Abstractionism

Phenomenology does not deny the importance of stepping back from the stream of living to ‘take thought.’ But certain kinds of thought are neither phenomenological nor existential, because their motive is to abstract away from the ground-level participation in the world in order to deny its claim upon us. Salvation by thought= salvation by de-situation. These types of thought are too neatly patterned, too balanced, too comprehensible. They exist to escape the real concrete encounter, on the ground, in time, because this has qualities of mess, flux, ambiguity, paradox, mystery, strangeness, profundity, that don’t easily ‘add up.’ Abstract thought can either theorize into some other world, preferred to this one [Plato]; or it can theorize grand schemes that will iron out all the non-adding-up of this world [Hegel]; or it can formulate mechanical explanations for grounded processes, in the expectation of predicting their regularity and controlling them [science]. All this might be called ‘theoretical thinking.’ Kierkegaard ridicules all versions of this, because none of it addresses what it is like to be a person in contact, by virtue of consciousness, with the world. He calls such abstraction ‘thought without a thinker.’ It leaves out what it is like to be a free person relating to other free persons, and to all the existential fates ‘flesh is heir to.’ Heidegger says we often prefer our abstract representations of reality to reality. These representations get rid of a lot of the richness of existence in favour of a ‘thinned down’ version, a sort of pale, skeletal reflection; and we like this thinned down version because it is easier to deal with, and seems more efficient to use, when our only motive towards reality is wanting to conquer it for the sake of our comfort and safety. For this same reason we prefer ‘calculative’ thought that delivers ‘accuracy’ to ‘contemplative’ thought that delivers ‘truth.’