As part of my research, I've been working my way through an old anthology of essays under the title Deep Ecology. I'm discovering the name is something of a vague term, which I enjoy philosophically, but will make some of my philosophical writing more difficult. I had originally conceived of two projects in environmental philosophy: the extension of political/judicial rights to non-humans, which I think is a philosophical misstep; and re-systematizing our metaphysical and ethical understanding to understand the integration of all auto-assembling patterns with each other.
I thought of this more radical philosophical work as deep ecology, and the more conservative rights extension as deep ecology. Reading through the history of the field, I've discovered that all 'deeper' thinking about the environment has been referred to as 'deep ecology,' and there's no solid definition for the term. This is the kind of grey area of philosophy I enjoy working in, and think is the most fruitful. Unfortunately, it means any reviewers will likely say my account doesn't treat the concepts simply. It wouldn't matter that the concepts are nowhere near simple anyway. Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic.
Today, I found an essay in that anthology call "Discriminating Altruism" by Garrett Hardin. Hardin, an American, is a fascinating figure, one whose ideas for shaping a sustainable contemporary society through population control alienated both rightists and leftists. His endorsement of abortion as a suitable means for population control took care of conservatives, while his critiques of immigration as being a detrimental public policy and altruism as a laughably silly morality took care of liberals.
While I'm intrigued by the unsuitability of universal altruism (the "brotherhood of man," as John Lennon and a ton of others have said) as an attribute that would be naturally selected, the way he writes about it irks me. It's no more than an irk, a formal issue of philosophy. But the way one writes philosophy is at the centre of what precisely you think philosophy is. And the first important question you can ask anyone is what exactly it is they do.
Strict philosophical argument is a technique of writing suitable to start debates over increasingly small issues, but is unsuitable for a genuinely radical philosophical engagement. Hardin's argument in that paper begins from a series of premises setting up a network of definitions. The definitions are then analyzed so that you're led to infer step by step to his conclusions. The conclusions are elaborations on the definitions. This is very good for working out the results of a set of definitions, but I don't think it works so well for approaching what is normally called the Truth™, or for creating radical or transformative new ways of thinking.
An argument is always an argument for something, something that you believe in and want to convince other people. Your targeted belief can be a premise in your argument, and you would convince readers by showing how your premise leads to a widely accepted idea as a conclusion. Or your targeted belief can be a conclusion, and your argument would be structured on showing how widely accepted ideas are premises that support your conclusion. A reader's expectations about what is possible in thought are restricted, so any opposition or doubt of that which is argued for becomes silly, rejected, wrong. Relations between ideas may be worked out by examining arguments, and this is very valuable, because we can see how ideas can be made to fit together, or how they are incompatible. But truth is discovered by investigating the world, not by demonstrating compatibilities among ideas.
The most difficult task of philosophy is to create a new way of thinking, a new way of life. This has been done very rarely. Plato, Confucius, Friedrich Nietzsche are some names that come to mind. Perhaps the revolutionaries in logic at the start of the twentieth century as well. Gilles Deleuze made a living writing books that examined other philosophers to work out new ways of life that they inadvertently created within their investigations and arguments. This is creative philosophy, radical philosophy. This is done by an opening of thinking.
As yet, I'm not sure how to explain this beyond my vague gestures and invocations to read Deleuze and Ludwig Wittgenstein. But creative philosophy is the generation of a worldview, a break with traditions in understanding. This kind of philosophy requires an opening of thought, even embracing systems of thinking that contradict each other blatantly, if the mashing together of paradox is to create a new logic where such inferences are perfectly normal. The rhetorical arguments of philosophy – and to argue is rhetorical – narrows the possibilities of thought. Creative philosophy throws those possibilities wider than previously imaginable.
It is far more difficult to orient oneself in a groundless process of thinking, and the vast majority of people are scared shitless by this prospect. I've met philosophers who dismiss this way of thinking about philosophy as the techniques of a charlatan, creating excuses to get away with bullshit. But a creative philosopher only makes bullshit when he fails. When she crafts a worldview that intrigues, that offers useful re-creations of old premises, new approaches for the challenges of new times, then brilliant work has been done. And if the successful creative philosopher is lucky, that work will last longer than even the tightest, most comforting argument.
Is this a well-written defense of philosophical egomania? If you think so, I can't convince you otherwise. After all, an argument is only persuasive if some premise, or some conclusion, was acceptable beforehand. If you approach an argument and think it's all wrong, that it contains nothing of value, then you will pass it by, because it doesn't matter to you.