March 4, 2011

Philosophy - Stephen Hawking And Robert Wright Say It's Useless. Is It?

The value of philosophy is to be sought largely in its very uncertainty.  He who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason.  As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given.  Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubt which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom.  – Bertrand Russell

Is America Philosophical? by Carlo Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2012
Does Philosophy Matter? by Stanley Fish, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, August 1, 2011
Does Philosophy Matter? (Part Two) by Stanley Fish, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, August 8, 2010
Putting Philosophy to the Test:  A New Breed of Thinkers Takes the Search for Wisdom to the Streets by David Menconi, Standford Magazine, September/October 2011
A Survey and an Assertion: Twelve Potted Philosophers and A Theory fo Human Values by Carlin Romano, The American Scholar, Summer 2011
Freud as Philosopher by Gordon Marino, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages-Opinionator, October 9, 2011
The Islamic Scholar Who Gave Us Modern Philosophy by Robert Pasnau, Humanities, November/December 2011
Interview with Peter Boghossian by Paul Pardi, Philospophy News Service, December 5, 2011

Hawking Contra Philosophy (Jan/Feb 2011) by Christoper Norris in Philosophy Now:  A Magazine of Ideas

A good article worthy of more than the one read I've given it so far.  I took it to say:  Stephen:  Here are some good reasons to brush up your modern philosophy.  Mind that you don't speculate yourself into absolute falsity.

Then there's Robert Wright, author of a couple of good books - The Moral Animal and The Evolution of God:

Beyond Intellectualism (Feb 14, 2011) by Robert Wright  in The American Prospect:  Liberal Intelligence

Wright's view of philosophy seems a bit cocksure for my taste.  His strong adherence to "bedrock pragmatism" is a clear nod to his belief in the primacy of relativism and absolutism for solving problems. 

However, if we all only thought this way there would be little chance Humankind's morality would evolve and a good likelihood our primary evolutionary survival mechanism - cultural adaption via imagination, invention and innovation - would quickly stagnate, wither and be given up.  A fatal outcome for all of us.  We would quickly become dependent upon short-term, here-and-now solutions and the certainty of fixes that worked in yesterday's present.  When confronted with today's and tomorrow's novel challenges, personal or global, we would only be armed with short term fixes (relativism) or one-solution-fits-all dogma (absolutism).  The political conservatism so popular in the US currently is a good example of this approach to society.

It would be foolish to not be pragmatic and clobber many problems with the hammer of certainty when that solution is best.  Many of our problems, again personally and globally, seem fairly obviously suited to this approach.  But not all of them, and certainly not the most difficult problems of humankind and the biosphere. 

To dismiss the ceaseless, exploratory probing of philosophy as a useless waste of time is short-sighted and worse, a turning of a blind eye toward the very essence of Life, Nature and the Universe - change.  Relying exclusively on relative and absolute solutions for ever-evolving problems is foolish and can be fatal.  "Evolve or die," in the case of Humankind, refers to our use of successful solutions and responses for challenges, be they pragmatic or out-of-the-box.  We need both.

We all must at times be pragmatic.  But for most of my living and thinking I am fortunate to be able to prefer and use gray and other muted, nuanced tones when it comes to truth.  Such an approach makes things more difficult and time-consuming but my efforts and outcomes are more worthwhile and satisfying in that they are more truthful, reliable and useful.

What say you, valued reader?

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