Blog

The philosophy of inconsequentialism

These are some of my initial reflections about a newly minted Dutch philosophy.

Frank Meester is a Dutch philosopher who has written a new book

Waarom we de wereld niet rond krijgen: pleidooi voor inconsequentie
(“Why we can’t make the world whole: plea for inconsequence” – amazon | bol | libris)

I found the book’s form almost as interesting as its main ideas. On the one hand it’s a “properly” structured philosophical work with a clear argument that’s built up and examined from several perspectives, and supported with many references to prior work (including Kant, Wittgenstein, Sartre, Peirce). On the other hand it’s an accessible story that’s full of casual and witty sentences, anecdotes, and modern cultural references, never taking itself too seriously for too long, and taking care to provide simple explanations for all philosophical concepts referenced.

I think this dual form works well to get across the main idea. Meester’s main point in the book is to introduce his own new philosophy dubbed inconsequentialism, which is summarized in his main statements:

  1. It isn’t possible to tell a consistent or consequent story about life.
  2. Because total consequence is not possible, we do not have to find it annoying when we don’t quite succeed at it.
  3. In practices almost everything is a little bit possible.
  4. A little bit is already quite something.

At first these seemed almost trivial statements to me that could hardly be the basis for a full book, but Meester diggs into them and their impact in quite some detail. In the first part of the book Meester reviews logic and reality for their inherent (in)consistency, building his philosophy on top of work by primarily Wittgenstein and Kant, assisted with reference to modern physics and quantum physics. In part two he moves on to consequences of his inconsequentialism, looking at pragmatism, the hermeneutic circle, ethics, and determinism. In part three he contrasts his inconsequentialism with existentialism, humanism, absurdism, and performativity.

The weakest part of the book for me is where Meester dives into physics and specifically quantum physics, subject matter he admits he is not too deeply familiar with. For some reason it is pretty popular these days to take the small scale awkwardness of quantum physics to make large scale arguments about the nature of nature, and Meester does the same. But the instances where that scale-up makes sense in nature are a rare exception to the rule that in the large you can usually get by with Newtonian physics, a rule that ought to mostly carry over to philosophical constructs. Fortunately most of Meester’s argument still holds up even when rejecting his view on modern physics.

I guess Meester’s incosequentialism might be very Dutch. In many ways it’s a modest and moderate philosophy, down-to-earth and practical, forgiving and reasonably applicable to daily life. As far as philosophies go, this one lacks grandeur, does not strive for greatness, doesn’t strongly critique or fully reject the ideas that came before. Instead Meester is poised to get along about equally well with influential Greeks, German, French and American philosophers.

I guess if Meester’s very Dutch, I might also be very Dutch, because I find this book to be closer to my own personal philosophy than most other philosophical work I’ve read recently. By rejecting absolute/simple answers to typical philosophical puzzles as well as the absoluteness/simpleness of those puzzles themselves, there’s room for nuance. For example:

  • It’s good to try to live the good life, even if it is hard to have an exact definition of what the good life is or to be perfect at living it.
  • It’s good to have lofty dreams and ideals, while it’s also ok to have practical pragmatic compromise when it is not possible to reach the ideal.
  • Compromising on ideals doesn’t make the ideals bad or useless.

I find such thoughts hopeful and comforting. If you can read Dutch I can recommend this as an accessible and enjoyable book, even if normally you don’t read philosophy. (As far as I can tell the book has no English translation yet but I’ll update this post if that changes.)