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An Essay on Truth in Philosophy: Change but not progress.

An Essay on Truth in Philosophy: Change but not progress.

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Published by Ishaan Jalan

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Published by: Ishaan Jalan on Mar 07, 2011
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Ishaan JalanApril 26
th
2010.Truth in Philosophy: Change but not ProgressPhilosophers have debated about questions regarding life, existence, being, etc. forcenturies. From Platos Socratic dialogues to Descartes Meditations, philosophers have compiledaccounts of what they believe is the truth or meaning behind life, existence, values, mind, etc.,and what they essentially believed in their opinion, constituted the rational argument.
1
AsNietzsches account 
On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense
 suggests, philosophy does not make progress to reach a universal truth, but rather changes with the time to reflect the viewsthat philosophers of an era believe to be the truth. I believe change within philosophy representsthe ever-changing radical nature of philosophers over time and not progress within philosophyor aid to other areas of human endeavor. Philosophical writings reflect the beliefs of thegeneration in which they are written and do not represent progress since they essentiallyaddress the same questions as previously written accounts.Before I delve into the intricacies and depth of Nietzsches 
On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense 
and Descartes meditations, I should make an important distinction between
change
and
progress
with respect to philosophy and philosophys aid to progress in human endeavors.Change within philosophy refers to the new thoughts, ideas, etc. in philosophy that reflect thenotions of the time and how they are different from notions previously held about these ideas.Progress on the other hand, refers to the movement of a particular subject towards itsconclusion, which is universally true and uncontested. It can be said that progress is made if philosophy is beneficial in any way to improve human standards or living and knowledge. Let us
1
 
Anthony Quinton, in T. Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1995), p.666
 
consider the case of Boethius and how philosophy gave him consolation from reality; if philosophy could have led to him changing the very system he lived in at the time, it may havebeen considered progress. Only when philosophy has a direct consequence that leads to a lastingstep forward in the society of its time; when society improves or moved towards a particularpoint of success due it, can philosophy be considered to aid progress. A fundamental error withsuch reasoning is that society can never really make progress neither in philosophy nor with itsaid because society itself does not know where its final destination point lies.One of the earliest examples we come across in Nietzsches account 
Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,
is with regard to the human intellect. Human intellect grows with theprocurement of knowledge and knowledge may be obtained through philosophical teachings.Nietzsche is skeptical of the human intellect and critiques the notion that progress may be madeby the growth of this intellect. Philosophy, as we know, is a study using logical reasoning and thegrowth of the human intellect through philosophy would certainly be considered progress. But here Nietzsche presents the argument countering this by saying that after an individuals deaththe intellect becomes irrelevant:Someone could invent a fable like this and yet they would still not have given a satisfactoryillustration of just how pitiful, how insubstantial and transitory, how purposeless and arbitrarythe human intellect looks within nature; there were eternities during which it did not exist; andwhen it has disappeared again, nothing will have happened.
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 Here Nietzsche declares that the intellect, which may grow with philosophical questioning,cannot be considered to progress since it is limited to the lifetime of humans. He further states
2
Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings: 
On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.
Page 141. Cambridge University Press 1999.
 
that this intellect has no further mission that might extend beyond the bounds of human life.
3
 To him the philosophical knowledge present within human intellect is not as great as we regardit to be and only its own possessor and progenitor regards it with such pathos, as if it housedthe axis around which the entire world revolved.
4
We can see the underlying idea that philosophy does not aid human progress and due to the short, periodic nature of the intellect, itsgrowth does not facilitate progress.In
Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings,
Descartes meditation on first philosophydiscusses the breakdown of all his knowledge so that may he approach philosophical knowledgefrom a fresh and unbiased perspective. In this meditation, Descartes seeks to prove Godsexistence and make a distinction between the human soul and body. As Descartes says, henoticed how many false things [he] had accepted as true [during his] childhood
5
and how hebuilt on these foundations. Descartes wished to build a strong foundation firm and durable inthe sciences, which why he chose to approach the problem by clear[ing] [his] mind of all caresand arranged for [himself] time free from interruption.
6
As we know from later in the text,Descartes considered this a success and progress in philosophy despite the fact that he wassimply rebuilding the foundations of philosophy in accordance with his beliefs and notions.When Descartes discusses the existence of God, he is simply trying to improve or add to thearguments of philosophers before him. Gods existence in philosophy has been mentioned byBoethius; others have used God as a way to counter the famous third man argument whichsuggests that the infinite regress that cannot be explained without an assumption. Thus,
3
Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings: 
On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.
Page 141. Cambridge University Press 1999.
4
Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings: 
On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.
Page 141. Cambridge University Press 1999.
5
Descartes, Rene:
Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings.
Page 18. Penguin Classics 2003.
6
Descartes, Rene:
Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings.
Page 18. Penguin Classics 2003.

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