Friday, October 20, 2006

The Yak's Search for Meaning

In her introduction to Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt recalls Kant's distinction between Vernunft (reason) and Verstand (the intellect). In a nutshell, she says, "The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning." (p. 15, emphasis in original). She goes on to say that "[t]he basic metaphysical fallacy, taking precendence over all specific metaphysical fallacies, is to interpret meaning on the model of truth." Hmmm. This whole business of meaning seems a little Twentieth-Century to me. But that's quite a nutshell.

Thinking about the history of thinking the word that readily comes to mind is "imperious." Why start with Western antiquity? Why logos and so on? Must any such inquiry be imperious, or could it be otherwise? Where does Patañjali belong in the history of thinking? What has thinking become since Nāgārjuna? For my part it is convenient to place Eastern thinking after Western thinking simply because that is how the history of thinking has unfolded for me. If my perspective turned out to be founded on an imperial privilege I should want to question that. And if I came to understand my vantage point as merely an historical accident that too would be a problem. How does one genuinely reckon with the plurality of ways of thinking?

The idea that thinking is indeed a historical phenomenon makes a dilemma of the plurality of ways of thinking. We could just abandon it. After all, every human being is capable of thinking. The meaning of historical phenomena, like metaphysical ideas, never seems to be quite fixed. Why burden thinking with such a heavy load? Perhaps because it's inescapable. It may be theoretically possible to think outside any recognizable tradition of thinking, but in actual practice thinkers almost invariably take on the load of tradition. It seems to belong to the nature of thinking to develop historically.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:36 AM.


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