Friday, May 15, 2009

The Interplay of Personal Psychology and Philosophy

Sublimation is when the energy from our desires, needs and emotions is repressed and finds an indirect outlet in intellectual or artistic productions. Here’s an example of how my personal psychology is connected to my philosophical interests. The particular philosophic investigations serve, in part, as a compensation for and alternative solution to unwanted psychological behaviors.

My main philosophical interest is knowledge and I’m drawn to seeing how well a contextualizing or relativizing of knowledge can be defended. So Richard Rorty’s critique of philosophy’s attempt to ground or find foundations for knowledge attracts me. I like reading those who undermine philosophical attempts at certainty, absolutes, foundations, essences, finding the Truth, etc. There is a desire and an emotional charge and payoff when reading the underminers.

Psychologically, in my everyday thinking and behavior, the opposite is the case. I want to create something permanent, be a somebody so I’m not forgotten, find what I really want to do (as if there is the one thing that’s right for me), make sure I’m doing the right thing at any given moment through various ways such as knowing what I’m feeling and wanting, and acting accordingly. All of these behaviors have the quality or the assumption of one right way, establishing something permanently, finally getting it right, getting the right answer, doing what I (objectively) should do.

I also think that this drive for establishing the right way is problematic because I don’t think there is a right way and the underlying belief that I should find the right way is done unthinkingly and not working.

Richard Rorty once said late in his career that he’s really just tweaking the main points he’s laid out years ago. I noticed that my desire to reread Rorty’s work (keep reading the tweaks) – a desire I don’t have with any other thinker – had the quality of me wanting to be convinced of something I believe intellectually but don’t live practically. I want to absorb a relativistic perspective in order to compensate for and remedy the surety-seeking in my everyday life. The philosophic reading and writing would succeed where the personal psychological work of weakening the need to find the objectively right path had failed.

Conversely, it might be the case that if, through some kind of psychological development, I let go of the need to create permanence in daily life, my desire for relativistic philosophizing and the content of my beliefs about knowledge would change.