Philosophers are a persistent bunch, to say the least. When you boil it down, the business of the philosopher has not changed for a very, very long time. Today’s greatest minds essentially ponder a handful of questions that were old news well before the horseshoe was a newfangled invention.* The natures of truth, justice, beauty, reality and the good life are in many ways as elusive as they always have been. Of course, some progress has been made. We have seen the rise and fall of a great many theories concerning one or more of these basic questions. We have leaned the pitfalls of definitions that are too broad or to narrow. We have seen the perils of ignoring or dismissing these matters altogether. And we have begun to learn that religion is a fruitless substitute for proper philosophy. But we certainly have not resolved these issues. At best, we have learned how to think more clearly about them, which is no minor accomplishment.
Clear thinking is philosophy’s greatest marketable product, and perhaps its most useful application.** Unfortunately this is all very intangible; people rightly demand to see philosophy put to use in real life. Non-philosophers are justified to expect philosophy to manifest itself in a meaningful and tangible way. But anyone who has paid considerable sums of money to study philosophy will be familiar with the jokes. Hopefully a single example (which happens to be my uncle’s personal favourite) will be sufficient.
Q: What question does the philosophy graduate most frequently ponder after graduation?
A: “Do you want fries with that?”
After a good chuckle, the comedian, if she is in a generous mood, will throw in the small consolation: “But seriously, it’s very important. I always loved philosophy.” But how are we to make it real in today’s world? Where to begin? Perhaps the most obvious domain is politics. There is no shortage of real-world dilemmas that are significantly transformed when one is armed with an understanding of the structure of logical arguments and the many fallacies that haunt our reasoning. The familiar “you are either with us or with the terrorists” might as well be taken from the section on false dichotomy in a first year philosophy textbook. Perhaps the world would be a better place if that were more widely understood. This may seem to be a glib example, but I will defend that many matters of philosophy are indeed ones that translate into serious (and yes, life or death!) situations. But more on that later.
What, one might ask, do I hope to achieve with this blog? I have three basic objectives:
- To ground what I have so far gathered from philosophy in terms of real events.
- To shed some light on what I consider contemporary philosophy’s pressing concerns, which includes the ever-present dilemmas I mentioned above.
- To write about other stuff of vaguely philosophical character. We can call charitably classify this as the ‘miscellaneous objective’
As a closing remark, I will simply add that I hope not to abandon this blog. I feel that this must be said given that blogs, like marriages, seem to have an abysmal failure rate. So in sickness and in health, until the next time!
* Which was incidentally around 200 BCE in what is now Germany, Wikipedia tells me.
** Of course, for the rare professional philosopher, philosophy’s most useful function is generating money. It’s all about the ben-ya-meens? Ugh, sorry.