Extreme Philosophy

'Extreme philosophy' is like 'extreme sports' and 'extreme programming' but applied to philosophy. What does 'extreme' mean and imply for philosophy? A useful pointer to this, which we will pick up later, is: If philosophy is love of wisdom, extreme philosophy is extreme love and extreme wisdom. This site opens up the nature and usefulness of extreme philosophy, by acting on what 'extreme' and 'philosophy' both entail.

The phrase 'extreme philosophy' has been used before informally to indicate taking nihilism further than anybody else has done. Two problems with this: their 'extreme' employs a dubious analogy and is as far away from 'love' as it is possible to get, and their 'philosophy' is restricted to one narrow attitude that marginalises most of those engaged in philosophy. We don't want to go down that road.

'Extreme' as 'Outside'

At root, 'extreme' does not mean 'severe', 'ultimate', taking things further than others have done. According to Webster's Dictionary [1975] 'Extreme' comes from the Latin extremus, the superlative of exter, being 'on the outside', 'outward'. At root, 'extreme' refers to being 'on the outside' and even 'outward' in its attitude. Outside what? Outside the accepted cultural assumptions and fashions, which tend to distort a thing so that its true nature is compromised. Another pointer: Extreme P (where P refers to philosophy, programming, sports, etc.) means P that is true to itself and no longer contaminated or compromised by cultural assumptions and fashions.

Extreme sports are sports that try to be true to the nature of sport. Often they are more risky than other sports, but that is because they do not want to be constrained by safety rules. Extreme sports might involve money but want to remain outside commercialism. Extreme sports are carried out for fun and with style.

A good understanding of 'extreme' may be grasped by looking at Extreme Programming (XP) [Beck, 2000], which is computer programming that tries to escape the confines of too much administration and other things that detract from programming itself. These turn programming from fun into drudgery, and part of what XP wants to do is restore the fun to programming. So does 'extreme' mean just shutting out all other considerations so that programmers can have a nice life? No. XP aims at more important things along with this: to restore productivity to programming, which was harmed by too much administration, to reduce the frequency of errors in programs, to keep the clients more engaged with the whole process, and to ensure the program that is delivered provides what is most useful to the clients. It is the nature of programming itself to look outward: to be productive, to generate reliable products, to maintain good communication and relationship with clients and to help deliver something truly beneficial. 'Extreme' in programming just means: clear away those extraneous things that prevent programming from being what it should be as a human activity. Most of these hindrances have come in from cultural assumptions and fashions; Extreme Programming is outwith these cultural assumptions and fashions.

Outside Cultural Assumptions and Fashions

Which cultural assumptions and fashions are there about philosophy, outside of which extreme philosophy places itself? Some are from the surrounding culture, some are among those engaged in philosophy themselves:

Some of those characterizations are less than kind and perhaps caricature those that really affect us, but most pertain in some way, and most will be subject to 'extreme philosophical' critique before we finish. [this site only just started, so be patient]

Extreme philosophy sets itself 'outside' all these assumptions and fashions. It does not reject them or come against them, so much as being somewhat independent of them. It recognises that some of these contain insight, but does not take any of these a priori, without question. Extreme philosophy is philosophy that tries to be true to what philosophy can and should be as a human activity.

Briefly, extreme philosophy may be understood by reference to each of those assumptions above.

How Extreme Philosophy is 'outside' cultural assumptions.
Cultural assumption
Its insight Extreme Philosophy
The cultures of ordinary people
Very abstract Some abstraction away from life is involved, but ... ... extreme philosophy should always be engaged with everyday life. Wisdom.
involves playing around with ideas for no practical purpose New ideas might require 'playing', but ... ... in a way that is always aware of and sensitive to the whole of reality.
is carried out by special people called philosophers To 'do philosophy' requires certain ways of thinking, but ... ... anyone can learn that way of thinking.
who are sufficiently well-off to give them time to waste on doing this. One does need time to ponder, but ... ... everyone can find that time, e.g. when walking along.
Philosophy involves unbiased, neutral thinking. Philosophy does aim at knowledge that can be relied on by others, so any biases must be clearly visible, but ... ... no thinking can ever be unbiased or neutral.
Philosophy involves linear thinking. Philosophy does involve deductions that have a linear form, but ... ... extreme philosophy involves a lot more than that.
Philosophy leads to endless arguments that never get resolved. It is true that philosophy involves theoretical thinking and that "Theoretical thought has never finished its task" [Dooyeweerd, 1984,II,p.556], but ... ... extreme philosophy can generate useful material as it goes.
Philosophy has no link with everyday life. Sadly, some philosophers have given this impression, but ... ... extreme philosophy has a closer link with everyday life than does science, because it addresses all aspects.
Philosophy is a secular alternative to religion. Sadly, some people try to use it like that, but ... ... extreme philosophy cannot escape being grounded in deep presuppositions that are religious in nature.
Various cultures among philosophical thinkers
Philosophical thinking is neutral. No. See above.
Philosophy is our most universal tool. Philosophy does allow for multiple types of rationality, but ... ... rationality is never absolute.
Philosophy keeps on questioning. Good philosophy has a critical element, but ... ... extreme philosophy questions questioning, situating it in wider (everyday) life.
Philosophy will tell us what reality is like. That is the work of that part of philosophy we call ontology, but ... ... most ontology over the past 2,500 years has "hidden rather than revealed the structure of reality", and it is the role of extreme philosophy to clear away those things that prevent us seeing it.
Philosophy will not tell us what reality is like but only how we know reality. That is the work of that part of philosophy we call epistemology, but ... ... most epistemology over the past 2,500 years has privileged the theoretical mode of thinking, treating it as absolute and neutral, while extreme philosophy does not, but allows for other modes such as intuition.
Philosophy should not be influenced by opinions or ethical considerations or religious beliefs. The results of philosophical thinking should be applicable across all opinions, ethics and religious beliefs, but ... ... extreme philosophy recognises that opinions, ethical considerations and religious beliefs do and should affect its process, though always in a very visible way.
Neither God nor ethics are allowed to impinge on philosophy Philosophy should never be dominated by, nor the tool of, religion, as it was in mediaeval Europe, but ... ... extreme philosophy can work out the philosophical implications of any type of Divinity theory, so long as it is always careful not to become theology.
Philosophy is superior to both God and ethics [in the sense that it can make God and ethics objects of its thought, such as to try to (dis)prove the existence of God]. Our relationship with God and our ethical functioning may be considered philosophically, but ... ... extreme philosophy is humble, never sees itself as superior, and especially recognises that when it comes to Divinity, it might be fundamentally impossible to apply philosophical thinking.
Philosophy gives me a feeling I can make a name for myself by undermining what others have believed. Philosophy does provide good bases for critique, especially of long-held assumptions, but ... ... extreme philosophy does not seek to undermine. Rather, in an attitude of love and humility, it seeks to gently expose presuppositions and antinomies, support and enrich.

More to come. The plan is to seek a way to "clear away that which hinders us in seeing the structure of reality", including its historical and linguistic and social aspects. The extreme philosophy project:

- a rather large project! But there is a philosopher who has attempted something like this before, Herman Dooyeweerd, and we will be making use of a lot of his work. Moreover, many other philosophers, such as Husserl, Heidegger and Habermas, have addressed some of the problems and provided useful insight.

Watch this space!


Beck, K. (2000). Extreme programming explained: Embrace change. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Dooyeweerd, H. (1984). A new critique of theoretical thought (Vols. 1-4). Jordan Station, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press. (Original work published 1953-1958)

Created: 30 April 2009 by Andrew Basden.

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