Monday, April 15, 2013

A Short Interview With Myself Regarding the Motivations Behind my Desire to Engage in Philosophy

Why attempt to engage in philosophy when by modern standards, you are unqualified? You lack any demonstrable credentials, you have no degree.

Well there are no qualifications necessary to be a philosopher except the possession of a curious mind, and the desire to think critically. Whether or not people in modern culture will listen to somebody that lacks the credential of socially approved education is another question. The point of philosophy, however, is not to be heard. Qualifications can actually be a hindrance to philosophers. People in modern society rarely challenge somebody that possesses superior qualifications to their own on a subject in public, and being challenged is absolutely necessary in philosophy. In some ways, my lack of a college degree is an asset to me as a philosopher because people will challenge me frequently in a more strident manner. I welcome being challenged as that is the only way to grow intellectually. "Experts" are too often affronted by people challenging their authority on a subject about which they are ostensibly qualified to speak. They seek to shut down questioners with the weight of their years of study, and not the content of their arguments.

Why should anybody consider to what you have to say? Why not read Plato, or Kierkegaard or other established philosophers instead of spending time reading you?

Well it depends on whether the person is seeking to be a student of philosophy, or a philosopher. I would recommend reading established philosophers to anybody. I would never want somebody to choose between reading my writing and reading the writings of any great philosopher. However the only person for whom it a legitimate choice to just read past philosophers is the person that seeks to be a student of philosophy, and not a philosopher. Ludwig Wittgenstein said it best when he said A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.” The main advantage I have over the great dead philosophers is that I am alive. You can interact with me, we can discuss things, you can challenge me. You don’t have to ask an expert on me what I would have said, you can simply ask me, and we can have a discussion. That is the difference between doing philosophy, and studying philosophy.

Why do you wish to be a philosopher? You don’t have a degree, likely nobody will publish your philosophical essays or dialogues. What do you gain from this?

Few of the great philosophers of old were known in their time anywhere outside a few small intellectual circles. Most of these philosophers never made money from their philosophizing. It’s not really that sort of field. The great thing about intellectual circles is you don’t have to go to a college to find them, you can create them by finding other intellectual people that want to have conversations and do philosophy. Being a philosopher isn’t about being famous, it’s not about people 500 years from now reading my writings, what does that matter to me? I will be dead. No, what matters to me is getting the most out of life by thinking about the mysteries of human existence, our place in the universe, my purpose as a human being, my responsibilities to other human beings. Philosophy all goes back to Socrates, it is simply valuing the examined life over the unexamined life. I didn’t choose to do philosophy, I have to do philosophy. There is no other way for me to be fulfilled in this life. So I will philosophize and hope others will join me because as great as this conversation with myself has been, it gets boring all by yourself.

Philosophy is a big place, what aspects most pique your interest?

Right now it would have to be the distinct lack of concern with philosophy in our culture, and the damage the compartmentalization caused by modern education is doing to our society. I want to make the case for philosophy, and for changing cultural perceptions by changing how we teach our children to learn, and how to interact with each other and the world. Most of all I want to talk about things that other people want to talk about with me. I want to have conversations about everything, and write down my thoughts, share them with others and receive their thoughts on the subject in return. I love philosophy because it is such a big place, because the universe is a big place, and discovering how things are connected is the greatest adventure I can imagine.


  1. How would you respond to someone like Stephen Hawking who claims Philosophy is dead?

  2. First, I will post excerpts from Hawking's statements so that people who are unfamiliar with them will have some frame of reference.

    “Almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,”

    Which he follows with... “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics."

    and... “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. [New theories] lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it”.

    This exposes the fatal conceit of modern science. The belief that knowledge and understanding are the same thing. The truth of the matter is that science is incapable of answering the question "what does this mean?" Science can theorize about the truths of the universe and, in some cases, actually prove some of those theories. But the meaning of those theories to humanity cannot be answered by Science. Scroobius Pip, a favorite musical artist of mine put it well in one of his songs. "Truths become perspective as soon as man discovers them." Hard data is important, but data itself is insufficient. The data must be interpreted, its implications must be considered. The impact of the data on the course of humanity's metaphysical future is better handled by philosophers than scientists.

    Scientists have been historically bad at balancing ethical practice with the quest for knowledge. Think of the Nazi scientists that with the confidence of their field performed cruel experiments on people. Science is capable of describing evolution, and its mechanisms, but is science capable of telling us what we should do with that information? Science has led us to the discovery of the potential to clone human beings. But is science capable of answering the question as to whether or not we should clone human beings? Or the purpose to which we should do so? Science learns through experimentation and observation, it does not make moral judgements.

    This is honestly sort of an ideological rehash of an old argument. One of Neitszche's characters pronounced God dead. One of Dostoevsky's characters stated that if God does not exist, everything is permissible.

    Hawking has pronounced philosophy dead. I respond that if philosophy is dead, everything is permissible, for ethics lives and dies with philosophy.

    On top of this, modern science owes much to philosophy for its genesis. Quantum physics was borne via philosophical considerations and discussions about the nature of existence. Einstein's concept of a unified theory which is just now in the beginning stages of being proven was a philosophical concept first, then science begins to test it. Descartes was a philosopher and he revolutionized geometry. Kant was a mathematician and a moral philosopher. Aristotle was a scientist that recognized the importance of philosophy in understanding the implications of discovery. Curious minds want to know not only how something works, and why something works, but what it means that something works in the way it does, and what implications that has for the future of human actions.

    This comment is already pretty long. But I just want to distill my response into a final statement. Science is invaluable to the cause of discover, of explaining the mechanics of the universe. But science is incapable of providing guidance when dealing with metaphysical evaluation.

  3. The Einstein example is a particularly good one. But, should the Philosopher be up to date in Science, Mathematics, Technology? Is this at least a fair critique for the Philosophy, today? I am thinking of John Dewey here. I think his essay on the influence of Darwinism on Philosophy is a good model for Philosophers today.

  4. I think philosophers should be concerned with truth in all its forms. This doesn't mean that all philosophers must also be scientist but anybody claiming to love wisdom must obviously be concerned with truth.