Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Some Housekeeping

So, I should probably go over the sorts of things that one can expect from this blog, and the things one should not expect. Starting with the latter, one shouldn't expect incredibly detailed analysis of what various philosophers have to say on a given subject. For one, I don't operate under the assumption that you came here to take a philosophy course. For another, I honestly don't have as much interest in which particular philosophers have things to say about the answers to a question as I have in what is said. Finally, though, I just don't have the expertise. While I have studied a good few philosophers that have useful things to say on the subjects I'm interested in, what I have in my head are more intuitions about what famous philosophers would have said, or how to apply what those philosophers said to my issues. Putting that onto paper is more often than not going to be beyond me.

What you can expect is for me to write from a philosophical perspective with a philosophical methodology on the questions that I feel are important in the human experience.  From time to time this will be sparked by a question a famous philosopher posed, and I'll duly point you towards some good explanation of what that philosopher meant, as it is relevant to what I want to talk about. But my hope for the kind of conversation this blog will be (my favorite type of conversation: I get the big, heralded posts and any one else joining gets to merely comment upon my utterances, like peons!) is that we will talk about important moral and metaphysical issues in a way that grounds it in our experience and the way that we interface with those issues. More often than not, I've found things like "Like any good Kantian, I believe blah blah blah about the world" just ends up obfuscating what someone actually has to say about the world. If what I believe is like what Kant has to believe, then maybe I'll reference how he got there, but mostly I want to talk about how I got there. That's why this is armchair philosophy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Hobby of philosophy

There was a time, in years gone by, when I felt that philosophy was the field of study that would provide the answers to the world's most important questions. Confronted as a youth by the growing understanding that the world was not quite as clearly understandable as I'd thought, I recognized that the questions which were casting doubt on my childish beliefs were ones that philosophers had tackled. Great! I gravitated to the study, and indeed even a few weeks ago I wrote down on the questionnare my moral philosophy teacher handed out that I'd signed up for the class because I wanted to refine my personal moral beliefs. It's very hard to shake off the feeling that philosophy will provide answers.

Perhaps that's because philosophers love to pretend that they actually have answers. Once you get past Socrates, philosophers seem to feel like they're expected to provide answers to the questions we pose. What is virtue, Socrates asks? Why, it is to do well whatever it is that you are made for, Aristotle replies.* Indeed, in my study of philosophy since Socrates, every major philosopher we're taught seems to feel it incumbent upon himself to provide a full system of metaphysics to explain exactly how the universe works, which will in turn give us answers to those nagging questions of morality and virtue.** With all these very smart gentlemen from all the ages of civilization telling us that they have the answer to the questions we've been asking, it's no wonder that people approach philosophy expecting that there are answers to be had.

Alas, it isn't so.

The Conceit

This blog has a three part genesis. Firstly, and probably most importantly, it flatters my ego to have writing out and about that the rest of the world can read. Second, I've been trying to figure out a way to practice writing for an audience, as I feel like it's possibly a career path that I would find enjoyable. Thirdly, I think too much about the world.

Now, I know that you are bound to say that one can never think too much about the world. Indeed, would not the world be a far better place if more people would spend a bit of time every day with their chin firmly planted on their palm, staring into space as their brains fire off on various deep concepts? I know I'd like to think that's true, but I'm also fairly certain that most of the world thinks the world would be better off if everyone else in the world was like them.

A better way to approach the problem of whether or not one can ruminate too much is to consider what it actually results in for a given person. Since I'm the only person whose thoughts I'm wholly privy to, I'll just take myself as the given person. I spend most of my time either in reading or in thought, which on paper sounds like an awfully admirable way to spend my time. However, what I find is that when I drench my brain in thoughts about whether or not it is ever moral to use coercion to achieve an end, I tend to come away not with a better understanding of what it is to be a moral person, but with more burning questions. And as if that weren't enough, with a desire to share my thoughts so far with some unsuspecting passerby. My somewhat amateur study of philosophy has gotten me no closer to virtue, done nothing to make my life one better lived. Indeed, given that I'm sometimes late for work because I've been reading some news report or blog post on philosophy of history, you could certainly argue (and I would) that my pursuit of understanding has injured my life.

The fact is, though, that even if philosophy cannot make our given person (yours truly) a better given person, it can fill one's life with a sense of intellectual curiosity if one's preferences lie in that direction. Since I've been interested in philosophy for as long as I can remember, I figure that I might as well accept being late for work, and get down to the business of enjoying my hobby. And feeding my egotism and practicing my writing, of course. The result of these written and published musings shall be whatever this blog turns out to be, and my dear readers can help me with my first goal by reading the blog, the second goal by asking me to explain myself when I'm utterly incoherent, and the third goal by please please please disagreeing with me and telling me why I'm wrong! That would give me more of those delightful questions that drive the hobby of philosophy.

Now you know my aims and your responsibilities. Let's get to it!