Quora Answer: What are good ways to learn how to philosophise a concept?

Oct 18 2014

First of all concepts do not exist in isolation.

Second words and concepts are different, and you can have the same concept with different names, even in different languages.

Concepts are the semantic referent of symbols and signs.

M. Schlick distinguishes between concepts and precepts and sees them as distinct.

Husserl distinguishes between noesis and noema and sees them as a spectrum with various mixtures of intentional morphe (meaning form) and hyle (content). Pure Noesis has mostly meaning with a little sensory content, and Pure Noema is mostly sensory content with some meaning.

A noematic nucleus is the outward combination of phenomenological characteristics of something whether concept or percept. Even almost purely noetic objects have a noematic nucleus associated with them.

But the inward coherence and constraint envelope of the noematic nucleus of a concept or percept is called an essence. Husserl is famous for saying that abstraction and essence perception are different. Essence perception is synthetic and Abstraction is analytic. These turn into Ready to hand and Present at Hand in Heidegger’s Being and Time, and ultimately they are associated with different kinds of Being in the Continental Tradition of Philosophy with others kinds or meta-levels of Being such as Hyper Being (DifferAnce) and Wild Being etc.

Concepts are different at different meta-levels of Being and in Existence.

Pure Being they are frozen IDEAS of Plato who is following Parmenides in saying that these ultimate ideas are categories and are static. Schlick wants to find a set of concepts unmixed with percepts that form an axiomatic platform from which reasoning can take place.

Process Being they are in Heraclitian flux and are more like tattvas and dharmas in Shavite or Buddhist philosophy.

Hyper Being they are all about distinctions between the concepts not concepts themselves, and the fact that the semantic fabric is not stable, and the interface with language is complex, and thinking is hard when it comes to making stable distinctions which keep slip sliding away.

Wild Being concepts are reduced even further from distinctions to tendencies, propensities, dispositions, what Deleuze and Guattari call Lines of Flight. See their What is Philosophy?

Ultra Being concepts are singularities that are utterly non-representable, like mantras in Tantra

Existence concepts are the natural meaning of things that spontaneously arise which are not fabricated from the natural world and in consciousness. This is the actual realm of meaning, while all the other levels are dealing with higher orders of signification and relevance.

So Nietzsche says that we do not think our thoughts they think us. This fundamental revolution in thinking was taken up by Heidegger with his concept of Dasein (Being There, being-in-the-world). The whole notion that concepts are our property and they can be controlled and used as instruments is flawed from the point of view of existential philosophy. Heidegger goes on to say that given a thinker and his thoughts we only can say we understand them if we can go beyond his thoughts in a way that is true to his thoughts ourselves, thinking the unthought in his thoughts. And one of the rules of dealing with concepts is that you do not define them, but rather you allow them to express themselves in different contexts as much of the significance of concepts comes from the context in which it appears. And concepts may be in a passage without there being any name of that concept in the passage because concepts can be expressed implicitly rather than merely cited explicitly, and this is why hermeneutics is so hard and so important.

So there is a lot to say about this, but basically we do philosophize a single concept, but aggregates of them that have significance mostly through their relations with each other. Here we enter the place where Peirce’s Philosophical Principles come into play which he calls Firsts (isolata), Seconds (relata), Thirds (continua), which we can extend with B. Fullers further principles of Synergy, Integrity etc. Concepts are not just isolated units made up of other sub-conceptual elements as even Deleuze and Guattari say, but they can also be isolata, or relations, or continuities (ideas) or synergies, or integrities etc following a geometrical like unfolding of sign systems and marks such as we get in Euclidian Geometry which can be called a semiology because the word for point is sign.

This brings us to the fact that concepts may be parts of higher dimensional thought structures, and this means that the 7+-2 limit of working memory is for  independent concepts not a linear stack. So we are always thinking multi-dimensionally and having to bring that down to 2 and 3 dimensional representations in which we lose fidelity. This is part of what happens when we linearize thought in language.

So there are no good ways to learn to philosophize a concept because we only reify them when we think of them as isolates and try to define them. Concepts primordially only exist in context, and usually in the context of a thinkers thought which we get a synchronic view of in a book say. So the advice is to understand the thought of the philosopher as a whole and go beyond it to fully understand it yourself, and then come back to see the continua (ideas), relata, (relations between ideas) and isolata (concepts, or semantic nuclei with a meaningful essence). This is hard because philosophy is sophisticated, but can be very rewarding to work to understand as fully as possible a whole philosophy book that fascinates you, or the work of a philosopher, and then eventually be build up one at a time to an attempt to understand schools of philosophy, and even the philosophical tradition itself.

The best way to do this conceptual analysis is to diagram the relations between the concepts as you read the book, then write working papers that capture your understanding of what you are reading in your own words, and then iterate the digrams and working papers until you think you can extend the thoughts of the philosopher you are studying to subjects he did not consider, when you can do that with some assurance of not distorting the philosopher’s ideas then you are ready to start thinking yourself about the same ideas as you evolve the diagrams and working papers of thoughts toward what you think on your own about the subject. Then pick another philosopher that fascinates you and do it again, putting yourself as completely as possible in their thought system, until you can surpass it naturally, and then relate it to the previous thought system you studied doing compare and contrast, and then develop your own ideas on the subject extending the second, and then the first together. And so on until you have mastered the Western tradition, which is of course impossible, so you must also read summaries, secondary works, history of philosophy, etc to fill in the gaps and get the insights of others into the works of the philosophers who interest you.

All the time you are doing this, you must be developing your own independent view, not just adopting the views of those you are reading, joining their school of philosophy, but attempting to relate what they are saying to your own experience everyday and trying to see the world differently through the conceptual lens they are giving you. A fun philosopher to do this today with is Zizek because he comments on everything. So he is an excellent example of taking philosophical ideas and applying them to everyday phenomena. Another example that is good is Borges who takes idealistic philosophies to and extreme and writes absurd short stories about them.

One thing you should practice is seeing through the phenomena to the conceptual web that drives the phenomena behind the scenes. This conceptual web is not of our making completely but a lot of it is projected as Kant says a Priori as a synthesis, and we don’t know how we do that unconscious projection but much of what we see in the world is just telling us about what is going on in our own selves. So distinguishing your projections from what is out there that is not a projection is a good exercise. Questioning all distinctions that you or others make to see whether they cut through the joints of phenomena rather than through the bones as Plato says is always important. Also apprehending not just abstractions but also essences of things is important because many times abstractions cut through essences abnormally destroying their natural order.

The basic idea is that you have to start with the thought of the philosopher as a whole and work toward understanding the concepts without fully defining them but allowing the context in which they show up to inform their meaning. Same words may mean completely different things in different philosophies. Concepts when rearranged in a different philosophy may mean something completely different. Concepts are even more fluid than language, and if you look at language as John_McWhorter [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joh…] does you can see that there is nothing stable in language, and so there is even less stable at the conceptual level that is only tangentially related to language in the semantical realm which is nebulous, amorphous, ambiguous, vague etc compared with other things like mathematical symbols which are conceptually fairly discrete. From Math as we go through the sciences and into the social sciences things only get more and more confusing and the ultimate refuge of this confusion is Philosophy which has this very odd idea called Being that is only in Indo-European languages which messes with our mind due to its absurdity. It is hard to get out of that down to something existentially core and to think at levels beyond the meta-levels of Being, because here we are entering realms of non-representability not just loss of higher dimensional synthetic content. However, this is what Buddhist Philosophy is all about, so they have worked fairly well producing a tradition of existential thought that rejects Being. But you have to be aware that things are pretty strange within the Western tradition due to the over influence of the Accursed Share (Bataille) of Being.

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