Monday, August 1, 2011

Against Polemics

Against Polemics
by Scott Bradley


"True philosophy is in principle unpolemical. It believes in that out of which it came and in that toward which it moves; it waits for the source in every man. It knows no security and relies only on the quiet manifestation of that truth which is expressed in it [insecurity]." —Karl Jaspers (Reason and Existenz)

Jaspers concludes his book with these words. I hope the reader will forgive me if I define polemics. My understanding of polemics is via Christian theology; it is the defense by offence of the Faith against other religions or internal heresies. The Church Fathers frequently wrote tracts entitled Against This or That. My title is thus ironical. Apologetics, on the other hand, was the attempt to persuade others to one's point of view.

I thought this subject apropos for the moment because I have recently been reading about and criticizing Buddhism, and have often engaged in what amounts to polemics against it. I apologize. It's not that I am unaware of the frequently negative tone of my critique, only that I too easily fall into what is, for me, a natural tendency.

There is something to be gained, nonetheless, in becoming aware of how our thinking differs from another's; it is one way we actually come to understand what our thinking is. The trick is to critique, but not dismiss. As Jaspers says above, though we are doing our own philosophizing, allowing it to rise from within us, still, it is a collective effort, an evolving effort.

Sometimes I think I have a unique thought. And I probably do, in that I have arrived at it on my own. But it's hardly likely that no one has thought it before me, on his or her own. And what's far more likely is that that thought is the consequence of my exposure to the vast accumulation of thought which humanity has been busily amassing these odd thousands of years of philosophizing.

I unapologetically tend very much toward individualism. If someone else would care to die my death for me, I might reconsider, however. But, in any case, we are all in this together, and since no one knows the Truth or what this adventure is really all about, all our differences of opinion probably aren't really all that important after all.

Follow the way that seems best to you — though I will continue my apologetics for my own, if for no other reason than it helps to confirm it in me.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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