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From the Ends of Philosophy*

Lawrence E. Cahoone
Holy Cross College
Worcester MA [email protected]

I propose that the three horizons for philosophical activity are irreducible and inescapable, that we cannot transcend or integrate them without presuming and giving priority to one of them. I am suggesting that the division of twentieth century Western philosophy into divergent "traditions", "cultures", or "styles" reflects a deep, unbridgeable, and undecidable difference. This does not mean that the partial rapprochement apparently taking place among the three is impossible or undesirable. It means that any such meeting must take place either on the basis of an assumption of one of the three perspectives or at a level not sufficiently deep to engage the fundamental disagreement among them.

The choice between the three is undecidable because it is a choice about what philosophy is, what one expects to get from philosophy, what philosophy is supposed to contribute to culture. Either one understands the aim of philosophy as the assertion of the representational truth, or the actualization or reconstruction of the world of experience, or the exhibition or embodiment of the immediate qualities of experience. Philosophy is episteme, or praxis, or poiesis; it is most like science, or practice, or art; it tries to represent experience, or to reshape experience, or to be an experience; its valid products are either true, or good, or qualitatively satisfying; truth is either irreducible or describable in practical or aesthetic terms; the criterion of truth is either evidential, or consequential, or consummatory.

The three perspectives can be combined; we combine them all the time. But they cannot be reconciled or synthesized. Any apparent synthesis could only be a dedifferentiation of the functions of judgement. The goal of philosophical query would then be explicitly omnivalent validity. The omnivalence that we usually find in contemporary philosophies is catch can; it appears when an inquiry turns to aesthetic or pragmatic validation at key points. It is not explicit or consistent. An explicit and consistent omnivalence would mean nothing less that ceasing to prize either the truth, the good or the beautiful more primarily than the others as values to be used in evaluating philosophical utterance. This would not make philosophy into art, for art is not omnivalent. It would make philosophy simultaneously and equally into art, science, and action.

The fact of the three horizons raises a new question about the present study; namely, in what horizon does it function, and does this mean that its validity is necessarily limited?

My conclusion cannot count as philosophical knowledge, because it declares philosophical knowledge unavailable. For inquiry, then, my conclusion ought strictly to have no weight, no convincing power.

It may be possible however to validate my conclusion in a nonassertive sense. To put it strategically, in uttering my conclusion I have in effect marked the bounds of philosophy, as others have done, albeit in my own way. This conclusion achieves, in my judgement, a construction that is both aesthetically satisfying and pragmatically useful. The picture it presents is that inquiry has its own distinct nature, which we ought not confuse with active and exhibitive considerations, that is, we ought not mix the three without recognizing that we are mixing them. Inquiry, even without limits, has its bounds. It is bounded by the nature of assertive validation, by the rules of inquiring and publicly validating judgements as true in a minimally realistic sense.

It may be that the various powers of human judging cannot achieve satisfaction independently. Inquiry is unable to complete its own project, because ultimately it is but one of the powers of judgement, methodically expanded. If it is true that the comprehensive expression and achievement of human query, which is to say culture, presumes the continuity of the three modes of judgement, then it would seem that those modes cannot be, so to speak, internally complete, complete independent of the other two. Consequently, the method of inquiry could not complete its task, the achievement of ultimate or philosophical truth, independent of active and exhibitive judgement.

*State University of New York Press, 1995

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]