Is your philosophy asking you to understand some common aspect of human experience as illusory? If so, it is almost certainly false.
We engage in theory so as to understand experience. When it turns out that a logical consequence of some theory is the impossibility of some common aspect of experience, it is probably because the theory is too simple. Parsimony is all well and good, but it is not the only good. Adequacy is a prior desideratum.
- The Eleatics – Parmenides and Zeno – ask us to believe that change is impossible.
- Spinoza says that what seem to be lots of things are really only one thing.
- Buddhism says that nothing exists.
- Scientism says that consciousness, free will, meaning, intention, purpose, etc., do not actually exist. Also brown, the feeling of arrival at musical resolution, and the taste of nutmeg; those don’t exist, either.
- Behaviorism says that what we experience as conscious agency is not agency at all.
- Physicalism says that we don’t actually exist.
- Determinism says that there is no such thing as agency.
- Bishop Berkeley says that there is no such thing as stuff, only ideas.
- Materialism says that there is no such thing as ideas, only stuff.
- Existentialism says that nothing is given, so that everything whatsoever is whatever you make of it.
- Moral relativism says that there is no such thing as right and wrong, just different self-interested perspectives.
- Atheism says existence is ultimately devoid of meaning or significance; and, therefore, in the final analysis, of intelligibility.
- Nihilism says nothing matters.
- Post-modernism says that you can’t speak the simple truth.
- Kant says that you can’t know anything about the world as it is; that all your experience is inherently whacked.
- Liberalism says nobody is any better than anyone else in any way that matters.
- Leibniz asks us to believe that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that we don’t really experience other entities at all, but only God.
- Hume asks us to believe that there is no way to make sense of the world, even though we have no alternative but to pretend that we can.
- Liberal Christianity asks us to believe that nothing is essentially sinful, apart from the judgement that some things are sinful.
- Machiavellian Realpolitik asks us to believe that the pursuit of the Good has no place in politics.
- Feminism asks us to believe that sex doesn’t matter, but gender does. It asks us to believe that it is perfectly OK for the species to stop reproducing.
- Communism asks us to believe that familiar loyalties are wrong.
- Darwinism asks us to believe that nature never seeks goals, and doesn’t value anything.
- Manichaeism insists that good and evil are equally powerful, and therefore equally good.
- Zoroastrianism asserts that good and evil are coeval, and thus that neither can ever triumph – or, therefore, ought to.
- Gnosticism argues that life on Earth is perverted and wicked ab initio.
- Nominalism says that our terms and categories – and, thus all the notions they express – are all merely conventional, and have nothing to do with reality.
- Hinduism says that life is basically suffering.
- Paganism says that, however beautiful it is, life is basically hopeless.
- Process theology says there is nothing reliable at the root of reality.
- Islam says that God transcends logic, so that the ultimate reality is fundamentally irrational.
I’m over-simplifying, but you get the point: one shouldn’t over-simplify! All these theories get at a piece of the truth and then apply it indiscriminately, with the result that they almost always end by insisting that some important aspect of the way ordinary folks live, and want to live, and understand their lives, and thus order their decisions about how to live, is wicked, illusory, or just non-existent.
Why does this so often happen? The twin dangers of over-simplification and over-generalization – which are really just two sides of the same Babelonian error – inherently beset any attempt to comprehend reality. Of any real, there are infinitely many true statements. Any finite set of statements about a common subject, then, necessarily fails to account for all the factors of that subject. Thus any attempt at philosophical system must sooner or later arrive at some aspect of experience that it cannot comprehend. And because any system that is good enough to have got started in the mind of the brilliant sort of men who devise philosophical systems must be good enough to work almost all the time, men end up cherishing their systems as they do any favored, effective tool. They want their tool to keep working. So they insist that nothing exists except such things as are amenable to treatment with their tool.
Does your philosophy rule out some basic aspect of your own experience of life, and of what is important? It is almost certainly wrong, as incomplete; and you should drop it. Such theories cannot long endure, because they contravene reality, and promote lethal decisions. They lead to disaster.
Even if you manage to avoid such errors, it is not as though you can ever hope to complete your understanding. That’s the fascination of the quest, no? And the joy of it?
So you want to stay on the high road, the road that leads on to adventure. You don’t want to fall off into the abyssal depths that loom on either side of it.
How then can you tell if you are on the right theoretical track? If a bad theory tells you that there is less to life than you had gathered, a good one will show you how there is far more to it than you had ever imagined. A good theory tells you that the world is even more like you thought it was than you had originally suspected. It has lots of room, not just for every aspect of life as we actually encounter it, but for more than we had ever hoped. A bad theory will argue that some part of you does not exist; a good one will show you how it does – and, indeed, will show you how angels might exist, too. Bad theories empty the world of reality; good theories fill it with enchantment.