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2009-10-21
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Thrillseeking is putting oneself in a position which one knows will trigger all sorts of "danger" reactions in oneself--for fun (though not necessarily only for fun).

Philosophers throughout history have consistently worked to bring their minds to a state in which the conceptual order they belonged to came to appear more and more unstable and in need of serious repair or revision.

It's plausible to think that when one percieves the conceptual order one belongs to as "unstable," one feels as though one is in a sort of danger. Having to forge a new way to make or find meaning in the world is a scary prospect.

But philosophers throughout history have seemed pretty clearly to enjoy this. They did it not only for fun, but at least for fun.

So I suggest that Philosophy can be understood as conceptual thrillseeking. It is bringing oneself to the brink of complete instability in one's conceptual order--and enjoying it.

(Does this allow for system building to be part of philosophy? At times I suspect system building is just an excuse for doing philosophy. You build the system in order to ponder the unstable pre-systematization conceptual order. But when I'm not  being this cynical, I weaken my claim to "Philosophy is typically motivated by a drive toward conceptual thrillseeking.")

I think this identification of Philosophy with thrillseeking can be part of a justification for the practice of Philosophy. Because thrillseeking is a good thing, or at least, can be. By thrillseeking, you find out what you're made of, and discover possibilities about yourself you may never have pondered otherwise. The practice of conceptual thrillseeking, also, allows you to find out what the conceptual order you live in is made of, and discover possibilities about it you may never have pondered otherwise. It allows for a creative engagement with that order, even as it involves a pondering of the destruction of that order.

Also, I think there's something to be said here about Philosophy as a way of encountering the Kantian Sublime as well, but I'm not too well informed about that subject so I'll just leave it at that. I'll just note that personally, when I ponder philosophical problems and puzzles, I get this sense of vertigo (cf Wittgenstein) that seems a lot like the sense of vertigo I get when confronted with huge impassible and dangerous things like mountain faces and giant ocean waves and so on. Very similar feeling.

Well, anyway, what do you guys think? I know I'm being a little froofy here but I suspect something interesting could be done with these ideas.

I wonder what the heck I mean exactly by "conceptual order".

2009-10-30
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Reply to Kris Rhodes
I think it's a nifty metaphor.
I wonder though, where does the American analytic philosopher fit into this picture?

Are they the mountaineer overburdened with gear and guidebooks, perhaps too concerned with not falling off the cliff that they never take the opportunity to suspend themselves in that state of vertigo and gaze into the chasm below?

Or are they the experienced climber who comes from a long line of climbers before them, finding the "thrill" you describe in other subtler but nonetheless satisfying ways?

I think that it can be a bit of both depending on the subject matter and depending on the philosopher.  The current industry seems to look down upon taking any hasty risks, much in the same way the sciences scoff at unconventional or fringe thinking that troubles the status quo.  I suppose that is the pragmatic spirit; modest, incremental, but exacting in its rigor.   

2009-10-30
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Reply to Kris Rhodes
How would one test whether philosophers are conceptual thrillseekers? Does it relate to thrillseeking in other areas of life as well?

I think a similar point which, however, does not rely on a psychological but rather historical claim is that philosophers have often looked for situations in which familiar conceptualizations break down or come into conflict. A justification for this is given by Maxwell and Feigl in their defense of ideal language philosophy " Why ordinary language needs reforming" (The Journal of Philosophy, 58(18), 490f):
A large proportion of philosophical problems arise from consideration of unusual cases. Many of the problems concerning perception, the reality of the external world, etc., arise quite naturally from consideration of abnormal cases such as illusions, hallucinations, and so on. We do not condone all of the nonsense these problems have elicited (nor do we condemn it wholesale, either; any difficult and fascinating problem will produce some nonsense). [...]
   Furthermore-and this is of crucial importance-consideration of atypical cases often points up possible inadequacies and may suggest improvements in our conceptualization of the "normal" cases.
In ideal language philosophy, "conceptual order" could then mean that the concepts are clear and fruitful (i.e. occur in many interesting generalizations), two of the criteria that Carnap places on explicanda.



2009-10-30
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Reply to Kris Rhodes
Even supposing that this is, psychologically, what we do or what motivates us to do it, is it only we philosophers who engage in 'conceptual thrillseeking'? Think of a mathematician exploring the conceptual space of the infinite, or a fantasy novelist toying with sheer imagination, or even an engineer designing a 'concept' car. All of these are in some sense conceptual activities (applied moral philosophy is typically less removed from concrete application than some areas of pure mathematics), and all of them probably provide some kind of thrill for the people involved as they forge onward into new territory. Do they lack the dangers of a fragile 'conceptual order'? It's not clear to me that they do; a person in any one of those occupations could challenge what had been accepted as the lynchpin assumptions of the activity in question.

2009-11-16
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Reply to Kris Rhodes

What a great metaphor! I feel that philosophy is unique among the disciplines in that it is the hardest to contain. Every time an attempt has been made to set formal rules about what is permissible in philosophy, these rules seem to always eventually lead to a paradox. It is my feeling that philosophy is always on the extreme boundaries of the whole of human understanding. I cannot think of any discipline that did not begin as a branch of philosophy before breaking off. I would go even further and say that these disciplines never completely severed the umbilical cord. Philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, medical ethics, etc. are all proof of this.


I’m arguing that philosophy is the most "dangerous" of all disciplines because it deals most directly with the unknown. All disciplines encounter the unknown, but when they do so, the process of encountering these new regions is occurring in the domain of "philosophy". This is my view.


As Jah Bil pointed out, it's not about thrillseeking for everyone. The Anglophone analytical tradition takes baby steps into the unknown, not leaps. Thrillseeking is not about taking baby steps, it’s about bungie jumping off mile-high cliffs. Jah Bil, I would argue that the analytical tradition is more concerned about putting up the guardrails, paranoid that someone might get hurt. From one point of view thrillseeking has little gain and much to risk. But when a new analytical structure is securely designed, a wider audience can safely venture into these thrilling regions. Sort of like the new observatory built at the grand canyon, that is safe but still very exciting, but it’s familiar. So I am not saying the analytical tradition does not serve a vital role in curbing excess "dangers".


When Quine put a "No trespassing" sign on the higher reaches of Set Theory, he was acting with your safety in mind. But I applaud those thrillseekers who defy this. In "Philosophy as a Rigorous Science"1, Husserl seems to have struck the perfect balance, but he concludes that philosophy, unlike natural science, always has been (and always will be) about the profound.


References:
1. "Philosophy as Rigorous Science", translated in Lauer, Q., ed., 1965 [1910] Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy. New York: Harper.

2009-11-24
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Reply to Kris Rhodes
I very much like the idea of philosophy as an example of conceptual thrillseeking - this captures the wonder of philosophy well. However, I'd also like to disagree; and maybe refocus. I think I like conceptual thrillseeking because it summarises concepts as capable of being thrill-sought. I have a very different experience of concepts however. I find that concepts are fairly loosely defined and extremely mutable. I would be very interested to begin to unpick 'concepts' as a concept, but avoiding that I might argue that concepts are suprising new connections between things you already knew, suppositions about unknown things based on a hypothetical relationship and re-definitions of current information. Further, I might say that these three facets of 'concept' are all linkage-based. That is, a concept is a new configuration, or association between, other pieces of information or beliefs. I think these reconfigurations&re-assessments come when two entities analogous in one's assessment to beliefs or key aspects of a particular concepts, are linked together in a certain way through a new experience (such as a film, an afternoon, a new book). The new items one is 'reminded of' by analogues in their new experience are then considered under the influence of the relationship their analogues are observed in - and as such, concepts change shape and test new associations in unexpected quarters. 

Maybe this is part of a different approach - maybe thrill-seeking could be contrasted with my experience of philosophy, which is one of quiet observation, conjecturing, letting one's mind wander and jumping in that direction. This seems to be a more absorptive approach, rather than the sense of urgency thrill-seeking might suggest. I think thrill-seeking is an amazing approach, and it seems to radiate a feeling of excitement. I wonder though, does anyone else have what seems to be my reflective approach to philosophy? 


2009-12-04
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Reply to Kris Rhodes
I, too, like the metaphor! I think a lot of interesting components to the primary metaphor could be explored (e.g., the role analytic philosophy in philosophy-as-thrill-seeking, as mentioned before). Like the last poster, however, I too find the "thrill" of concepts to be of a different kind than the kind the OP mentioned. I suspect there are as many different ways of experiencing philosophy as "fun" as there are philosophers who are willing to admit that "fun" and "thrills" really are part of why they began philosophizing to begin with.

For me, philosophy is enjoyable in and of itself because I derive real, tangible pleasure from manipulating concepts; particularly system-building. I wouldn't push a given conceptual framework to the breaking point for the thrill of danger that might result, but I would thoroughly enjoy rebuilding a new conceptual framework from the debris of the old. Someone mentioned fantasy authors and I find that is an excellent comparison. The "world-building" that Tolkein pioneered and is now such a big part of the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres is immensely enjoyable to me, and I find it *very* similar to the construction of a good philosophical theory. And in both, you do indeed take each iteration of your "system/world" and test it against the "boundary cases" that apply at that time. The better/more comprehensive/robust your theory, the longer that process can go on; i.e., the more boundary cases it can absorb and make part of it's own world.

So for me, I think, the thrill is in the unique combination of creativity, problem-solving, and analytical rigor that is found in certain disciplines, philosophy being one of the big ones. Further, I think one can find this combination of things, and the posited thrill in many disparate disciplines:  architecture, perhaps, is a good example of a different sort of discipline requiring a balance (or fusion, if you will) of creativity, problem-solving, AND intellectual/logical rigor. But for me, there is simply no "medium" that I enjoy manipulating more than the conceptual - the _abstract_. I couldn't save my own life if it depended on the successful manipulation of physical, three-dimensional objects (such as car repair), but I am good at, and viscerally enjoy the manipulation, construction, deconstruction, and play with concepts. That ethereal "place" where abstract objects are created, examined, and put together is *MY* canvas; concepts my paints; philosophical problems my subjects.

Though my particular thrill from philosophy is not the same as the one proposed initially, I *do* think the original poster is correct in the supposition posed - there are philosophers who thrill-seek in the manner described. But the metaphor is successful and deserving of further examination because it is also more broadly applicable; it also encourages philosophers to "loosen up" a bit, and remember that for most of us, we started "doing" philosophy because we couldn't help it - we *had* to ask the questions we asked and had to ponder and reflect on the things we did. Let us admit that for most of us - it's just FUN.

OTOH, let us not tell anyone that funds Philosophy Departments or special projects because of its long-standing reputation for seriousness and importance - we don't want them getting suspicious....

2009-12-11
Philosophy as Conceptual Thrillseeking
Reply to Kris Rhodes
Yes, philosophy is thrilling. Recall the famous story of Sartre encountering Husserl for the first time. We must all know that feeling of being red in the cheeks, the heart beating a little faster when we stumble upon some new idea or interpretation. This image is similar to the way Graham Priest characterised philosophers as idea-junkies. We are ravenous for a good concept.
I disagree that there is something less than thrilling about the analytic project. One philosopher (sorry I can't remember who) recently characterised the difference between an analytic and a phenomenological philosopher as the difference between someone who is unwilling to take risks and someone who is more than willing to take risks. Perhaps within the philosophical community there is something to this, and yet, there is still something dangerous about all philosophical activity. Even a hard-as-nails analytic philosopher can ask how meaning is possible, if we really can rely on scientific theories, or whether it makes sense to say that I am a person. A motorcycle racer might wear a helmet but they are still pushing 300mph or a fire-fighter might take every precaution possible to ensure their safety, but fire-resistant jackets doesn't make the job any less thrilling. Although their approach may seem cautious, analytic answers to these questions still have the potential to turn the world on its head. That is thrilling.