Epistemic Interlude

For months now, I’ve been silent.  I am sorry that I couldn’t find the words to share how I felt.  Because to be frank, I’ve been wondering: what ‘right’ do I possess to voice my perspective?  What makes my view on life, on social affairs, on ethics something ‘worthy’ of being shared?  How can I know that my ideas are ‘good’ and ‘important’, at least enough to deserve the energy and discipline it takes to come to the screen and write my innermost thoughts?  More importantly, how can I justify asking you to focus your attention on my words instead of on all of life’s other pressures and pleasures available to you?  How can I justify asking that of you? 

As you might imagine, such deep doubts shook me to my core and ultimately resulted in a severe writer’s block.  For someone like me —  a lover of wisdom and a valiant upholder of the life of the mind — these questions threatened my most firmly held beliefs.  A writer who questions the legitimacy of their public expression might not be much of a writer after all.  While not writing, what was I?  Still a thinker, albeit one caught in doubting the validity of their thoughts.  Yet, I never doubted that my thoughts are ‘good’ in some sense.  That being said, my intellectual pursuit toward greater understanding is also the reason why I face so much complexity.  I have refused to think in reductive terms such that now, my thinking sometimes weights me down.  How can I, ethically, wish for you?  In sharing my thoughts, am I unloading a burden onto your shoulders?  

For a sensitive soul like me, these questions ushered an existential crisis.  Totally self-inflicted — I’ll give you that!  Indeed, I am honest enough to realize that ‘I’ am both harming my fledging ‘authorial voice’ and in deep distress from its disappearance.  Still, this realization alone did not heal me.  I needed to find some ground underneath my feet; some argument as to why I not only can but should share with you my inner thoughts.

After all, I am a particular type of writer: a philosopher.  This means that I deal with assumptions, claims, deductions and conclusions.  With words, I build arguments.  I start at the beginning, often by describing a given state-of-affairs which is somehow puzzling.  Then, I find the ‘logical thread’ that will get me to a conclusion, to an answer that is likely already implied within the question.  The raison d’etre of my musings is always the ‘movement of thought’ from point A to point B.  Sometimes, my mental strolls are about concepts that don’t quite fit together.  At other times, I write to uncover the arguments deeply hidden behind feelings and stories.  For arguments are not only words on screens; they live deep within our minds.  They affect who we are, even if — maybe especially when — one is unaware of their shape and power.  

If I were an ‘academic philosopher’, one more at ease with the current professional style, I’d make a career researching the multiples angles of these questions.  I’d ask: ‘What is a right?’ and ‘What makes an action legitimate?’  I’d ask: ‘What can be known?’ and ‘How does one even know that they know?’  I’d use these perennial questions as interesting mental exercises against which to sharpen my argumentative skills.  I’d propose answers which present themselves as universally valid, only to expect to be debunked by my colleagues.  Yet, if I am an honest philosopher, I’d know that there is simply no ‘single privileged perspective’ on these questions: only conversations.  In my own philosopher’s heart, I know that affirmations are always fraught with uncertainties.  Given how I’ve felt during these last few months, I doubt that I could ever be a professional academic (in philosophy, no less).  I would feel a fraud to present myself as an expert for whom making truth-claims is ‘part of the game’.  

That being said: truth-claims are being made everyday.  It’s no big deal!  Yet, even such a simple statement hides a truth: that ‘to affirm’ is to give a particular shape or form to an object.  Statements ‘box in’ the world and its ‘things’ in a cloak of interpretations: it cannot be otherwise.  It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not unproblematic either.  Moreover, pragmatically, statements which claim to be knowledge are used to guide, motivate and justify actions.  They affect reality.  So, by their effects, any claim can ripple through the fabric-of-existence with unfathomable consequences.  

However, my existential doubts were not about the nature of knowledge per se.  Instead, I was puzzling my own responsibility in making and publishing claims.  For, every time I write, I make statements which I believe to be ‘true’ — at least in some sense.  Dah! You might say: so obvious as to be ‘taken-for-granted’.  Yet, for a philosopher, writing and speaking necessarily entails an engagement with an episteme: which is defined as a particular view of knowledge or a particular system of thought.  This means that, for me (and possibly for everyone else, but at least for V. as my philosophical avatar), to make a claim is to enter in a relationship with the truth.

When I realized that, I froze.  I do not engage in relationships nor take on responsibilities lightly.  I need to profoundly believe in my words if I am to give them the power to influence reality.  So before I could write again, I needed to find out why my thoughts, my voice and my perspective deserved to be articulated.  

Writing these words anywhere else, I’d risk a riposte like: “Chill Maan, you’re thinking too hard!”  As if there is a degree of intellectual activity beyond which the brain boils and self-destructs.  I can attest that there is no such thing!  The risk of atrophy through underuse is a much greater risk, documented in the scientific literature as ‘neuronal pruning’.  

For a philosopher, the risk is not to be thinking too hard: for thinking is our nature.  It is what we do and the reason why I identify as a ‘philosopher’ in the first place.  Indeed, I use thinking (ie. rationality) to come up with a ‘way-to-see’ the world, the self, everything that matters.  Philosophers build arguments that hopefully, represent the realities to which they refer.  Thoughts are my tools to create with words.  What am I creating?  Meaning and ‘sense’ — I’d argue, the most precious of artifacts.  Like Deleuze and Guattari argue in the late work What is Philosophy?: “Philosophy is the art of forming, inventing and fabricating concepts”.  Such that, the main risk in my line of work is that one can be so smitten, or paralyzed, or involved with the questions that we forget, neglect, even reject the act of creation.  

I confess: I momentarily forgot to show up at my keyboard to create.  I was scared of the ethical responsibility that writing entails.  I knew that my words matter; maybe to a few, maybe to many, at least to me.  They change me.  They expose me.  I do not use words lightly — quite the contrary.  The silence protected me for a while: until it choke me.  Apparently, I am not meant to be voiceless.  

I also forgot that, while I am engaging in a relationship with the concept of ‘truth’, the claims I am making are actually quite limited.  All I am saying, writing, claiming is my perspective on ‘things’.  I am not claiming that my thoughts are ‘better’ in any way; I am simply affirming what they are.  And my perspective deserves to be expressed simply because it cannot exist for you otherwise.  I am required to express my thoughts for them to exist as ‘objects of inquiry’ available to you.  My thoughts are merely my contribution to the multitude, my contribution to human diversity.  

So, what ‘right’ do I possess to voice my perspective?  None.  But if I want to offer my thoughts to your consideration, then it is my responsibility to give voice to the concepts and arguments that I create.  I cannot promise you the truth; and if I were you, I’d be wary of those who do.  For my part, I can only assure you that I care deeply about ideas which are ‘right’, ‘worthy’, ‘good’ and ‘important’ enough to deserve to be articulated and defended.  And in all humility, I sincerely hope to be worthy of a slice of your attention.  

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