A Commencement Address.
Faculty, honored guests, family members, and of course, this year’s graduating doctoral students of philosophy.
Why are you here?
I hear you chuckle, and am fractionally gratified by it. You have heard me start off this address by hacking up a tired old philosophical joke, kicking off this inspirational oration with a twist of a Great Question (capitalized). And you have responded in kind, with meta-laughter that conveys acknowledgment of the referent but no true amusement, except, perhaps, in some of the hardier fools among you, for it was a sad sad shade of a joke, like so many things in our noble field of study. And here, by “noble”, I mean “resembling neon, or helium, or any of the other gases notable for their inertness and non-reactivity”.
For I know it’s been said before, but I shall say it again, for the admonishment of the scatter-brained and feeble-headed: philosophy is bunk. Yet here we are studying it, and I teaching it (or so my paychecks claim), for little pay and less interest from the outside world. We are about to release you robed and apple-cheeked individuals out into the largely non-philosophical world, to ply wares no sensible commoner would purchase, or even inspect for flaws. Have we instructors done our job, or merely bilked you out of a sizable chunk of tuition? Perhaps both (though probably the former).
I believe the problem is not one of basic principles, though. Rather, your uselessness is attributable to needless adornment. So I suggest we prune the tree of knowledge, so that your faces might bloom all the rosier, and better match the glasses you’re all wearing. An exercise in efficiency: let us hone Occam’s Razor, shall we? Indulge in a little constructive friction to align the finer micro-edges of our embattled brains, hmm? Dear old Occam, or Ockham, or Ok’um, or Wee Billy Thinker, if you like (and I don’t), once said, or more likely wrote and then possibly read aloud:
Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.
Sound words, arranged in a relatively harmonious fashion. But if we lay the razor against the pale shivering neck of this sentence while grabbing a sufficient handful of its lustrous hair, it becomes clear that even in this laudable aphorism there are some unnecessarily multiplied entities. For example, the prepositional phrase “beyond necessity.” I have argued elsewhere that in nearly every instance, a multiplication is merely the latest iteration in a series, a legacy of mistakes. (I avoid the definitive ultimate here, so as to not be forced to make a meal of such unpleasant words in the future, should one exist, which as I have argued in another elsewhere, namely my book Le Fin de Denouement, it does not.) For what is multiplication, whether mathematical, mechanical, artistic or sexual, if not a known error willfully repeated? (Some may take issue with my inclusion of mathematical multiplication under the copious umbrella of error; six times six is always thirty-six, as they seem to enjoy rubbing in my face. I will grant the accuracy of that equation within the realm of its overarching system, but we must remember that mathematics is a human system, born (or should we say “multiplied”? (We should not.)) of mortal human brains, and therefore not only colloquial in scope but inherently incomplete (for we are not infinite, at least last I checked) and therefore erroneous. We do not live in maths; we live in the real world, the reality of which is highly debatable (consider my pamphlet This Is Not A Pipe, But Thank You For Smoking It Anyway).
Shakespeare proclaimed there was nothing new under the sun, and that is why we call him a genius today — that, and the many ways by which he displays humanity’s headstrong ignorance and boorishness — and he made that proclamation several centuries ago (if one subscribes to a linear conception of time, which I do not, for reasons discussed in yet another elsewhere, namely the treatise A Knotted Naught Not Noted: The Tyranny of Spacetime). Already in Elizabethan times, humanity suffered an insurmountable novelty deficit. Since that period of virgin queens and ribald theater, nothing has been able to prevent the nearly constant and entirely distasteful process of multiplication, just as nothing of even the slightest true and inherent originality has resulted from said multiplication. New novelty remains unfound. No risky cognitive bounding is required to see the pattern. We know how this multiplication will conclude; we have seen the product before; to perform the operation again is unnecessary (also unavoidable: see my The Lapsarian Infinite: Compulsion As The Human Condition). So we can reduce Occam’s Razor thusly:
Entities should not be multiplied.
Now we are getting to the nut-meat of this wise man’s utterance, for here we have an injunction free of all potential qualification, a directive of the simplest proto-binary orientation, a clear and thoughtful rule so easy to follow (at least in theory, if one places any value in theories, which I do not (see my Cardhouse Ablaze: A Theoretical Deconstruction of Epistemology)) that its own simplicity works to prove its merits. However, even this truncated axiom can be further essentialized. For if entities should not multiply — that is, if entities should not engage in their sole, compulsive and inescapable purpose — then we have canceled out any justifiable reason for the existence of said entity. Therefore:
Entities should not be.
Here we run into a new problem (or possibly two, though I will deal with the purely logical issue first, and the more persistent ethical/philosophical one later). Namely, by broadening the directive, the system has lost its element of agency. “Entities should not be multiplied” is limited by its conditional result: either one is engaged in multiplication and acting against the axiom, or one is not multiplying in any way, and is acting in accordance with the axiom. “Entities should not be” is merely a descriptive statement, and even worse, it describes a non-existent idealized state as distasteful and useless as a Platonic cave. We must excise those components of the system that render it inert, and give the sentence back its directive engine, the component that makes it an active living utilitarian philosophy, and not just a leaden pipe dream by which the human mind is repeatedly and painfully brained. As the system in sentence form is comprehensible only to those entities which can consider and analyze the system, we can remove the self-referent, and most importantly, we must remove the equivocating “should,” which is where all the trouble comes from (sometimes). The semantic surgery thus employed leaves us with:
Or, in a more linguistically parseable turn of phrase:
Or even more familiarly:
Some have said that such statements make me a nihilist of the bleakest rank. The question of being is the fundament of our field of study, the floor on which we stand, the chair in which we sit. “What is being?” is the first question, perhaps the only question, and I am characterized as a gainsayer, a casuist whose sole purpose is to tear down and undo, to nullify, to render pointless. My response, if a response is necessary (and it isn’t) is simple and equivalently aggravating: the question is wrong. What is being? Easy. Being is a state to be endured. Further words spent on describing being are hapless filigrees on a wrought-iron door that will never be opened. The question, as I said, is wrong. “How is being?” That is the question, my little Hamlets and Ham-lettes. Did you get that? It’s more of a visual as opposed to audible pun. I’ll let you contemplate it for a moment. Now you see, yes? No. But I must move on. We are not lumps of matter. We are our occupations and our deeds. We are each an aggregate of actions in the form of a human.
So I reject this appellated nihilism and make a nothing of its nothingness. I blot it out and cancel it. How is being? Being is accomplished. Being is done. Being is doing, and that doing undoes the bleakness and the nihil in extremis which critics attempt to fasten to my back like a doctoral kick-me sign, and if they’d read my Void Voided: an Essay on the Non-existence of Nothing they would realize how out of their depth their being is. My stance is not nihilistic but positive, and positivist, and excitingly existential (though existence is a non-verifiable hallucination, as I proofed and vetted in my sequel to This Is Not A Pipe, But Thank You For Smoking It Anyway, my magnum opus Life Is But A Pipe Dream, or We’re Sorry, Mario, But Jean Baudrillard Is In Another Castle, which appears to be unprintable for reasons which escape me and climb directly into the gourd-like skulls of any and all potential publishers). One final reduction of Occam’s Razor finishes the job, whittling “Don’t be” down to:
I started this address in the interrogative, and I end in the imperative, and it is imperative I end thusly, for I have nothing left to say. I can say no more than: “Do.” A permission granted. A call to action. An irreducible directive. The most basic form of command. Wisdom so wise, the nation’s most esteemed puppet espouses it, though the wrinkled green bastard gussied it up with a lot of extra verbiage and backwards diction and sad puppet faces. Would you neophytes ignore that most rubbery of mystics? You must not. If you take nothing from your years here, take this: do. Do! Do and keep doing, for only then will you be.
Dammit, now I sound like Yoda.
Thank you and good afternoon.