Philosophy Fridays: What’s The Point?

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll muse upon the road of good intentions—no, not hell.

I’ve seen this in plenty of discussions in an area where there’s vast disagreement: “yes, that’s important but it’s not the main point”. What the person is wanting to do is point out that although the details of whatever is the subject are present, they are not as important—or perhaps even subsumed—underneath the main purpose of whatever X subject is. Or, more succinctly, they want people to stop getting lost in the details but focus on the overall picture.

So if we were examining what this hammer is for, we might wind up with two sides (though you can easily envision more): generally speaking, one side explaining the parts of the hammer and the other side explaining the essence of the hammer.

“Yes,” says the Essence “those details are important but they aren’t what a hammer is for!” Basically, they’re looking at the purpose of hammer to define its hammerness.  Though, it might just be that the idea of “hammer” that we have isn’t because there is some essential thing about hammers (like for banging nails into beams)—it may just be that the things that cause a hammer to be a hammer are just as important to the intentions of needing a hammer.

On the other hand, an individual saying what necessitates a hammer is such and such parts also falls short. After all, can’t you use a hammer to dig up weds? Doesn’t that mean that the pieces of a hammer are just as important as its purpose and actual usage? Hammers exists not only because of the parts (handle, head) but because of what it is to do (bang into things) and because it is used as such (someone, somewhere hammers things).

But what if a person rejected the details in favor of the purpose: what makes a hammer a hammer is purely the intentionality. In that case you lose any distinction from hammers and bats. They are surely different objects but they can both be used for the same things, even if poorly. And then we shouldn’t really add an idea of maximal intentionality because you can always conceive of a better, less-flawed, better striking hammer.

What this all winds up meaning is that the details to what makes a hammer a hammer are just as important as the purpose of the hammer behind the hammer. Maybe it’s all obvious when studying insects like ladybugs or clownfish, but you have to wonder if it changes when you look at other things—like text.

The modern mind might say yes, it does change (though the postmodern mind will expand on that). It doesn’t matter so much what the text says as long as we understand the purpose of the text (or the intent of the author). So if we know that the purpose of this letter is to attract that girl, then the way the writer describes things are important but are defrayed by the intentionality.

But is that right? You arrive at the purpose by means of the details of the text and in conjunction with the intentionality of the author. Postmodernism would point out that the text is void of author intentionality (they’re not often labeled Love Letter) and now is coupled with reader-intentionality but even with the different lenses, the details of the text are connected to intent.

In the end, what one should conclude—after some philosophical wrestling—is that purpose, or intentionality, doesn’t preclude the points used to arrive there; if anything the points combine as a means and the very fabric of intent but can’t really exist apart from it. This is much more than symbiotic: it is necessary.

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