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.


Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff,

Have you considered the possibility that, behind epistemological skepticism, is a psychological motivation to feel intellectually superior to intellectuals who believe in certainties and objective truth?

The skeptic would be in a sort of "superior" position that enable him to say "these guys are assuming all kind of ideas, ignoring that there is not a real or true epistemological framework or theory. I can show fallacies, inconsistencies and unproven assumptions in whatever arguments and ideas they can give to me"

In a sense, the skeptic "knows" something that is missed by the non-skeptics.This superior knowledge put him in a better position regarding other people. (The skeptic could deny this; but I'm only speculating about a possible underlying psychological motivation)

If I want to feel intellectually important, but I can't compete with some of the champions of intellect and objectivity, then a good alternative is to debunk the entire project of intellectual success, questioning the foundations of any intellectual efforts to discovery the truth. After all, for the skeptic, there is not truth at all; making the efforts to reach it misleading, sterile and illusory.

Some postmodernists, literary critics and others have fame of being very "arrogant", what supports my above hypothesis. Of course, I've seen more arrogance and dogmatism in some so-called "rationalists".

This mean that arrogance compels us to search for ideas that makes us feel superior and more important than others; regardless of if such ideas are about science; or about the impossiblity of objective knowledge. In both cases, the person is in a privilegied (intellectual) position that makes him feel very special or important.

He knows something that other people ignore.

You wrote: "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"

Does that emotional charge is related with a certain underlaying feeling (maybe unconscious) of superiority regarding other intellectuals?

If the underminers actually refute and rebut the certainties of intellectuals, then the underminers are somehow in a superior, senior, special position regarding them.

And if I want to see such intellectuals being debunked, then I will feel happy, glad and satisfied when I see such debunking exercise. And probably I will feel emotional charge and payoff when I read it.

Do you think there is some "truth" in my idea?

Zetetic_chick said...


When you get some time, take a look in philosopher Michael Devitt's forthcoming paper entitled "No place for the a priori", arguing that a priori knowledge doesn't exist:

For him, even logic, mathematics and philosophical knowledge is based on empiricism, not in a priori truths, since that so-called "self-evident" truths could be empirical too.

Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Jeff it's off-topic.

Do you like action movies? Have you watched the movie "Taken" with Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen? See the trailer here:

If you like action movies, you'll enjoy that one.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

My wife and I don't usually watch pure action films, but will watch suspense or mystery films, especially if there's a legal angle. The reviews for Taken were mixed, but my wife might be disturbed by the story line with a girl being kidnapped by bad guys.