Tuesday, 27 January 2015

On What Philosophy Can Do: Some Meta-Philosophy

On What Philosophy Can Do: Some Meta-Philosophy

What can philosophy do?

For Plato philosophy could help one eliminate tensions in the mind resulting in an inner harmony. Socrates’ life of challenging the experts and their definitions of ideals was related to this. Therefore, a long history of philosophy was looking at ideas and checking if they ‘corresponded’ to reality.
Kant came along and drew an imaginary line in the sand, because that is something philosophers definitely do, draw lines and draw distinctions. This results from the philosopher having to start on some type of solid ground. I mean the ‘solidity’ of the ground can be questioned but there ahs to be some foundation-even if that foundation is utter cynical skepticism about knowing anything.
However, in the 20th century philosophy started out with what I call a return to “elementary school” philosophy and this was namely the attempt to make a philosophy founded upon a Math or an English class. On one side were the logical positivists and those who wanted to have a solid logically based philosophy and so the logical and mathematical foundations became key. It is not surprise that many of these ‘philosophers’ were trained mathematicians, logicians, engineers, etc. and so the philosophy had a certain tone. On the other side were the ‘common language’ philosophers who cared much more about the grammar and the semantics and language being used to describe the world and philosophy was more about ‘how humans talk and write’. This is a gross oversimplification but more or less true.
This leads to my question: what can philosophy do? I will offer some multiple choices possible answers:

1.     Philosophy can ‘judge’ science, religion and other phenomena with an objective view that is corrective.
Ex.1 When Peter Hacker says the neuro science is misguided because it has shaky theoretical foundations; he is saying that the philosopher ‘understands’ the overall system better then the neuroscientist.
Ex. 2 When Jerry Fodor says that the theory of natural selection is misguided because it has shaky foundations he is saying that the philosopher  takes MORE TIME to think over the various theories that fit together to form the theory of natural selections AND might be able to pick out errors or false statements.

The objection to this in Quine is: let the scientists criticize themselves since a philosopher does not have the same training or knowledge about the topic at hand generally. I tend to agree with this. But I think there is philosophical merit in analyzing the logic of various arguments and theories, especially if there is reason to believe things are being taken for granted or based on questionable conclusions.

2.     Philosophy is part of science (very broadly speaking of science, including history) and is helpful by connecting the common sense views with the highly technical views of reality.
Ex. When Daniel Dennett looks at evolutionary theory (Darwin’s dangerously simple idea/like a universal acid) and praises it, he tries to write a book making some of the ideas sensible and connected to a new “naturalist” understanding of the world, and this is philosophy.
The is part of the mid-twentieth century ‘naturalization’ of philosophy via Quine (who had been a teacher of Dennett at Harvard) and perhaps the limits of it are the dependent on the ability of the philosopher to understand the actual science being discussed. The issue for me (that was not an issue for Quine) is that while one is very skeptical about truth in any correspondence sense, the skepticism towards the science itself is overly charitable. By that I mean that Quine took behavioral psychology at face value, in the same way that Dennett takes the theory of natural selection at face value. To say that we need science to fix science seems to me to be a very long and boring road to drive, since science is linked to political and capital interests.

3.     Philosophy is the social “horse fly”. This means that philosophy does not claim to have the answers, but claims to be “somewhat corrective”, in a contextual sense. Like a buzzing gadfly it circles an issue relentlessly and occasionally comes in for a bite. It irritates and suggests change rather then forces change, like how materialism vs. paternalism works in political discourse. Philosophy is more maternal. For example, the difference between MADD (Mothers against drunk driving) and the actual drunk driving laws. One is a social voice asking use to think publically about a topic. The other is the strong arm of the law –punishing use for our mistakes with violence and locks and guards.
In this sense the philosopher must be rather public (not necessarily associated with a particular cause) but attempts to clarify ‘a truth’ that will be helpful to some problems or shortcomings. It seems to me that this is the role of the philosopher today. In issues of religion, justice, science, history or whatever, philosophy is really the calm civilized voice that tries to clarify a topic without a further agenda, paying particular attention to subtle intersections of ideas and facts, without trying to tell that particular phenomena how to think or why they are by necessity wrong. The ‘bite’ of the horsefly is the article, or argument or particular challenge to a particular idea which acts like a sting to the common consensus and like the sting of a bee, can often have therapeutic results.
(Or death) J

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Dialogue 1:

 ok I will reveal the truth for everyone. 
hmmm Vel X sounds promising-hope it comes back soon :)

This is how supplement industry works in the form of a dialogue: 

 TOM: 'hey jim, how the family? you still got all the supplement bulks?" 

JIM: 'hey tom -yes of course all the same as grandpa had, whaddya need? whey, soy, mct, arginine, fish oil, or is it some other waste product from the manufacturing industry like old hair or feather (we use those for amines now)

 TOM: "i just need some mct jim' 

JIM: "what for tom-been at least a decade since anyone bought any'

 TOM: "cause I have a new SCAM called bullet-proof stuff here u put MCT's on and in all your food"

 JIM: "ok awesome-how many tons u need today"?

Monday, 19 January 2015

The philosophy of aesthetics : Rococo and revolution

French 18th century Rococo is rather cartoonish in nature and a preclude for much of the Disney style

In the 18th century Rococo painting was meant to provide a return in art to a lighthearted, pure visual pleasure. It was also a symbol of meta-cultural decline. Often depicting the wealthy French upper class flirting and spending leisure in a classical high art way. This was the pre-revolutionary 'luxury' that was a sure sign of the ensuing collapse of the traditional society. The abuse of the poor by the rich for the sake of luxury summarized by that teen queen. The combination of a world of teenagers who can live luxuriously while being so naive of the suffering of others is rampant today.  “Let them eat cake” is the words of someone confusing pleasure with survival and was someone who was right for overthrow and revolution. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Philosophy is “a clear blue sky”

It has been only about 15 years since I fell into philosophy. I am a late starter compared to many, like those who attended Catholic schools as children or who were lucky enough to have philosophy in their public education. I had neither; instead, I had the straight forward anglo (both in Canada and the UK) science based education, with the closest things to philosophy being found in maybe theatre arts, physics, or media studies. I say I fell into it because I had no previous intention to study it, beyond my natural childhood tendency to argue at the dinner table, my boredom with the monologue and disjointed nature of public school, or my childhood tendency to try and find the limits of my own mind. (Like many children at bedtime I would stare at the solar system cut-outs on my wall and go from the Sun to Pluto (no longer a planet LOL) and then “go beyond” and it was a strange exercise to say the least-things went BLACK but “I” was still there watching somehow. These were intuitive Cartesian exercises really, speaking to the power of the human imagination to want to explore and understand.
After being a young businessman in a health food retail partnership (with a friend and his father) and spending my leisure and income as a “professional party-er” I had returned to university after a brief trip to Europe with my brother. During the trip we visited the island of Crete in Greece, swam in the Mediterranean Sea at night, visited the cave where Zeus was born and had explored the Labyrinth of Knossos. 

Never imagining that within a year I would have returned to university and dropped a first year economics course and filled the spot with a credit in ‘philosophy’. I can still clearly remember the dull sense of boredom the economics course had filled me with, and all the talk of ‘guns and butter’ – and the subsequent sense of wonder and full power curiosity the first class of philosophy filled me with. Now I was very lucky to have been in a first year course which was based in the history of philosophy. The professor was a young Iranian man, with an undergrad in engineering and was able to discuss these ideas clearly. That was the first course and the beginning of philosophy for me. Now after about 15 years of studying philosophy I would attempt to define it as the following. Philosophy is:
“A clear blue sky.”
in the pulp fiction of Pulp Fiction Fonzie is used as the 'universal' of cool

What the heck is that supposed to mean Andrew?  
Philosophy may be technically the pursuit of wonder, love of wonder or love of wisdom (philo=love-sophia=wisdom) but in practice it is that cool breeze which tempers a hot day. It is the indifferent (dare I use the term cool- like Fonzy) approach to human discussion, one which carefully and calmly  tries to clarify any idea- how an idea approaches reality and the political consequences of such a idea. At its heart, philosophy is skeptical of easy answers, and skeptical about common sense, while also being skeptical of going to far with ideas that cannot be grounded in common sense. Communication is true and good when it is successful. Philosophy is the groundwork for successful communication and successful communication is essential for civil human life and development. As Shaw once wrote, 'The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." 

To communicate well, in a mood of what I call "challenging compassion for the other", is the heart of true philosophy and philosophical discourse. Certainly it is not the reinforcement of "group think" based on some popular authority-although that happens with us human "pack animals" too much as well.  
SO, philosophy is not so much about offering “the answers” but rather a disposition-way of being in the world -that promotes honest and polite communication for the sake of improving the worst parts of the life on earth and maybe one day, beyond. 
In this sense, it is like a clear blue sky; that replaces a storm cloud of primitive human violence, of myth and religion; replaces the tranquilizing snow of indifference and ignorance but also provides the sunlight for science and practical progress.
Is it a coincidence that Raphael only painted the clear blue sky over the heads of Plato and Aristotle alone? Cave analogy anyone? :)