Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Leftist Faith: Kolakowski on Religious Feeling at the End of Days


Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski passed away last week. I've never been familiar with his work, but Margaret Soltan writes a very thoughtful memorial about him. She respects him for being a leftist who found a place for religious feeling toward the end of his life. However, it was not some desperate grab for a foundation in life or a calculated bet to win rewards in the afterlife a la Pascal. Instead, Kolakowski simply recognized a sense of mystery and awe about the complexities of life that don't seem to be reduced to a set of philosophical propositions or explainable according to biology or physics:

"People - and by no means professional philosophers only - often have experiences which they describe as astonishment at the fact of existence, awe in the face of 'Nothingness', apprehension of the unreality of the world or the feeling that whatever is impermanent must be accounted for by what is indestructible. Experiences of this kind are not mystical in the strict sense, i.e., not events people interpret as direct encounters with God. They might rather be described as a strong feeling that in the fact of being and of not being - in this very fact and not only in the experiencing person's existence - there is something unobvious, alarming, puzzling, queer, astounding, something which defies all the ordinary, daily norms of understanding. Such feelings cannot be and need not be converted into scientific 'problems'; they are expressed, more or less clumsily, as metaphysical riddles. There is in them no stuff for 'proving' anything if 'to prove' retains the sense it usually has in scientific procedures. Indeed, inserted as links into a chain of reasoning they usually look poor and unconvincing. Yet it is astonishingly foolish to dismiss them, as empiricists often do, as errors generated by the wrong usage of words or subject to explanation as an abuse of semantic standards."

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1 Comments:

At 9:15 PM , OpenID sanguinity said...

:: ...they are expressed, more or less clumsily, as metaphysical riddles. There is in them no stuff for 'proving' anything if 'to prove' retains the sense it usually has in scientific procedures. Indeed, inserted as links into a chain of reasoning they usually look poor and unconvincing. ::

One of my SySc profs, Martin Zwick, would argue that the apparent split between religious feeling and science is a characteristic of only reductionist science, and that one of the advantages of systems-based science is that it produces a metaphysics systems that bridges the two.

 

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