Post:The Philosophy of the Knife - 5/15/2010 - 17:59:07

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The Philosophy of the Knife ยท on 5/15/2010 5:59:07 PM 632
Mr. Book has requested that I take time out of my busy day standing in front of a lead sheet to write an introductory piece regarding the Philosophy of the Knife. Apparently, many of our 3rd generation students are complaining that the text is "inaccessible." Of course, there are many reasons why someone might struggle to read gamgweth that has nothing whatsoever to do with having the intelligence of cattle, so I prepare the following in the spirit of nurturing understanding and brotherly love.

-Markat

A post-script on vernacular:

Kigot's prose is unwaveringly racist and misogynist, referring to "man" and "humanity" exclusively. While there are some Philosophers who believe he only regarded Human males as worthy of the Great Work, most of us have had a few decades to get over any knee-jerk offense over the matter.

For the sake of transparency with the text, I will use his terms with the implication that they are short-hand to refer to both genders and any species capable of picking up the knife.




Part 1, Freedom

At the heart of our philosophy is the assertion that humanity is not only free, but irreducibly so. At no time, in no situation can you be without freedom. Clearly this requires some elaboration, since objections are easy to raise (Moon Mages have been doing it for a thousand years).

Freedom is defined in the philosophy along the lines of action and intentionality. There are, as the priest and the seer are quick to point out, forces outside our control. You will grow hungry and have no say in the matter, you may catch an arrow in the eye and that is the end of it. These crude facts of Elanthia are referred to as contingency. However while contingency shapes our expressions of freedom, it does not negate freedom.

Let us take the arrow, sailing through the air to an inevitable confrontation with our skull. The "range" of the world constricts with every yard the arrow flies, but it never reduces our capacity to react and intend to zero. At the end of the flight, the moment of my own death, I am still capable of creating infinite variations on my reaction. Do I laugh at the bitter irony of it? Cry out in rage, or in fright? Stand rigid and proud? Beseech the gods whom I have abandoned for a shot at mercy?

Examples like this can be made of any situation. The Philosophy of the Knife goes even further to point out that our very notion of contingency's restriction is freely chosen by the man. The arrow in my eye only limits me insofar as I have chosen not to will to die. A cell only imprisons me for the exact length of time I will to leave it.

You will see Kigot usually refer to this concept using two words: "Terrible Freedom." Simply enough, most men regard the concept of freedom the same way they do the Immortals: it is powerful, frightful, and threatens to consume our world view should we stare at it. If you accept the truth of Terrible Freedom, you are the architect of your own world. All your misery, all your faults and your failings, are yours. You are every monstrous impulse just as you are the ever so rare moment of genius you will readily claim.

Most men cannot accept this, and we call them cowards.

Part 2, The Other

Pretend you are a disembodied soul, floating in pure nothingness. You are conscious, but of what? You cannot be strong, or wise, or merciful or cruel because there is nothing to be strong against, or to be wise about. You cannot know yourself or affect the void. There is no freedom.

Let us give this poor man an unpopulated world to live on. Suddenly, a great deal of wisdom comes to him. He knows he is strong, for he can lift a rock -- but not too strong, for the boulder still eludes him. He can demonstrate and thus know intellect, stamina, and choose how he will make his way through his desolate hell. But still there is something missing. Is he charming? Moral? Just? Sadistic? He can be none of these things, for there are no other people to be moral or sadistic to. He can only express freedom in relation to the world.

If we call the crude earth contingency, it is because freedom is contingent on it. Without some form of resistance to "push off" of a define our lives, we can know nothing and do nothing. Freedom is not rejection of the world, it is projecting into it.

To bring the point closer to the vernacular young Necromancers will be aware of, freedom is defined by a choice of a Work upon the world.

Part 3, Transcendence

So far our philosophy is clean and straight forward, but only insofar as we are dealing with a single man alone with the world. Here is our man, capable of intending and projecting out into the world... but he is only one of countless men, spirits, and gods which have that capacity.

Let us say one man comes upon a group of other men. In his previous experiences, the first man has come to interpret the brandishing of his knife as a symbol of militant respect -- he shows the group that he hides nothing, that he openly displays his strength. The other men, in sharp contrast, have taken such a thing to be a crude threat of violence upon the weak.

They are both truth, in the sense that both parties have tested and proven their interpretation of the symbol and know it to be so, but it cannot be both truths at the same time. Somebody loses and, so it likely happens, the lone man is driven out or killed.

Should he merely flee and not die, it happens again. The group of men are irrational, hateful people who spurned his offering of respect; the lone man was a dangerous outlaw who did not know the rules of the group. And so on for as long as the interaction lasts, freedom set upon freedom.

I will forgive novices for believing we banter around the idea of 'transcendence' as some ill-defined, sublime concept, but in our truth it is very strictly defined. Transcendence is the human capacity to successfully project upon the world and bring his Work to completion. If I use a rock as a crude axe -- even if I merely pick it up on the broad side and regard it as a weapon without any physical modification -- I have brought my transcendence upon the rock and made it something else.

Transcendence is extremely important between men, because it becomes a competition. If I "prove" you are an outlaw and not a misunderstood man, we have attempted to transcend each other and I have prevailed. You become like the rock, something I freely choose to define and, having given up the metaphysical fight, it becomes a matter of contingency to which you must adapt and choose around.

Freely choosing to dedicate oneself to transcendence, to project out into the world the will to shape it, is what Kigot calls the fundamental Work, the first and most primal of all possible projections.

Part 4, The Immortals

All would be well enough if it ended with man. We would be in a cruel yet ultimately fair world, where the men with the greatest wit and strength would justly transcend all others and define the human world. Left to his own devices, a philosopher-king will rise above the bickering mass and rule it -- just as Kigot's ghost now rules necromancy due to the Work he put out in his texts.

However, this contest is anything but fair.

The Immortals have a privileged position in the world. They are stronger than us, live longer, and have vast supernatural powers which we cannot dream of. They transcend us and become our contingency, literally shaping the world underneath our feet. Of course, you may argue that they simply play the game better than us -- that they are the strongest and wisest and we are the bickering mass.

Fair enough, but let us examine the world they have created.

While we have thus far been happy to define mere human reality and freedom -- "what does hunger mean to us?" -- the Immortals are the creators who defined physical contingency -- "there shall be hunger." We must shape our freedom around hunger, disease, war, earthquakes, tornadoes, and physical decay because the gods have transcended us so absolutely and said that it is so. When your wife dies in labor, you have the paltry freedom to choose how you will integrate this into your life -- the gods had the freedom to make it not be.

With Terrible Freedom comes responsibility for ourselves and our Work. We are responsible for our every flaw, and the gods are responsible for theirs. If you look at this world and find it wanting, then the answer is simple: the Immortals do not handle their responsibility well.

Part 5, The Great Work

Here is where philosophy ends. Only informed by our wisdom and philosophy, we can do nothing but freely choose how we wish to confront the Immortals' dominion over Elanthia. So it was for countless years, perhaps since the very first man was created, until a very large book was found.

The Alchemy of Flesh (more properly, "Investigations Toward an Alchemy of Flesh") was not a philosophical text, but the research notes of a Necromancer far off the beaten path. Through practically useless but compelling proofs, he demonstrated that highly refined necromantic procedures can create life force out of nothing -- that it is capable of divine genesis. The implications were staggering: unlimited energy. Man self-defined at the most basic level of his organism. Nature itself defined by his hand.

Yet even greater than its physical power, Kigot saw it for its metaphysical implications: the capacity to transcend the Immortals and bring any Work to completion. It would be the greatest of all Works and the men who would dedicate their lives to it the kings among men. The Triumphant.

Part 6, The Honest Knife

Terrible Freedom and the Great Work are dual-edged blades. It bears repeating that at the heart of the philosophy is personal responsibility. You are your own monster. In our profession, this is an extremely important consideration.

The Philosophy of the Knife is regarded as a moral philosophy more than an ontology, because he invests hundreds of pages on the implications of our situation. It is well enough to say we are free and possess in our grasp the ability to transcend the gods, but what good is it if we do not freely choose to be more worthy of transcendence than the gods are?

I cannot go into the full ethical implications in such a short space, but I will touch on two core issues I see most of the new generation failing at.

1) Responsibility. When you transcend another man, you become responsible for him. Responsibility is not some finite value which is assigned and then forgotten -- everyone who is transcended and transcends must accept the burden of what they have freely chosen. When you kill a man, you have restricted his freedom to its last, finite point and assumed responsibility for everything he might have been.

The Philosopher does not kill glibly but most importantly does not make excuses. If someone's life must end for the Great Work, then let it be on your head. If your Work is worthy of his sacrifice, then this will be evident to all in its completion. If the space between a man and a monster is the width of a knife, then you dance on the blade with responsibility. To minimize the act, to take sadistic pleasure or to perform atrocity for anything less than the Great Work is the work of the Perverse.

2) Forgiveness versus Transmutation. A Philosopher is, on the spiritual level, evil. Do not be so cowardly as to argue you are somehow "misunderstood" or "good at heart." The Immortals transcend us, at least for now, and in the world they have made, evilness is our contingency.

The Philosopher does not strive to be forgiven or loved. Understood is acceptable, though frankly I would never bother. Your "redemption," if it is ever to be found, is in your Work. You are the vessel of an alchemical transmutation, from contingency to freedom -- evil to glory. You will find solace in your Work, or you will never find it at all. The Perverse and Redeemed, abandoning this principle, wallow in their misery.

-Armifer

This message was originally posted in The Necromancers (26) \ Necromancer Ideologies (9), by DR-ARMIFER on the play.net forums.
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