Re: MD Do we all need philosophy?

Date: Tue Feb 03 2004 - 20:21:13 GMT

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    DMB said:
    Welcome. Don't worry. This thread was probably started by one of our resident nihilists, one who believes philosophy and metaphysics are pointless activities. Fooey on them. Was it Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living? I suppose its also true that the unlived life is not worth examining, but these two truths do not cancel each other out.
    And insofar as philosophy is means of learning not WHAT to think, but HOW to think, yes. We all need philosophy - all the philosophy we can get. Go for it.

    Because DMB is certainly refering to me as a "resident nihilist" (though I didn't start this thread), I'd simply like to clarify my actual views, as opposed to the ones foisted on me by DMB. I do think metaphysics, understood as the attempt to get at reality behind appearance, is pointless. I do not think philosophy, understood as the attempt to see how things hang together, is pointless.

    Under this guise, do we all need to do philosophy? I don't think so. I don't think all of us need to engage in this activity to lead an eventful, happy life. On the other hand, with such a bland, broad definition of philosophy, there aren't many people who do lead lives without engaging, if even inadvertantly, in "philosophy."

    When I said earlier that I don't think philosophy will help everyone, the definition I was using was something like "what is being done by the authors grouped together under the heading 'Philosophy' at your local library." In other words, I was answering the question, "Do we all need to read Plato and Kant?" No, we don't. As I said before, if it helps you live your life, like it has mine, than do it. If not, then don't worry about it.

    But under DMB's definition, where philosophy is roughly synonymous with "critical thinking," then yes, we all need philosophy. However, under this definition, I would be led to saying that there isn't anything distinctly philosophical about philosophy books that couldn't be learned by reading and engaging with sociology books, history books, literature, or politics. This is, again, why I still maintain that nobody _has_ to have a profound and life-long relationship with Plato.

    I think a lot of people here get frustrated when their friends aren't interested in philosophy or don't take it seriously. From my point of view, however, this frustration is the same frustration that _everybody_ has with their friends when they aren't interested in something that you take very seriously, be it football, politics, or philosophy. You really want them to like this book you read, but they just won't read it. Its not because they're stupid or there's some gigantic conspiracy in the education system to get people to stop thinking. I think we need to stop making "philosophy" synonymous with "thinking." I take philosophy to be a specific kind of thinking, a kind of thinking that's typically enormously private, roughly the attempt to answer "What is the meaning of life?" Only an individual can answer that question for themselves.

    When I erect a public/private continuum and say that philosophical pursuits are more private than public, I'm not saying that we shouldn't teach philosophy or that philosophy is pointless. I'm saying its something we shouldn't legislate. However, philosophy, I would say, is less private, in this sense, than football. On the continuum I erected, I would say that politics is something we should all learn, philosophy is further down the continuum to something that would be nice if people learned, to football, where if it fell off the face of the earth, civilization would continue unabated (so far as I can tell, at least; I could be wrong, football may be the glue keeping our society together).

    So, when your friends enter into a conversation with you, and you keep trying to turn the conversation to things you care about, like philosophy, think of it from their point of view: you sound like a religious evangelist. For the evangelist, everything is about God or Jesus or the Bible and they are always trying to turn the conversation to that and get people to believe, like them. My advice to everyone is to more or less do what Mati suggested: just let the conversation go where it will. I wouldn't even try directing it like Mati said. Just let people talk about what they want. My friends don't appreciate it when I ask leading questions. They know I do philosophy, and if it sounds like I'm trying to teach them something rather than have a conversation, they rightly get pissed off. God knows I don't like it when you're at a bar and people are trying to teach rather than talk. Its all about context.

    If you want to martyr yourself like Socrates and Rousseau, who had no sense of timing or context or social grace, by all means, go ahead. But don't be surprised if you start to lose friends, or you find it hard to make friends. If this is a problem for you, then you might want to amend your social excursions. If it isn't, then continue the pontificatory streak (I'm not saying you or anybody has one (except me, Socrates, and Rousseau), I'm just painting a stark picture).

    And I'm not saying that everybody needs to bow down before the Social Gods. Far from it. I'm just trying to get people to lead their lives the way they want to without regard for the way others want them to. This kind of antiauthoritarianism requires you to leave people alone to make the decision to _have_ a regard for others if they want it. My claim about philosophy is simply, if it makes you happy, great. If not, then skip it. If it drives you crazy because you are obsessed with it, then try and cope with it somehow, either by stopping it or continuing with it. It you couldn't give a rat's ass about Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, then don't worry about it at all. I don't think there are any hard and fast rules in the area about how to resolve these questions (except when it involves people's lives or their own personal freedom). I think they are completely personal and idiosyncratic.

    What pisses me off to no end is the kind of high and mighty feel that is exuded by people such as the existentialists. They eschewed the Great Authority, God. But then they went on and on about how great they were for being "authentic," and shit like that. To me, Authenticity is just one more God that needs to be popped. When I was a teenager (not too long ago), I used to love all that existential, angsty junk. Not a lot, but just enough. Now I read it and go, But what if they _really_ like Brittany Spears? Is that really so bad? Are they really hurting anybody? Need we be so socially sadistic as to sit around and care about what other people are doing so much that the only thing we do is make fun of and rip on what others do because they aren't "authentic" like we are? If the only people Brittany Spears fans are hurting are themselves, and they seem happy and fine, shouldn't it be enough for us to dislike Brittany Spears and let everyone else decide on their own?
     Shouldn't it be enough to give our own opinion when asked ("What do _I_ think about Brittany Spears? Oh, I think she rots."), but not try and erect it as the TRUTH?

    I get the same feel of social snobbery from those on here who pity those who aren't "philosophical" in whatever idiosyncratically relevant sense given to the term. I have two standard answers: either it is a pity that they aren't "philosophical," but that's not because they don't read Plato, its because you've made "philosophy" synonymous with "thinking," or why don't you mind your own idiosyncratic business and stop trying to foist your own desires on others.


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