I have been a Sunday patron of the Starbucks in the Marriot Hotel at South Pointe in Miami Beach for five years, where I like to read some philosophy over my coffee before turning to the Miami Herald. I have been shortchanged there only once, and to this day I have said nothing about it. Since then I have made sure to give only small bills to the cashier. Anyway, I got the shortchanged money back over time due to the discount given to regular customers. But last Sunday I was charged more for my coffee, and I received a smart remark when I asked if the discount had been discontinued. I decided to switch to the small size cup in the future, and to no longer read the paper. This Sunday, to make matters worse, I noted that the recent remodeling job had resulted in less seating indoors, and that the new arrangement was uncomfortable.
“But never mind,” I told myself, and buried my head in metaphysics as usual after extracting an essay on fixed beliefs by Charles Sanders Peirce from my bag. Last Sunday I had underlined his statement, “When an ostrich buries its head in the sand as danger approaches, it very likely takes the happiest course. It hides the danger; and, if it feels perfectly sure there is none, why should it raise its head to see?”
You can say that again. Whenever I face the world I find it opposite, and the more I oppose it the more I am defined by it. But definition is death, for all finite things shall eventually pass away. I want to be indefinite and unconditioned. I want to be free, to live forever unimpeded by circumstance. But then I would not exist. Ironically, that is the frightening prospect that plagues me when I turn to the world, that it shall survive me in the final analysis, for no man is immortal. Is my urge for freedom a will to die? I want freedom, but freedom from what? Everything! What is the difference between freedom from everything and death?
I would overpower my own end and place myself in a better place. I would not live in the now like a tomato, for my will urges me on, and I think, accordingly, that there is always a better end than any here and now. Even the escape into the now, into the infinitesimal point that is the principle of the line, is a living flight to death, for any certain point apprehended ends the continuity. Anyway, one cannot have the now and leave the here behind.
Metaphysical thinking is my retreat from physics, my escape from death. Fortunately, God does not have to think because God has nothing to fear. Still, Satan is welcomed by God because without one God would be no good. The devil is definitely in the details; the devil corrupts everything definite, hence nothing is perfect. Of course metaphysics, or the useless course we study after physics to discover first and final causes, may seem meaningless to the pragmatist who cares not why things are practical. But that meaninglessness is meaningful to me. We may desperately want a meaningful life; to say that life has meaning means it has an ultimate purpose. But then it ends – could that give it meaning? Is clinging to life, the unmitigated pursuit of everything wanted, and the denial of death; is that the summum bonum? Or is the highest value in embracing the finality of it all, and consequently freeing oneself of desire and passion, of dying before one is dead, of committing virtual suicide? If so, let us contemplate the finality, and enjoy the Good Death, the dying in advance of death, the so-called ascetic life.
I can understand why philosophers have said that death is their main subject, for that is the end of life, a fact that no one has experienced and lived to tell about. When I think about death I have transcended my own end, put myself beyond my own end. We usually wake up after sleep, so natural death seemed unnatural to our early ancestors. Death is a mystery. Some malevolent spirit killed the person, the ancients reasoned from experience. Or the soul of that person has gone to a better place. Nothing is perfect; there is always a better place, and that may be utopia, or no place; i.e. Nothing.
Beyond the Good Death is the Beyond, the Better Place extolled by funereal preachers. Since no dead person has experienced being dead, that perfect place, where Being is so general that nothing can be known about it, might be called the State of Nothing or Nothing Limited - but nothing cannot be limited for every limit is a defect, and Nothing is perfect, The reader who cannot define God and does not have faith in something may have faith in Nothing, and recognize that faith as the true st faith. By Nothing I do not mean nothingness as if that were a thing, but I speak of not this thing or that thing or any other thing for that matter, for none of that will save anyone.
Certainly the tolerant philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce would not deny me the pleasure of having faith in Nothing because I believe Nothing is perfect and permanent, and thus cling every so tenaciously to what may appear to others as nothing at all or nothingness instead of Nothing. After all, Peirce did not derogate the tenacity of the jaws of authority zlthough he championed the superiority of the scientific method over individual tenacity and social authority.
"I admire the method of tenacity for its strength, simplicity, and directness. Men who pursue it are distinguished for their decision and character.... They do not waste time in trying to make up their minds.... This is one of the splendid qualities which generally accompany brilliant, un-lasting success. It is impossible not to envy the man who can dismiss reason, although we know how it must turn out at last." Furthermore, he would not blame me for my tenacity, for he observed that, "The instinctive dislike of an undecided state of mind, exaggerated into a vague dread of doubt, makes man cling spasmodically to the views they already take. The man feels that, if he only holds to his belief without wavering, it will be entirely satisfactory. Nor can it be denied that a steady and immovable faith yields great peace of mind."
Peirce observed that the tenacious mind set is nevertheless impractical, for individual opinions are bound to differ. Well, at least faith in Nothing is nondenominational and Nothing is difficult if not impossible to deny! Still, the person who has faith in Nothing may be confronted by someone who has faith in Being, or in one being or another. Anyone might be contradicted by someone who believes in something else. Lest people then run around the world like chickens with their heads cut off, authority must be established to establish what must be believed in, or else, for example, really get their heads chopped off. In the alternative, schools might be set up to distract people by getting them to bury their heads in texts like ostriches do in sand.
Peirce preferred the modern scientific method over individual tenacity and social authority. "Where complete agreement could not otherwise be reached, a general massacre of all who have not thought in a certain way has proved a very effective means of settling opinions in a country." Irrational libertarians and anarchists would naturally prefer death to the loss of liberty, hence would cling tenaciously to their tabooed beliefs. Alas for you if you are a lone wolf, for "you may be perfectly sure of being treated with a cruelty less brutal but more refined than hunting you like a wolf."
The advancement of science requires both independent and collaborative thinking. But science is not conscience. Absent some sort of universal conscience, applied science may result in total annihilation. That may be the Total that is really wanted: Nil.
To Be Continued Next Sunday