Monday, November 3, 2014

Stop Making Fun of Philosophy!

Interesting article here about the modern value of philosophy
We should all examine our lives and the fundamental nature of living. But few of us do. American culture is famously pragmatic. We are only interested in what works, what doesn't, and what will put a dollar in my pocket. We make jokes about philosophy majors. ("Lotta lucrative career prospects there, amirite?") We don't see the value in going around asking questions like "What is Beauty?" and "What is Justice?" and "Why is there something rather than nothing?" But there is tremendous value in asking these questions, even if that value is not quantifiable in U.S. currency.
And at the level of our society, there is a dramatic pragmatic stake in philosophy. We live in enormously complex, technologically advanced societies where we have the power to do a great deal of harm and a great deal of good. Our societies are built on complex institutions (such as "democracy," "the free market," and "science"), which are in turn premised on ways of looking at the world and on ideas about the world and humanity — in other words, on philosophy.
But we have become like people in a Star Trek episode whose planet is ruled by a benevolent artificial intelligence, and who live such charmed lives as a result that, over generations, they have forgotten how the computer works, so that when it breaks down, they are completely powerless to repair it, and have to call the Enterprise for help. Our entire civilization is built on technology called "philosophy" that, in many ways, we are losing a basic understanding of.
 Well, I agree of course.  If I disagreed, I wouldn't be nearly three years into the Great Books.  I never would have started a ten year reading list.  But let's turn that around.  I've spent the past three years reading the Great Books.  What has it gotten me?
  • The most obvious thing that has happened is that my grasp of history is much, much stronger.  I've been a history buff for as long as I can remember.  (This is true of almost all strategy gamers.)  The Great Books have given me much better perspective on the ancient Greeks and Romans.  I now have a more comprehensive feel for the Renaissance.  I know much more about the political writings that led to our modern governments.  And I'll be adding seven more years of learning!
  • I've come to appreciate a more high level approach to important questions.  'What is justice?', asked Socrates.  Now I ask that too.  I look for the basic, over-arching questions and work from there.  Aristotle has given me a much greater appreciation for finding the right categories to make comparisons from.
  • Several writers, most notably Montaigne and Marcus Aurelius, have made me think about my general approach to life.  (And now that I've put them both in the same sentence, I can't help but think how wonderful an Odd Couple type TV show would be with the two of them forced to live together!)  I am using a somewhat more distanced approach when I think about how I live.  A more 'examined life', if you will.
I'm not any closer to answering the big questions that folks like Kant wrestled with and I probably never will be.  That's ok.  I'm still a better and more informed person.  Who wouldn't want that?

No comments:

Post a Comment