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The wisdom of not knowing


The lady next door says she’s descended from David Hume. Sadly she didn’t inherit any of his philosophies, so my hopes of spending lazy afternoons chewing ye olde Scottish Empiricism with her have been dashed.

I’m a fan of Hume; which is to say I like what I think he was trying to say. It’s probably really Hume-ish sounding versions of what I think projected onto my own incomprehension. Us philosophy groupies are like that. What I reckon he was saying most of the time was “We may think we know shit, but we don’t”. If that sounds a bit like my own epistemological nihilism it must be because I’m clever like David Hume, right?

So you think the sun will rise tomorrow, eh? What a chump. That’s just induction. You only think that because you’ve got a bad thought habit along the lines of “always was, always will be”. For all you know right now the sun is being swallowed by a giant, cosmic black swan and once the eight minutes or so of light-in-transit has gone by you’ll never see it again. One day that’s gonna be true and all you “the sun will rise tomorrow” know it alls won’t even have time to say “… until it doesn’t”. And I won’t have time to say “I told you so”. That’s why I’m doing it now.

The only stuff you can know logically comes from deduction and that can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. Only whether you’ll be scorned by logicians for saying it. OTOH, a logician can say “people with degrees are intelligent; I am a person with degrees; therefore I am intelligent” and you’re not supposed to laugh.

I think it’s good for us nerdy intellectual types to be reminded that thinking about something isn’t the same as knowing about it. If only Rene Descartes had read Hume …

I particularly like what Hume says about my morality. I don’t have one. Or if I do, it lives well south of my cerebrum. It took me a while to get that. Decades really. I’m a bit slow when it comes to myself. Probably not enough fibre. But when I finally got it I was so enthusiastic I immediately attributed the same thing to David Hume. So I knew it was wise. I may not have noticed he said it until after I’d said it. I was distracted by other interesting insights emanating from my orifices. But agreeing with me gets my attention.

Contrary to my almost judicial conceit, I don’t decide whether something’s right or wrong from principles such as ‘Do unto others …’ or ‘Never give a sucker an even break’. I don’t imagine my actions have predictable consequences with quantifiable moral values then act in accordance with the appropriate algorithm, no matter how many hostages utilitarians have tied to the tracks. I don’t do things because God will reward me or so karma won’t punish me or because otherwise someone might tell my mum. Well, not so much these days.

My moral feelings come from my guts. My instinct, my intuition, my ‘yuk factor’, my sentiment is how I tell right from wrong. I don’t think through the moral implications of my decisions, I feel through them. Then I start thinking about how the fuck I’m gonna justify this to my partner and my neighbours and my boss and my mother and the panopticon and myself. So I come up with reasons and doctrines and rationalisations and evasions and proximate examples and abstractions and slogans and aphorisms and a good head of righteousness until moral ambiguity and ignorance have been completely obscured and I know I’ve done the right thing. It’s easy with enough practice.

That’s why you should carefully study moral philosophers. There’s a heck of a lot of them and they’ve churned out enough carefully reasoned arguments and divinely inspired compassion and unintelligibly gabbled gibberish to talk over anyone’s objections to anything, including your own. Then when someone wants to know why you’re doing what you do you can come out with something rational, virtuous, sophisticated, objective, ethical and pseudo-relevant to what you were asked. But if you were being honest you’d fart.

From → unclassified

  1. Wisdom Now Of Not
    Knowing Transcending
    ‘ThinKinG’ ALLoWinG
    River Within


    And Sing


    No NaMe


    With No Name’

    Chances TheNoW
    Are ‘Socrates’
    ‘The Story’


    “Not KNoWinG”

    Of Transcendent
    Within Beyond


    To Force ‘The Story’…

    It’s Nothing New
    Under ‘The Sun’
    Except For All
    The Distractions
    All The Tools The
    Layers Of Clothes
    Modern CuLTuRE






    In Autotelic
    Focus Frission
    Of Divine









    Freer Breathing
    Green Within

    Life’s Art DiViNE


    Us To


    And See ‘The Wind’…


  2. I love your understanding that you « feel through the moral implications of your decisions. » The problem for most people is that they call something a feeling when it’s really a thought. As in, « I feel like you don’t love me anymore… » or something but they don’t feel all that. They think it, and they make the other the author of their feelings. Or when people say, « You make me feel such and such. » In fact, it’s our thoughts about what that person said or did that leads us to feel whatever we feel. If we thought differently we would feel differently. If only we mastered the vocabulary and could distinguish what we feel from things we think, we’d all be better off.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s a problem of verbal articulation here I think.

      If I put my hand on a live hotplate I feel pain. But in order to tell someone about it I have to first think “I feel pain”. Would I then be speaking of the feeling or of the subsequent thought? I think you can sincerely feel unloved but in order to say it you have to think it too.

      It’s also possible that you’re looking for a reason you no longer feel love for your partner so you start running through all the things you can think of that suggest your partner doesn’t love you. Then you might say “I feel you don’t love me” when you really mean “I’ve been thinking you don’t love me”,

      And of course in our society saying “I feel …” rather than “I think …” can be used to avoid owning what you’re about to say. We attribute more volition to our thoughts than to our emotions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If a person thinks they are unloved that’s a thought, but the feeling – what is that? It hurts, yes, you could be sad or angry or a combo of the two. Or something else entirely. The thing is, we are not taught the vocabulary of real feelings versus thoughts-disguised-as-feelings. If you say, I feel unloved, one, that is blaming the other person for what you yourself think. One cannot feel unloved. That is not an emotion. It’s a thought. One feels sad or angry in response to the thought, “he or she doesn’t love me any more” But it’s the thought that causes the feeling. If the person who is sad actually thought instead, “My partner might need some time and space to deal with what’s happening in life. And my love is big enough to give him or her that space..” Well, then the feeling arising from that thought would be very different from the sadness of thinking “He or she doesn’t love me any longer… “ My point is that if we learned how to distinguish real feelings from the thoughts about the world that generate our feelings, we would be better able to both handle our emotions and deal with others at the same time. (And I realize this was not the point at all of your post!)



        Liked by 2 people

        • I don’t think I agree with you there Phoebe.

          We articulate emotions as ‘anger’ or ‘sadness’. The shrinks even talk about ‘mixed states’. But I think that’s learned social convention. Different cultures express different ranges of emotions, both due to linguistic differences (e.g. how impoverished English is with ‘love’ compared to the range of words the Greeks use for distinct emotional states) and due to different cultural emphases on the social expression of emotions.

          I feel emotions for which I’m pretty sure there’s no words in my culture. For example, I get a powerful visceral feeling in response to the feeling I’ve (accidentally) shamed someone in relation to their body (e.g. walking in on someone masturbating). It’s unlike any other emotion I feel in its physical correlates and I’ve never heard anyone else describe something similar. It’s utterly unlike what I experience as embarrassment, body horror or any combination thereof.

          I think Lisa Feldman Barrett gets a lot of things wrong (and can fail to duly credit others for what she gets right) but I reckon she’s on the ball when she says emotions are experienced initially as sets of bodily sensations that are then contextualised into nameable emotions via social and environmental cues. The second step is at least partially culture-bound. Basically they’re ‘lizard brain’ manifestations of instinct and intuition used to anticipate metabolic needs (as with ‘fight or flight’ response) that are abstracted into emotions by more complex and linear mental processes to better fit responses to our more complex social and cultural requirements. It’s possible to confuse that process, such as when a racing heartbeat is interpreted as a sign of danger and gives rise to unwarranted fear. Barrett herself relates a story in which she mistakes early symptoms of flu for a romantic attraction to her dinner companion (though I’ve gotta admit I find it hard to fully believe her account).

          Could it be that feeling unloved is the socially contextualised emotion arising from physical sensations that might be named as ‘sadness/anger’ in a different context? If so it would it would express greater emotional literacy than simply calling it ‘sadness/anger’.

          Maybe the feeling of being unloved is just as fundamental and primal as feelings of sadness and anger, rooted in the separation anxiety of infants long before they have notions of love, sadness or anger to think about. Something like that would have been felt by the earliest of our ancestors to require parental care to survive, stimulating a response that might prompt nurturing behaviour by a parent.

          It seems to me even dogs can express a sense of rejection akin to feeling unloved. I doubt they sit around thinking they’re unloved until they work themselves into that state.

          I also think our emotional language is becoming increasingly impoverished and that psychiatry bears some of the blame. There’s generations growing up who no longer talk of grief, sadness, misery, despair, emptiness, hopelessness etc. It’s all depression to them. Likewise all of the uncomfortable anticipatory feelings that are now gathered under the rubric of ‘anxiety’.

          But hey, what would I know? The shrinks say I’m autistic and suffer from alexithymia. It wouldn’t occur to them there may be good reasons to avoid talking to psychiatrists about your emotions.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I probably need to stop pretending to be impersonal and objective about this.

          The reason I know feeling unloved is an emotion is because I’ve experienced it. And the reason I know I didn’t reverse engineer it from the thought “I am unloved” is because I was experiencing it for years without being able to put words to it. Probably in part because I couldn’t bear to put words to it. Especially not those words. And it’s not a feeling of sadness or anger. It’s got aspects of hollowness, insecurity and worthlessness but there’s nastier stuff in there too, directed inwards and outwards. It’s not at all like the feelings I’ve had when romantic relationships break down, though that often evokes memories of it.

          If you’ve felt it too it would have been as a child and you know as well as I do it’s an emotion, or perhaps a tangled complex of emotions, not a thought. If you haven’t then nothing I can say will help you understand. I can only offer my thoughts, not my emotions.

          Liked by 1 person

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