to remain unconfused and some encouragement is usually needed. Utter philosophical confusion is the primordial soup from which should emerge a new and more rational order, a freeing of the mind from its usual hodge-potch of unverified beliefs and received dogmas in order to make way for a more rational construction built from scratch. Descartes showed us the method, and the method is doubt. Doubt and confusion is what philosophy is for. If you are confused, and you know that you are confused, then you are doing philosophy properly. You need not assume that the confusion will be permanent. It would be a mistake to take the failure of certain traditions and styles of philosophical thought for the failure of the entire enterprise.


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