Monday, January 28, 2008

Philosopher Fridays On Monday - People Try To Teach Philosophy To A Philosopher

Delayed for the weekend - Somerby's one main fault is a tendency to delay promised articles - Philosopher Fridays returns today with reader input that shows that lay folks still regard philosophy as some kind of final arbiter of reason and Truth, rather than the creation of castles in the air - beautiful structures! such profound goodness and truth! - that, like all such things, are too often figments of the imagination of those cerebral architects.

There is still this lingering idea that "reason" is something external to human beings, a court to which access is given for only a select few. These few sit in judgment upon human actions and thought as the final determinants of what "fits" with this "thing" called "reason". This Platonic temptation, which seems self-evident, makes those who should probably know better imagine philosophy as the most subtle way human beings have yet designed to contact this realm of eternal forms, rather than an exercise in the wonders of language creating these floating McMansions.
SOMERBY(1/18/08): “In our view, of course, almost all ‘philosophical writing’—especially that which deals with ‘the nature of consciousness’—is painful to read, poorly thought out, shoddy, inept and disastrous."

You do qualify these statements with “may be” and “almost,” but it seems a rather shallow concession towards your desired end of making philosophy out to be nothing more than hucksters mashing language together until people nod their heads in contrition. We have enough of this these days already, instead of jumping on the bandwagon why don't you actually stand up for something? Truth, Beauty, and Existence (big T or small t, take your pick) is a good start. If people refuse to accept that we can stand on the shared ground of reason then what use is it to run your blog in the first place?

That is the criticism of much contemporary post-modern (anti)philosophy - if we don't play the game by the old rules - mere anarchy is loosed!


Mere anarchy has always been the rule. Thinking the near indecipherable writings of Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger somehow just have to have deep meaning because they are so badly written is the first mistake we too often make. On the other hand, reading Richard Rorty, who managed to make pragmatist philosophy accessible to anyone with the ability to read at a high school level, often causes philosophers to shake their heads. It isn't opaque enough. It dismisses much of the heritage of the west as so much sophistry and fantasy-mongering. He takes things as assumed that have always existed as questions in philosophy - the reality of the world, the role of evolution in creating human language and thought, the role of interpretation in communicative action (to quote Habermas).

Yet, it is precisely these qualities that made Rorty the exemplar of an approach to human social life. By clearing away the muddle, by insisting that we reject the notion that "reason" is some external tribunal standing in judgment over human activity, we can finally see that we are creatures embedded in webs of activity, including language, that are rooted in our humanity. It is not a question of "human nature" as some airy philosophical concept, but rather humanity as the mundane reality that we are the result of evolution, happy accidents who have developed all sorts of tools for coping with our environment - from society and language to prejudice, war, and the wheel - and our continued survival depends upon setting aside a prejudice for believing in Platonic courts of last resort, but engaging in the always stressful, never complete task of learning to be human.

If "reason" is cast aside, what's left? Why, just living - and learning to live as fellow human beings on this watery dirt ball. That seems like quite a task in and of itself.

I look forward to more of these. Somerby is my kind of philosopher - he knokws crap when he reads it.

Virtual Tin Cup

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