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Do Philosophers Disagree?
Philosophy is the name of that mental activity whose function it is to form the idea or image of what is termed ’the world’. This is not possible in any pre-philosophical way. The astronomical universe, for example, is not an image of ’the world’. All great philosophical conceptions are attempts to form such an image. All are, to a certain extent, true. The mind’s philosophical activity does not consist in ’learning’ them, but in producing them ever anew on one’s own account, in realising them. There is no question of originality or of the possibility that any one of them becomes out of date. They are, all, as incapable of growing old or being outmoded as the image of the sunset or of eating bread or drinking water. These aspects of the world are not transitory, but enduring ; they change, not through being annihilated, but through being transformed by other aspects that emerge in addition to them. Philosophy, therefore, should not be regarded as the history of passing and replaceable thoughts, but as the growth of an. as yet unknown system of thought.
An image of the ‘world’ that is identical with the philosophical image of the world must have an apprehensible characteristic feature, above and beyond the mere enumeration and juxtaposition of its contents. ‘The world’ is not the whole of inorganic matter plus the earth, plus the vegetable and animal kingdom, plus mankind, plus the phenomenon of human consciousness - in whatever way each of these may be conceived to have arisen. Such an apprehensible characteristic is the work of any systematic imagination that binds together the enumerable world elements into a systematically conceivable whole, the formulation of which is, inevitably, an incomplete statement. The image of the ‘world’ begins to be formed by every single unifying constructive mental picture. Innumerable pictures of this kind offer themselves to the philosophical mind, whose task it is to bring each of them to an ever growing distinctness, to localize or order them and to attempt to find out a possible, underlying consistency. This recognition of consistency constitutes the ultimate, far-off goal of the philosophical enterprise. Such a single, unifying picture is suggested, for instance, by the reflection that one particular element occurring among the elements of the ‘world’, namely spirituality, or personal consciousness, cannot be understood by bringing it under the heading of the element ‘material thing’ or ‘thing’ or ‘thinghood in general,’ in so far as this denotes something impersonal. The ‘world’ containing persons cannot be imagined as being a whole that is impersonal in such a way as to exclude the phenomenon of the ‘person’. If the ‘world’ is to be conceived as impersonal, it must be in a way that includes and is superior to the phenomenon of personal consciousness. Thus, the ‘world’ could not be of the order of, or like , a ‘material thing’, if that is understood in the usual sense. It could not be like an ‘empirical person’ either, but would have to be some tertium quid. That tertium quid, in whatever way it is conceived, already has the image-uniting feature mentioned above.
Providing such features, which are innumerable, entails a kind of dialectic. It is a dialectic that governs the relationship of ‘opposing’ features or images and it is Cusan rather than Hegelian (although Hegelian dialectics will also apply).That means that opposing features are driven, each in a contrary direction, to ever increasing extremes, so that a principle of infinity, or perhaps a non-limitation, comes into play and allows for the synthesis of the extremized opposites. One expression of such dialectic is the ‘eternal’ and, in a way ‘insoluble’ problem of philosophy.