About the difference between our attachment to ideas and the search for truth


… Transposing a method or its terminology outside its specific field of activity makes it possible to preserve the stylistic seductiveness of the method while eliminating its limitations, given that these limitations are born precisely from the object within the specific field of activity…

We are listening here to Jean François Revel in Pourquoi des Philosophes describing the use of a discipline to turbo-charge a c certain branch of philosophy in what Revel in a preface to the 1979 edition of his Pourquoi des Philosophes describes as the phenomenon of a support discipline in philosophy.


Transposing in philosophy

As examples of the use of support disciplines within philosophy, Revel mentions mathematics for Descartes, history for Hegel, and biology for Bergson. For the development of structuralism, Revel points to linguistics as the support discipline and furthermore blames the use of linguistics as a passe-partout of many of the human sciences.

In addition Revel´s reasoning takes a firm turn, when he states that all new movements within philosophy use these transpositions to become noticed but will inevitably give way to another new transposition leading to a new movement in philosophy, while basically asking the same metaphysical questions. Enjoy again Jean François´ style:

….The fact that attachment to ideas and attachment to the search for truth and facts are two entirely different, sometimes even opposing, dispositions of the mind, one has traditionally known this opposition in politics and in religion. However, it is surprising to find it also in the discipline that has as its raison d’être the elimination of this opposition… (philosophy, my addition)

Transposing all the way

Has transposition become a mechanism in our thinking that gives the attachment to ideas precedence over seeking the truth and facts? Where thinking is characterized by change and movement of ideas, modern man seems to prefer to seek the gratification of one attractive idea. Has transposing then become as inescapable as projection? I suppose that we can avoid it when we become aware of it just as we do with projection.

To paraphrase it within Sloterdijk’s spherology terms; the increasingly ecstatic human not only projects within his sphere but transposes situations from other bubbles within his sphere in order to liberate his, so frustratingly restrained by reality, delusions of grandeur, or to put it more mildly, his anthropocentrism)

In one of the many discussions of recent politics in the U.S., it was suggested that decisions are not made anymore on the basis of reasoning about what is wise to do and consequently do that, but on the basis of sticking to an idea and acting along that idea as long as possible even if it is against all sound reasoning.

Similar with religion

Religion has just as philosophy a strong affinity with transposing as survival mode. Religion is not a biological but a cultural phenomenon and as such religion not only has a beginning but possibly also an and as an archeologist has formulated it. (Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen, From spirituality to religion 2010)  Organized religion is neither a necessary nor eternal of human spirituality (Parker Pearson 2001) Analogue to these sophisticated formulations about religion is clear, and every day more obvious that for mankind, doing what is possible and clinging to ideas must give way to doing what is wise.

An example from the medical world

Medical science, a slow and difficult mainly empirical process with unexpected jumps forward, many times more by chance than by method has in recent years found its liberation in using statistics as a support discipline. Statistics in itself a mathematical discipline restrained by all kinds of theoretical and practical problems given once liberated from mathematical restrictions wings to medical doctrine. It also opened the door to governmental supervision, financial interference, and all kind of power structures within health care. All this has not brought any big leap forward, contrary to popular parlance because medicine only progresses when a breakthrough in insight into biological functioning is obtained.

A mistaken link with authority?

Transposing, as I hope to have suggested here, has benefits for establishing notoriety. More than giving insight it gives publicity, fame, and rhetoric. But what we desperately need are insight, knowledge, and facts. All things are only available through hard work, perseverance, honesty, and inspiration. Modesty can be added without much hesitation, because, after all, and I yes look sideways at our politicians, who really knows that much?


Jean François Revel, Pourquoi des philosophes, Ed Robert Laffond 1976 (the translations to English are mine FW)

Illustration by Uno Moralez, Moskou. Capricorn Moon.