Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rationality and Totality, Part I

If we equate rationality and totality, then our brief theory of the Enlightenment becomes, “Enlightenment is the overcoming of rationality through critique,” and that won’t do at all. But does rationality involve (and I wish I had a more accurate verb than “involve” to indicate a relationship between the two concepts—I require a technical vocabulary here which I do not have,) totality, and if so, how? If rationality “involves” totality, and we do wish to overcome totality, is there any way to remove totality and still have something salvageable of rationality?

I’m attempting to sidestep the whole issue of what totality and rationality are—and I doubt, even though I give myself all freedom and license, I will yet be able to let myself get away with that. Carl had once indicated that what he meant by totality was “the total and complete picture of the real,” and I had at once noted that he had thereby used the term he wished to define as part of its own definition…Thank God we all know what we mean when we mean it…Even if no one else does!

I have some guilty conscience about the use of “completeness” as part of a working definition of totality, too. We have at our disposal some of the greatest intellectual accomplishments of the 20th Century—the completeness theorems of mathematical logic—which we could bring to bear upon what totality means, how it might work…I’m of a divided mind about our neglect of these if we imagine we really are serious about “overcoming totality.” On the one hand, don’t these theorems indicate that in certain ways “totality” is already overcome? And on the other hand, I suspect that whatever our concerns and fears about totality really come to, if they come to anything, they remain untouched by the insights which might be garnered from these theorems. I hope, though, we will examine this latter thought with more diligence at some point.

I have felt frustrated trying to put myself into an empathic relationship with the thinkers of the historical Enlightenment in order to think what they meant by rationality. When we are talking about Kant and his ideas, I find it hard to remember he worked before Darwin, before Freud,before Goedel, before Quantum Mechanics. I find it hard to remember-- and to take into account. Is it possible we would ever really find Kant valuable as if he were our contemporary rather than, because of his historical placement—naïve—of interest to us as a step in the history of ideas rather than for valid ideas? I also struggle because of Kant’s relationship to the cutting edge of science as he found it—in other words, of Kant’s relationship to Newton. Kant reacts to Newton. That Kant reacts to Newton seems to me to be part of what’s wrong – this reaction defines philosophy as reaction. A little ray of light in philosophy today (oops! An Enlightenment metaphor!) are those (I refer to Deleuze and Guattari,) who show for the first time how to philosophize by using Newton productively.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Yusef, for another stimulating post.

However, I think we have to confront the issue of philosophical hegemony, meaning: how can we (or should we) think in terms of Rationality, Totality, Completeness, or "Truths"?

We know and experience the messiness and chaos of life and thinking.

We are the victims and agents of contingent accidentiality, doomed to create patterns of order and finality.

Why not roll with the punches of the flow of life and embrace the creative disorder of evolution?

We need to swim.

All the best to you,


7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, I think we have to confront the issue of philosophical hegemony, meaning: how can we (or should we) think in terms of Rationality, Totality, Completeness, or "Truths"?"

My thoughts exactly.


9:51 PM  

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