The philosophical quest

Hubertus asked:

What could be the nature of the quest in the cases of the Buddha, of Socrates, of Dante, of Don Quixote, of Dr. Faust? What were they looking for, what insatiable longing was driving them? Does modern philosophy take note of this longing? Does it offer any answers? Do we need a re-enchantment of our world to understand the problem?

Answer By Peter Jones

By ‘modern philosophy’ I assume you mean the philosophy of the modern university. As you will know it offers no answers. It is not obvious that it is looking for any. Pardon my cynicism but from here it seems justified.

The world is no more a less enchanted than it ever was, but much of philosophy seems to have become an attempt to disenchant it. I suppose this is some sort of science-envy. It’s easy to see that that the attempt is hopeless and leads to stagnation and confusion. A different approach is clearly required. If Yoga and self-enquiry represent a ‘re-enchantment’ of our world then we can note these methods worked just fine for the Buddha, not to mention a few million other people.

So a ‘re-enchantment of the world’ seems the only way forward. Or, rather, a recognition of its enchantment. It remains to be shown that the world is not enchanted in precisely the way the Buddha describes, and the ongoing failure of philosophers to find a workable but less enchanted description is surely a glaring clue to the futility of the search.

I would say we do not need a deliberate ‘re-enchantment’ for before we start we don’t know what we mean by this word, but just an open mind and a willingness to follow logic and reason. Examining this idea would need a long discussion.


Emmanuel asked:

Why are philosophers more interested in questions than answers?

Answer by Peter Jones

From your question I assume you are familiar with academic philosophy but not the whole field. Academic philosophers usually assume philosophical questions cannot be answered. This is because they do not study all of philosophy and tend to be ignorant of the answers given in the Perennial tradition. They find that no other answers work, so are forced to assume there are no answers.

Meanwhile, philosophers in the Perennial tradition are interested only in answers and expect to find them. This philosophy provides answers to questions, albeit that understanding them takes some work. This is ‘non-dualism’, which is a solution for all philosophical problems.

So, your question is only relevant in an academic or professional context. Quite why the mainstream profession is disinclined to seek answers and contents itself with questions is a mystery and I have no explanation, but this is only one limited area of philosophy. It would be a mistake to extrapolate from this to the whole of philosophy.

The problem is that philosophical problems only have one correct answer. IF the answers given by non-dualism are correct then for as long as academic thinkers reject, ignore or are unaware of them they will have to content themselves with asking questions for which they have ruled out the answers. This will lead them to the idea there are no answers.

I would suggest ignoring this narrow scholastic approach. A philosopher should seek answers and expect to find them. This can be achieved only by studying philosophers who claim to know them, and this means ignoring the artificial limitations academic researchers usually place on themselves and studying the whole field. Then you’ll see it is only a sub-set of philosophers who see philosophy as a collection of questions with no answers.

2 thoughts on “The philosophical quest

  1. Hubertus asks, “What could be the nature of the quest in the cases of the Buddha, of Socrates, of Dante, of Don Quixote, of Dr. Faust? What were they looking for, what insatiable longing was driving them?”

    The insatiable longing that drives us all is to escape the sense of isolation generated by the inherently divisive nature of thought, that which we all are made of. We seek reunion with reality, a quest that takes an infinite number of forms, including philosophical journeys. Put simply, we seek death.

    Consider the orgasm. For a few brief seconds everything that defines us as separate individuals, everything we cling to in life, our ideas, opinions, memories, fears etc, are all blasted out of existence. We experience a brief psychological death. And we couldn’t be happier about it. A great many of the experiences that we value perform this function.

    Philosophy is not the ideal path to such reunion with reality, given that it is made of thought, the very thing which is generating the illusion of separation.

  2. Philosophy is searching for questions. The world is such a strange place, that can be felt intuitively, but only when a question is formulated, do we become explicitly aware of the strangeness. We must find the “why?” before we can attempt to answer it.

    We have learned the difference between right and wrong; at least we think we have, but until we have asked why it is so, we risk being mistaken even before we have made the mistake. Isn’t is a shame to be in error from the very start and take things for granted that may be utter illusions. We pity mental patients who are delusional about reality, but if we don’t ask questions, we may be in such a state ourselves.

    We may not find an answer to why things are the way they are, and we can never find one that we can be a hundred percent certain about, but when asking questions we may start approaching the truth and that is clearly better than having no truth at all. Imagining something to be true without having any reason for it, is the worst kind of ignorance even if it happens to be true.

    That being said, the Socratic philosopher is never content with merely asking questions. Philosophy is the search for truth and even when knowing full well that complete certainty cannot be reached, the quest for an answer doesn’t stop.

    The Socratic method of asking questions is directed towards the truth. Philosophy is not a sport engaged in amusing questioning scoring points for absurd notions. A question that no one attempts to answer has no value.

    Still, a question necessarily precedes an answer and in that sense the question is of superior interest. We must ask why before we can ever hope to know why.

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