As usual Michael, very illuminating thoughts.
Questions about Reality and Truth are often a source of angst.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but from your emphasis I'm thinking you have some grasp on the "philosophical" (as opposed to the day-to-day) connetation of the word "angst" and I'm hoping that - perhaps - you could help me as I attempt to isolate and understand the angst peculiar to me.
For instance, in my recent exploration of Heidegger's ideas, I have come across his particular interpretation of "angst" (which is in many ways similar to the idea of "despair" offered by Satre and other philosophers) which suggests, in a round about way, that angst itself reveals the "Nothing".
Now, again, I'm not sure how familar you (or anyone else on this board for that matter) are with the terminology of Heidegger, but the Nothing (as opposed to "nothing" in the usual sense) seems to mark the brink of epistemological enquiry - that is, the immovable boundaries to which ontology and existentialism are bound, and thus to which the enquiries
of an ontological or existential nature are bound. As soon as we grasp the Nothing, so it goes, we have reached the brink of our possible conception of the totality of what-is and - in such a sense - our Dasein is able at this point - and only
at this point - to grasp the nature of being external to it. So, in a round about way, Heidegger seems to be arguing (according to my interpretation of his work anyway) that it is through existential angst
that this "Nothing" is revealed to us, and through the understanding of this Nothing, we are able to realise "what-is".
angst (if I should be so temerous as to call my condition that) seems to be the ontological opposite of the angst that Heidegger describes. I seem to realise the boundaries of ontological enquiry (the possible knowledge of the totality of what-is), and this is the very source of my angst: the conception of "Nothing" beyond the limit of "what-is". Heidegger suggests that angst is that which leads one to this boundary of ontological enquiry, whereas - in my case - it is the boundary itself
that is the cause of my angst. It is the "Nothing" that makes me anxious, it is not my anxiety - as Heidegger suggests - that reveals[i] the "Nothing".
And this is at the root of my dilema. If the cause of my angst were the same cause as that which Heidegger described, then I am on the path - or at least on [i]a
path - towards ontological lucidity. I become existentially anxious, I grasp the Nothing, I am aware of the boundaries of what-is (as the Nothing is that which seperates the what-is from the what-is-not) and thus I am made aware
of the what-is. My angst, by this train of thought, reveals the world to me.
However, in my case, my angst denies me the world and denies me my lucidity (as per my analogy of the what-is being likened to an enveloping darkness, that I can only illuminate so much of, in such small portions at a time). I sense
the totality of what is, and then I reach the epistemological boundary. I sense the Nothing, where my conception of being - or my possibility
of conceiving being - reaches as end, and it is here that I encounter the Nothing, the darkness of which I describe. And it is this which is the source of my angst, which can offer me no new ontological illumination other than that which has already
been illuminated, and that which caused me to arrive at this state of angst in the first place.
Once again, though, I should reiterate that it is not as though I am walking around in a constant state of existential angst, uncertain of what exists in an active, self-imposed state of solopsism, but still - when I turn out the light to go to bed - I am quite often pre-occupied by this thought. My pre-occuptation, though, is purely intellectual. Whether I can find a definative (or even satisfactory) answer to this dilema will not change the way I operate, day to day, in this universe of all-encompassing being and nothingness, though still - as a mathemetician cannot rest properly until he has solved an equation that challenges him: that draws him towards the brink of tautological certainty and then leads him away again - I still feel that I need some certainty, or at least some notion of lucidity
with regards to this problem.
Which leads me neatly into the next statement....
Which is more important to you:
To find the correct answer, or
To find an agreeable and satisfying answer?
Your honest answer might prove insightful.
To be perfectly honest I hadn't considered the question until now, though - if I were to answer on the spot - I suppose that I could say that, to some extent, this question represents the root of my dilema.
I wish to be certain, and I wish to be able to grasp
reality in all its absoluteness, yet - at the same time - I realise that this is entirely impossible. I do not wish to settle for an "agreeable" answer, though I realise that the further I dig, the more clear it becomes that this is my only option. Thus my angst, if it were to be described in these terms, would amount to the realisation that an answer of absolute certainty is impossible, yet an answer that could be described only as being "agreeable" or "satisfying" is wholly unsatisfactory as well. So then there is a void, where I can grasp at neither one alternative nor the other, and nor can I say, with "good faith", that I should be content with convincing myself into believing that I have attained either.
Similarly, I am not willing to settle for the psychological solution - that is, the reason
why I am unwilling to settle for either alternative, or the reason why I am disposed to asking the question in the first place. Even if I should attain this psychological solution, it still brings me no closer to attaining the answer to my original question, nor - to be sure - why the original question should be deemed invalid as a result.
Like Nietzsche more than a century ago, he believes that these words have inherited the same illusory magic that once hovered around the idea of a deity. They are supposed to represent something Big. They stand for an ideal: the accurate representation of reality. This reality functions in our minds as a sort of non-human authority, to which we have to answer, and compared with which we are always in danger of falling short. Yet mankind must now realize that there is no such authority. Previously, even when the deity was swept away by the Enlightenment, Truth remained in its place, the last absolute-but now it, too, has to bow out, as the world-historical moment turns, and humanity continues its long journey to emancipation.
I am inclined to agree - to a point - that perhaps this search for "truth" is based in the assumption that such a thing as "truth" actually exists in the first place, and that - perhaps - this is the cause of my unwinnable battle.
Yet still, regardless of the semantics involved, or in how you try to redefine the terms "truth" or "reality" and so on, you still end up with the cognito. I still think, I still am - is this no basis for a search for truth? Must there not be some existent absolutism for me to pose these questions in the first place? And I'm not just saying this to give you all a quick recourse in Cartesian rationalism, I do so under the belief - misguided or not - that this absolutism is the place from which the search for all other absolutism can begin. If Rorty would have you believe that truth is an illusion - or at least illusory in the sense that it is always one step beyond us, or in some way unattainable and uncomprehensible (if, indeed, there is such a thing as truth to begin with) - then by which perspective and by which notion
did he begin from to write what he did? Which illusory type-writer allowed him to manifest his logic into something tangible, that could reveal itself to me in such a fashion?
I am willing to concede that the absolute may be unattainable (which is what set me on the path to writing this post in the first place) but to deny that such a concept exists - or at least to throw severe doubt on its existence - is to, at the very least, nullify his ones existence. Perhaps we do place truth on too high a pedestal, but I still consider it a worthy goal, whether it be acheiveable or not.
Then again, perhaps I should actually go to some effort to locate Rorty's book so as to avoid the risk of misrepresenting his views out of my sheer misunderstanding and misrepresentation of his views.
Perhaps our school should have these words (from the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi) inscribed over the gate, "Know thyself".
I would find that most apt.
The entire world must begin with the self - as most philosophers, since Descartes, would seem to have concurred - but I'm still not certain that we must limit the world to the self alone. I find self-exploration the most noble of all activities, but there is a sense of pointlessness/impossibility to it if there is not some external world by which to relate it to.
Though perhaps it is this unreasonable desire to understand this relation that started me off on this tangent in the first place......
So then, as Magius would doubtless say, what's your take (open to all and sundry)?
The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.