And why bother with philosophy?

Is this a strange question given my incredibly strong interest in the subject matter, which is at the core of philosophy? i think it is not and will set out below my reasoning. But let’s just start with the answer.

We should bother with philosophy because as a species, we are losing our individuality. It is only through taking the time to THINK and, to pause to consider why we think; that we can retain some idea of what it is that constitutes “me”.

If we do not do this then we become pawns in what amounts to a big social experiment. And even a cursory look at crowd dynamics shows that this would create high levels of tension and leaves very little room for individuality.

Here is a bit of convoluted thinking for you. It would fail academic minimums of proof – yet methinks the academic approach wants to assume the world as being all straight lines… whereas maybe straight lines are the exception, not the norm.

i was sitting at a cafe a little while ago, pondering the world and sharing my lack of understanding at its complexity with a good friend. After regaling said friend with all sorts of assumptions, facts and abstract theories, he pointed out that all of this was rather irrelevant. In fact, he suggested, it can be summed up in a simple phrase:

Technically correct but nobody cares.

This halted me in my tracks. It put into words something that had been nagging at the edge of my consciousness whenever I added a little more data into my mindset.

What point is there in being technically correct? Look at a few examples of times that being technically correct fails to be of any use :

  • You lose a court-case because the other person hires a more expensive lawyer
  • You come up with a video format (beta) that is technically superior to the major alternative (VHS) yet find that your system is not as popular and suffers an economic death
  • In the middle of a popular revolution you are hanged along with all the others of your social set – even though you were considered an outcast and an agitator within that group (think French Revolution and you being an aristocrat who spent a lifetime of good works towards the poor… yet onto the chopping block goes your head)

They are pretty lame examples but hopefully you get the idea.

The scary bit is that being a technically correct philosopher doesn’t actually mean anything. You could still be socially inept and a complete wanker in every other aspect of your life. It could even be that you simply have annoying habits while being a lovely person while being the world’s most technically correct philosopher. Those annoying habits will stop anyone caring about your technical correctness.

Have a look at good ol’ Charlie Darwin. As the proponent of evolutionary theory his approach was to put forward a case, argue its relative merits and, when it seemed appropriate, to state examples where his argument could be wrong. Critics pointed to this as a weakness in his conviction towards his theories.

Think about this for a moment. Who has the issue? It is not Darwin. He feels safe enough in his knowledge and clear enough about the limitations to that knowledge to be able to point out potential faults and pitfalls. There is no shortcoming in his conviction. In his mind there is no need to be overtly aggressive in promoting his version of the world.

No, the problem is with the critic. The critic disagrees with the theory and chooses to attack the proponent rather than the theory. Rather than say the theory is incorrect and attempt to disprove it, you simply point the finger at the proponent and say, “hey, it can’t be that great a theory, ‘cause even Charlie has admitted it has problems and he isn’t overly strong in presenting his case… so his theory is crap”.

Now someone who has been exposed to the structure of argument will see this as a specific form of fallacy and can discount the critic and the criticism to the extent that this fallacy is relied upon.

The problem is that not many people get exposed to the theory of argument and even those who do are not all particularly interested in applying the knowledge they have. Remember, they may simply dislike Darwin’s writing style or the shoes he wore when they met him.

For those who do not take the effort to identify and work through society impacts on their behaviour there are even more issues to work through. Maybe Darwin has a great idea but he takes too long to get to it…

What if his, “The Origin of the Species” and “The Descent of Man” were not published separately but instead were added as appendices to “The Voyage of the Beagle”? What if they were at the end of a 38 volume encyclopedia on something mind-bogglingly boring – even to the people in the specific branch of learning? He could have been technically correct yet unread!

Where am I going with this, you ask?

We should bother with philosophy – even though it is boring and sometimes amazingly esoteric and occasionally mind-numbingly pedantic – because it is the process of thinking that saves us.

Not everyone is imbued with the same level of ability for logic and reasoning (thank goodness) but most can at least see “common sense” (whatever the hell that is).

So if we think of philosophy as being the love of wisdom then maybe it is worthwhile that everyone at least be exposed to that love.

Maybe not in the complete sense – that would butt up against issues such as religion, theology and belief (in which case philosophy is sometimes seen as being an “anti” position) but in the simple sense of being taught an appreciation for wisdom.

It’s an old word that one, “wisdom”. It even sounds old. Not enough of a sound-byte in that one so if it was to be promoted in todays world it would need to be renamed or rephrased.

And so we move to another wall in the pathway to appreciating philosophy, and that is time (or at least, lack of time).
It is a well-worn phrase (hehehe, that is kinda funny, ‘cause the phrase “well-worn phrase” is probably a well-worn phrase) that people are busier and busier and have less and less time “available”.

Somehow this becomes an excuse for doing nothing. It becomes an excuse for pulling in your oars, turning off the outboard motor and simply setting the vessel that is your life adrift in the social tide around you.

Not just in a physical sense. It also becomes a mental escape. The world is so busy that there is no time to think or spend time on thinking.

We (don’t you just love how I assume the royal prerogative?) then face the biggest individualism issue of the 20th Century. That is the incredible increase in data that floods our world and our senses.

It has been described as “infobesity” – which is a lovely amalgam of words to increase its marketability.

I do not know who described it as such but my favourite expression for this disease is, “thirsting for information – drowning in data”.

The world is more complex and has so many incredible facets to it. There you go, I have said it. Of course, I think that this is a load of crap. The world is the same world it has been for an awful lot of years. It is just that our ability to filter that world and make sense of it has been impacted more savagely and at a greater rate than our social skills for coping.

In this I see philosophy as a tool for survival. By learning to appreciate the process of thinking we can learn to better cope with not just the overt, physical world that is thrown in our faces each day but also with our own thoughts and reactions to this world.

There is another enemy to thinking – and that is humour. Funny, isn’t it? 

Yes it is – but it is true.

Have you ever seen a situation when a tense moment has been broken by humour? That same incredibly helpful escape valve is also an impediment to deep thought. Ok… i know i am on thin (and unsubstantiated) ice here but i’m short on time and there is just so much to do…

No, truly.

Let me express it the way it is in my mind…

The lead singer of the globally popular band U2, Bono, is addressing the huge crowd at a concert in Scotland. He asks for silence and in deference to his persona the tens of thousands of fans fall into an amazing silence. Into that silence we hear noise as Bono slowly claps his hands together. slap. slap. slap. Every three seconds another ‘slap’ sound. The crowd is hushed, mesmerised by his skillful presence. “Each time i clap my hands a child in Africa dies”.

From the depth of the sea of faces a voice shouts out, “So stop fooking doin’ it then!”

That about sums up how humour works. It’s a great thing – and a tool that i use when pushing my own version of superficiality but you can see how it can also put a stop to worthwhile thinking.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.