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A Universal Philosophical Refutation

A philosopher once had the following dream.

First Aristotle appeared, and the philosopher said to him, “Could you give me a fifteen-minute capsule sketch of your entire philosophy?” To the philosopher’s surprise, Aristotle gave him an excellent exposition in which he compressed an enormous amount of material into a mere fifteen minutes. But then the philosopher raised a certain objection which Aristotle couldn’t answer. Confounded, Aristotle disappeared.

Then Plato appeared. The same thing happened again, and the philosophers’ objection to Plato was the same as his objection to Aristotle. Plato also couldn’t answer it and disappeared.

Then all the famous philosophers of history appeared one-by-one and our philosopher refuted every one with the same objection. After the last philosopher vanished, our philosopher said to himself, “I know I’m asleep and dreaming all this. Yet I’ve found a universal refutation for all philosophical systems! Tomorrow when I wake up, I will probably have forgotten it, and the world will really miss something!”

With an iron effort, the philosopher forced himself to wake up, rush over to his desk, and write down his universal refutation. Then he jumped back into bed with a sigh of relief. The next morning when he awoke, he went over to the desk to see what he had written. It was, “That’s what you say.” 

What do you think?

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  1. I have a different take than Jon. I didn’t laugh, but I think this is pretty good from a philosophical point of view. There’s a well-known teaching in Zen, which is that any philosophical statement or teaching or text is just a “finger pointing to the moon”. The words we use to describe reality cannot be a definitive truth. So whatever we say in words, whatever our philosophy is, it is simply “what we say.” It’s not far from some of Wittgenstein.

    • And then, that is merely “what you say,” and I have no more reason to believe it than anything else. If “there’s a well-known teaching in Zen, which is that any philosophical statement or teaching or text is just a ‘finger pointing to the moon’,” then that well-known Zen teaching is also, hence meaningless, i.e., self-refuting/self-defeating… And if “the words we use to describe reality cannot be a definitive truth,” then yours are also, as well as all philosophers and philosophies; there is no “universal philosophical refutation” of anything either; and nothing is true or even real.
      Yet NONE of that is how we live our lives everyday, and couldn’t even survive if true. It is all philosophical mental “masturbation” for those with the luxury and comfort to do so.
      TRUTH is only defined as that which corresponds to reality. And “That’s what you say,” either corresponds or not.

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