Wednesday, April 25, 2007



A visitor to my website sent me a message saying: “How would you view an opinion that puts an origin of life in randomness, as opposed to a unity. Wittgenstein’s stumbling place might have been that logic does not understand randomness. etc.” The reply I sent him may be of interest. I reproduce the main body of it here:

Since you seem to have been into my writings, you will probably know that I insist on drawing a clear line between philosophy and science, leaving the investigation of the objective world, as Socrates did, to science, and confining philosophy to the study of the ideas and ideals bred in the mind and by the mind, and which alone give us our proper character as human beings. I may soon be writing a paper on Kant and Plato in which I revert once more to the elucidation of this idea.

Randomness may be a concept, hypothesis, or theory, with a useful role (perhaps rather different roles) in the various sciences and mathematics. As such, in my view, it lies outside the sphere of philosophy proper, and it is not for me to hold or give an opinion about it.

You ask about “an opinion that puts an origin of life in randomness”. Again I would say that the origin of life is a scientific question to be investigated by the objective methods of science and subjected to the objective criteria of science. But while these methods and criteria may give us a description of how life came to be, they cannot tell us what life is. The meaning of life is a philosophical question that is not affected one way or the other by the results of scientific investigation. I maintain that all the hubbub and controversy between creationists, Darwinists, and advocates of Intelligent Design, is wrong-headed on all sides. I have written repeatedly on this and do not wish to go further into it here.

Also I do not think that the concept of randomness is of any relevance to the question of free will. If you care to look into my views on this question you may read “Free Will as Creativity” which is available on my blog. A shorter version appeared in Philosophy Pathways and may be found in under Feature Articles.

I am afraid I don’t understand what you mean by your remark that “Wittgenstein’s stumbling place might have been that logic does not understand randomness.” Let me first say that although I have written a long essay about Wittgenstein I must confess that my knowledge of Wittgenstein’s work is very fragmentary. And while your statement that “logic does not understand randomness” is open to various interpretations, I do not feel that in any case it offers a fair critique of Wittgenstein. But, having confessed to my fragmentary acquaintance with Wiggenstein’s work and my failure to understanding the meaning of your statement, any comment I try to make will be mere fumbling in the dark. Still, I will suggest (perhaps rashly) that if you have not yet read my essay on Wittgenstein, you may find it of interest. It is available on my blog.

My correspondent answered with an email packed with thought-provoking questions. I give below the gist of my reply:

Your questions, or rather questionings, especially those packed in the fifth paragraph of your email, suggest to me that you are working towards an integrated philosophical outlook of your own. That, believe me, is a journey that one can only accomplish unaccompanied. A philosopher, like a poet, is a lonely soul. And a philosophical question cannot have one ‘correct’ answer. A question that can have a definitive answer is decidedly not a philosophical question. A philosophical question is an incitement to original, creative thinking. The reason why I value Plato above all other philosophers is that Plato does not give us answers to questions but infects us with his perplexity and makes us think for ourselves.

You ask if Socrates thought of the world as belonging to a whole. It seems that Socrates did not concern himself with metaphysical questions, but in Plato’s development of Socrates’ thought, he (according to my interpretation) not only thought of the world as a whole but considered the idea of the whole the major key to philosophizing. But I cannot compress my views on this question in a short statement. I may say that each of the four books I have published so far is an attempt to make such a statement.

Where does that leave randomness? If randomness represents the seemingly chaotic world that confronts us and presses in on us on every side, then not only philosophy but the whole of the human endeavour is a ceaseless effort to find order, intelligibility, unity, in that chaos. On that view randomness would not have its place within philosophy but would be the outer darkness that philosophy battles against.

28 April 2007


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