Carlos Vaz Ferreira - Philosophy - Reality, Science, and Philosophy

Reality, Science, and Philosophy

Vaz understood reality as something beyond us, but which we may contact in diverse ways. Logic serves to organize and make it manageable, while language allows it to be shared. From these elements we construct theories and systems, construct arguments and discourses, etc. Such tools allow us to interact with reality on a practical level, even if they deform and obscure it to a certain extent.

The disparity between reality — in all its completeness and vastness — and the intellectual tools used to simplify and reduce it into manageable terms led Vaz to identify an incompatibility between language and thought when expressing reality. He thus became convinced that "systems" are insufficient to comprehend the world around us.

Systematization, according to Vaz, is a natural and often fruitful tendency of the human spirit. Nevertheless, it often produces dogmas that conflict with reality.

Vaz backed up these assertions with concrete examples, using these to reinforce the validity of classifications which, as abstract concepts, can only vainly resolve vague situations. In spite of this, Vaz insisted such classifications could be useful, in the sense of pragmatic rather than abstract utility.

Vaz conceived of language itself as a system of classification in which to speak of something is merely to establish its place in a simplified scheme, and therefore to detach it from the complexity of reality. This detachment allows a distinction to be made between reality and its expression, avoiding transcendentalization, shifting the burden of ontological concerns to the linguistic level, where they need not be contemplated.

For Vaz, the difference between scientific inquiry and the world is revealed by the attribution to the former of an instrumental character, a distinction that runs against the positivism of the philosopher's formative years.

Whereas science is instrumental and limited, philosophy is a form of inclusive knowledge that recognizes the shortcomings of systematic thought; philosophy is that which establishes the limitations as well as the boldness of the sciences, and it is the role of philosophy to integrate all human knowledge.

The philosophical understanding of science corresponds not to a formal scheme but to a gradual process, in which the objects of scientific inquiry are assessed independently and inclusively. Philosophy thus parallels science in order to comprehend it. Vaz used the sea as a metaphor for understanding and abstraction: as depth increases, there is less clarity. This deepening leads to a loss of precision, according to which science, although a form of knowledge that is distributed and shared, establishes itself as an imperious necessity, the same as philosophy. In this respect, philosophy and science exist in a fraternal relationship, not as discontinuous disciplines, but as components of the same phenomenon.

Vaz recognized both good and bad forms of positivism, and saw similar dualities within skepticism and pragmatism. While bad positivism imposes scientific limitations on human understanding, good positivism encourages a love of science, which imparts numerous benefits, including to philosophy. Whereas bad skepticism presumes the impossibility of understanding, good skepticism encourages a healthy distrust of language and systematization. While bad pragmatism subjugates belief entirely to one's own will, good pragmatism regulates belief by acknowledging one's ignorance.

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