The philosophy of Roger Bishop Jones.
first words

This site, which should perhaps be described as philosophical gropings, is continually under transformation in search of an identity. This is a persistent pattern, I am now adopting a new strategy to cope with it.

Typically what has been happening is that I have some ideas about what structure will best present my current thinking, I put up a home page which reflects that structure with lots of gaps for the details, and then as I think about how to fill in the gaps my ideas "progress" until it becomes clear that this structure will not do.

So I have a site which perpetually looks like I just had some ideas for a new philosophical site but haven't made much progress in implementing them.

Perhaps one day this will change and I will find an architecture which seems appropriate in a more enduring way. But I'm no longer going to write as if I expect that to happen. I'm going to embrace the dynamic and try to make a site which exploits rather than suffers from it.

So this is how it goes:

Stable Elements
First I say a few words about the more stable aspects of my philosophical thinking and this site, so that the dynamics appear in context.
Long Term Dynamics
Then I talk about the long term dynamics, the main trends which span the history of the site.
Local Dynamics
Finally we deal with the local dynamics. I show that last architecture, talk about what it was supposed to be doing and what changed to make it seem unworkable, and begin the sketch of something which now seems more likely to do the trick.

In truth, the gap between aspiration and reality is widening, despite systematic culling of ambition.

Stable Elements
1. What is Philosophy?

Philosophy consists for me primarily in thinking about what I consider important, difficult and interesting problems. My philosophy is not a scholarly activity, the writings of other philosophers are of relevance only to the extent that they cast light upon the problems, and my own character and capabilities make me a poor scholar.

I would like my philosophy to be effectively expressed through writings on this web site, the expression being as important to good philosophy as a smile is to good temper. However, both languish.

Philosophy is for me a solitary activity, I have no communion of any significance with other philosophers, who congregate on a different page in or near the book of wisdom (perhaps an adjacent volume). One factor contributing to this isolation is my lack of sympathy with any philosophy written since I first came to the subject. in my acquaintance recent philosophy seems almost all tainted by uninspired or self-serving purpose or unsound method. These are among the stable elements of my philosophy.

3. Beyond Analytic Philosophy

Hume's scepticism, whether or not it be correct in its delineation of the limited scope in which knowledge may be possible, does provide a good account of the limits of demonstrative knowledge. We can never hope to have demonstrative knowledge in very many domains of the greatest importance, among which we may instance ethics, and politics even at their most philosophical. This does not necessarily mean that deductive methods are irrelevant in these domains.

2. Strictly Analytic Philosophy

I have an enduring interest in what philosophy can be done by methods similar to those of mathematics, and indeed in the scope of such methods as they may be applied beyond mathematics and philosophy, in science and engineering and elsewhere. This may be described in the scope and application of rigorously established analytic truth.

A part of the establishment of analytic truths is the formulation of problems and solutions in unambiguous language. This might involve strictly formal languages, or precise but not formal mathematical language, or even ordinary language made more precise by fiat. Language can rarely be made adequately precise by excavation of usage, which is diverse, inconsistent and sometimes incoherent. Natural languages make a poor subject for philosophical investigation, and a worse vehicle, unless carefully tuned for the task (again by fiat).

The analytic philosophy of the second half of the twentieth century, even once it had shed the overt preoccupation with language most elegantly exemplified by Austin, (or most influentially by Wittgenstein) remains vitiated by its attitude toward language, which infects its problem space and corrupts its methods.

My interest in strictly analytic philosophy and my contempt for any philosophy which pretends to rigour without approaching the substance, and for philosophers who do not know how to formulate a problem without effectively making language a part of it, are enduring features of my philosophical outlook.

Long Term Dynamics
The long term dynamic arising from two main sources. The first is my ongoing difficulty in finding a kind of philosophy which is for me worthwhile and achievable. The second is a couple of gradual shifts in my own self. Of these, the first is to a more purely philosophical, contemplative gentler life-style. The second related trend is in search of the things which really matter, at the expense of interesting but marginal more technical investigations. Insofar as I have any special competence relevant to philosophy it is I imagine in logic, possibly in some aspects of computing, and so I am at present drifting deeper into difficulty.
Local Dynamics
Why Positive Philosophy?

Roughly it goes like this. I am attempting to shift the balance of my philosophy away from what might be considered technical matters which belong to analytic philosophy, to considerations which bear more upon the important aspects of our existential predicament. This attempt is represented by my seeking to reconcile the rational and the romantic, or by the supplementation of what I have called metaphysical positivism with some other thing which I decided to call existential positivism, the two being combined into my positive philosophy.

A philosophical synthesis from elements of the rational/empiricist and the romantic/existential aspects of western philosophy, overlaid on a substratum (naive philosophy) which is sceptical and expressionistic. In its less romantic elements the position is sceptical and in some respects positivistic, but the philosophy is also I hope, positive in a more ordinary sense.
What's Wrong With It

Now, on the "romantic" side of this I wanted to build upwards on material about the way in which logic or intellect relates to emotion and instinct in the human psyche. That is to say, to work from have disparate parts of the human mind work together, to how individuals and groups of individuals relate at all levels of society. I was hoping for a natural and harmonious development from a philosophy of life through to philosophy of society encompassing moral, political and economic matters.

So I start with logic and emotion, and I'm looking for parallel pairs at higher levels, like reason and romanticism. I'm thinking romanticism here, partly because it seems to be opposite to reason (particularly valuing emotion and deprecating logic) and partly because I have the idea that this is the beginning of a line of thought which comes down to the modern day through existentialism.

To do this I need to know something about the romantic movement, and I start reading Isaiah Berlin. Of course the picture gets more complicated (don't confuse me with facts!). I struggled for a while trying to find the right dichotomy to tell my story, but eventually decided that this structure would not hold water. Gellner was one factor, for he wrote this book called "Reason and Culture" and I thought at first that he was talking about the same thing. But his culture and my romanticism are not at all the same thing, and, worse, his crusade is to promote rationality against the reactionary irrationality of culture.

Romanticism has too many diverse faces, but the face that I wanted involved the affirmation of human identity against the dogmatic intellectual imperialism of enlightenment rationality. Gellner was batting for reason against authority (insofar as I have been able to understand him, which isn't very far), while I am more interested in limiting reason to it proper scope, and understanding its relation to our emotions and the respective roles of these in shaping our society and its institutions.

Anyway, the two dimensional game plan (a one dimensional contrast or conflict appearing at several different levels) no longer seemed credible, and I have to find a way to cope with greater complexity.

How to Fix it
A New Architecture
Positive Philosophy
A philosophical synthesis from elements of the rational/empiricist and the romantic/existential aspects of western philosophy, overlaid on a substratum (naive philosophy) which is sceptical and expressionistic. In its less romantic elements the position is sceptical and in some respects positivistic, but the philosophy is also I hope, positive in a more ordinary sense.
resolving the conflicts
Metaphysical Positivism is systematic constructive positivist philosophy. We present here sketches of Metaphysical Positivism together with some related historical material which might possibly help the reader come to an understanding of this system and its place in the history of ideas.
The problem of engineering machines which reason is philosophically provocative. The justification of an architecture for such a machine is a kind of constructive philosophy.
A conception of philosophy in terms of its purpose, methods, form and content, which is closer in some ways to literary art than it is to most other philosophy.
Existential positivism is positive practical philosophy. It builds from a base of pragmatic scepticism, and is closely related to, though not strictly dependent on existential expressionism. It bears on philosophical matters which depend in some way on subjective values, or upon some other kind of essential reference to our personal feelings and intutions.
A triad of book projects related to Positive Philosophy.

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