The Conduct of Life

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“Kant’s philosophy represented an uncompromising philosophical criticism; and Spinoza’s philosophy stood for a radical scientific naturalism. But their philosophies also illustrated the dangerous consequences of rational enquiry and criticism. The consequence of Kant’s philosophy, if it were to drop its inconsistent postulate of the thing-in-itself, was solipsism; and the consequence of Spinoza’s philosophy, if it were to delete its superfluous religious language, was atheism and fatalism. Thus the two philosophies foremost in the public mind seemed to be destructive of morality, religion, and the state. But this naturally raised a very disturbing question in many minds: why should we listen to our reason if it undermines those beliefs necessary for the conduct of life?” (Frederick C. Beiser)

Assumption that morality, religion, and the state are necessary for life. No, life is more adaptable than that. After the apocalypse, humanity will live a roach-like existence until it finds new forms, new channels to pour its timeworn flesh into.

What if Kant’s mysterious “thing-in-itself” was just life, pure life, all along? A cipher, a place-holder, something to be filled in. Kant demonstrated the limits of reason, he said, in order to leave room for faith. What if this is the role of faith? To wrap a concept around your “thing-in-itself” and so create for yourself your very own form of life? Eight billion lives means eight billion forms of life, each with its own unique concept.

Henry Miller wrote that any form of life, even the life of a bed bug, is preferable to no life at all. A bed bug knows how to keep itself busy at least. The thing is to make sure you’re either working or creating. Despair and idleness are a kind of living death.

It’s not even that difficult. I’m not talking about getting a job or creating a masterpiece. There are as many ways to work and create as there are forms of life – which is to say, an infinite amount. There’s no need to “find yourself” to work out what you should be doing, because here you are already. If you go looking outside yourself for yourself, what you will bring back won’t be yourself at all, but some kind of strange fantasy. (By all means go looking. Only not looking for yourself but for the strange fantasy.)

The biggest mistake the critics of reason were making, in their rush to defend their way of life, was to think of life as something you conduct. No, life is lived, first and foremost. It’s whatever is left over, whatever would otherwise just get in the way, that you must conduct, this way and that, to make a space for yourself.

(I’ve been reading Frederick C. Besier’s The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte.)

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