Inspecting Our Thought Factory

Erasmo Calzadilla

Unless we master the techniques of thinking, we will not have learned how to think for ourselves. Photo: Caridad

One of the most important services that philosophy can offer us is teaching us how to think. However, to me it seems that the traditional way (from what I’ve seen) of approaching the teaching of philosophy and its history is not even conceived to achieve this aim.

In books and philosophy courses, the fundamental ideas of each epoch are generally studied and critiqued, with alternatives then offered.  They are put together with other contemporary ideas or with those of the past and future.  Yet in this, hardly ever do they go deeper into how ideas were engendered in the process itself.

The analysis of such a process is often hidden, and little is done to unravel it.  However, great philosophers such as Aristotle, Hegel and Mach devoted much energy to discovering the “ideo-genetic mechanism.”

I will demonstrate what I’m referring to with some examples.  When philosophy deals with Thales of Miletus, one of the first Greek sages, they speak about his search for a principle behind everything that existed, and of his distancing himself from myths.  However, I have never run into an analysis concerning the path followed by this philosopher in considering that there must be a principle for all things, and that this must be only one and not multiple ones.

Unless we know the techniques of thinking, we will not have learned how to fend for ourselves, and we won’t be able to teach anybody else to do the same.  For that, I believe that the focus with which one studies and teaches philosophy and its history must radically change.

We should not only teach how to developmentally and cohesively tact together ideas already conceived, but to teach the methods for engendering them, methods that can be as formal, exercisable and perfectible as in mathematics.

Let’s look at the example of Leibniz.  This sage of the 17th century was at the same time a philosopher and a mathematician.  Within the framework of this latter science, he discovered differential calculus, a method used profusely since then to solve the most varied problems. Now, what does philosophy study concerning Leibniz?  Does anyone know what the method was with which Leibniz constructed/discovered monads?  Has anyone consciously applied this method to solve other problems?

The philosophical results of Leibniz are known better, as is the principle of sufficient reason, but otherwise little is known about his thinking technique.

My invitation is this: let’s not waste so much time with the products of thought: ideas, values, feelings, etc.  It would be preferable if we were to steer ourselves better, and as much as possible toward the same factory where these are gestated and where we actively participate in their creation.

3 thoughts on “Inspecting Our Thought Factory

  • The eleventh century poet Omar Khayyam said (if I can remember it accurately):

    When I was young I did frequent
    Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
    About it, and about, but everymore
    Came out the same door as in I went.

    We can never find the answer to certain universal questions. But let us be glad that we cannot. Philosophical questions are like the game of chess. It’s not the winning of this game or that, but the enhancement it gives to our lives in playing the game.

    If someone for example found out the so-called meaning of life, and imparted this knowledge to the rest of us, it would spoil our fun. Life would become a bore. Some things are eternally mysterious, and let’s be glad that they are. Without mystery we would become machines.

    It’s a good thing Omar didn’t figure it all out. If he had we would never forgive him.

  • “Unless we master the techniques of thinking, we will not have learned how to value ourselves for ourselves…” Erasmo, do you really think we ever will?! (Not that we should give up trying, but like Socrates’s trick of forcing folks to define their terms, seems like we shall be forever finding exceptions and contradictions!) At best, the teacher can communicate his or her own enthusiasms for these paradoxes, but as for learning first principles of philosophy, each must find them in his or her own way. To use a Socratic metaphor, the teacher acts as midwife in bringing to birth this love of wisdom.
    Speaking of this love for the search, when will the UofH reinstate you?! I know…don’t hold your breath; still, if this were “the best of all possible worlds” they would. Alas! It isn’t. Far from it. OTOH, where else can they find a teacher who would inspire his students?

  • Erasmo you are not alone. There is very little we know about Thales of Miletus much of what we know about him was written by someone else. We know so little that we hardly know anything about what he thought. Is a pity we have lost so much information about the past. When we look at the things Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Archimedes and others did we can be awed by the brilliance of their minds. Considering the period they were living. Read Plato and Aristotle there is so much they question themselves. It is intriguing that even so they are very far apart from us with regards to time. They are timeless because some of the questions they try to answer are so universal.

Comments are closed.