Friday, 16 November 2007

The Philosophy of "As If"

Having been an enthusiastic participant in the Yahoo! Groups Alan Garner list for several years, I was delighted to discover that a similar list existed, dedicated to the work of Ivan Illich. It looks to have become rather quiet, but I'm enjoying working my way through the archives, with the intention of introducing myself and (assuming the locals are friendly!) inviting along some of the people I've met in the past year who've expressed an interest in developing a conversation about Illich's ideas and influence.

Anyway, in the context of a discussion about the roles of the individual and the state in social change, I came across this great paragraph:

I have been wrestling for a long time with context vs individual responsibility. I have concluded it is not either-or, but both that matter. Yes, of course, we must each take personal responsibility for our own situations. We must pull a Vaihinger "as-if". The only alternative is madness and depression and curling up into little shivering balls of protoplasm. At the very same time, holding two contradictory ideas all at once, context is all. Sort of a C. Wright Mills sociological imagination riff. Context is all, yet we must act as if we are in total control of everything. So, we must together work to change context, work to make the world better for all, work to drag a kicking and screaming bad tempered world together into the commons of the god of all. At the same time we must, at the individual level, work with each person and ourselves to take individual control of as much of our lives as we can grab and self-direct within the context in which we exist.

The poster's name is Dan, and what he says reminds me of conversations I've had with a different Dan. I wasn't familiar with Hans Vaihinger, the philosopher mentioned, but the importance of "as if" resonates strongly with my own experience and the approach to reality to which it has led me.

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