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Philosophy – Who Needs It?

In 1962, Ayn Rand was challenged to explain her philosophy while standing on one foot. She did so by saying: “Metaphysics: Objective Reality; Epistemology: Reason; Ethics: Self-interest; Politics: Capitalism.”

I wish I could be so succinct.

In attempting flesh out my understanding of complexity itself, I came upon a sad realization. First, I did not really know much about philosophy and second, I didn’t think I had one. Unfortunately, my first formal exposure to philosophy in undergraduate arts focused mainly on logic, which is a useful branch but far from the whole tree. But philosophy – who needs it?

There is an old saying that: philosophy is questions that may never be answered; science is answers that can be questioned; and religion is answers that cannot be questioned. Generally, I agree with this depiction. But I have come to think that a life without a good philosophy falls short.

So, what is a good philosophy? And how might a good philosophy help in understanding complexity?

Most people have some sort of philosophy, often in the form of an adopted world view, most often cloned from religion or ideology. Most people, if they are to consider anything deeper than pop culture, need some sort of guidance about reality, knowledge, beauty and behavior. Such guidance is really what philosophy is about. It’s our personal approach to resolving unanswerable questions.

Few people have coherent and consistent philosophy. It’s often just rules of thumb which if considered rigorously would be found to be inconsistent and frequently in conflict. You might argue that is just human nature, and I would agree.

So, lets come back to Ayn Rand again. Her final book was Philosophy – Who Needs It? In this, she states:

You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions—or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.



But the principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) may clash with or contradict one another; they, too, have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance… (Rand, 1981)

In short, everyone has a philosophy of sorts. Your choice is whether to build your own way of dealing with questions that cannot be answered, or just accept what gets thrown at you.

Philosophy – Who Needs It?  I Do

When it comes to complexity, a jumbled up world view is not enough. So, here’s me standing on one foot. And beneath that foot is my philosophy, my foundation for understanding the universe on one hand, and complexity on the other.

  1. That which is most real is order.
  2. Knowledge is the human explanation of order.
  3. Complexity is uncertainty about order and explanation

Let the journey proceed.

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