Saturday, May 14, 2011

Philosophy As a Way to Work Out Your Worldview

I wrote before about my deep interest in philosophy and reader el asked me to elaborate on the reasons why I'm so interested in it. I have to confess that my engagement with philosophy is purely utilitarian. As hard as I tried, I haven't been able to become interested in whether things exist outside of our consciousness of them, what apperception means to Leibniz as opposed to what it means to Kant, how the ontological  concept of substance developed from Plato to Hume, and how Dasein is different from Existenz. 

Of course, you need to be familiar with the boring basic concepts of philosophy before you can proceed to the really fun stuff. It's the same with all branches of knowledge. You need to spend hours memorizing Spanish conjugations and cases when the Subjunctive is used before you can start talking to people, watching movies and reading books in the language. Philosophy has a language of its own, and it needs to be mastered if you want to begin to approach the works of the leading philosophers of our times. The reason why I have put myself through the aggravation of deciphering Kant's and Heidegger's mind-numbing texts is that philosophy provides the best short-cut to a deeper understanding of how things work, how societies operate, and what motivates people than any other field of knowledge. 

The kind of philosophy I'm most interested in is the one that lies in the crossroads between philosophy itself and other fields of knowledge. Philosophy and political science (Ernesto Laclau), philosophy and psychoanalysis (Julia Kristeva), philosophy and film studies (Slavoj Zizek), philosophy and social studies (Zygmunt Bauman) offer insights into subjects that are central to human existence. Trying to create one's own worldview without using the ideas that thinkers have developed over the entire course of our civilization's existence is similar to finding your way to the Americas without relying on the maps and the technology that we have today. Of course, you could find a couple of rusty caravels and just sail in an undefined direction hoping to arrive at the New World eventually. Or you can buy an airplane ticket and let the advances of humanity take you there much faster and easier. An airplane ticket is costly and so is the understanding of philosophical concepts. But both are worth the price.


A better future for all said...

I know nothing and I know that I know nothing at all.

el said...

"Whether things exist outside of our consciousness of them" has never interested me either. Do you know of a good, relatively easy to read book, which will teach one the language to let advance to more interesting aspects without dwelling too much on what you described in the 1st paragraph? Or several books, if one understandably won't be enough to cover the basics?

Clarissa said...

My advice would be just to identify a philosopher who talks about the subjects interesting to you and just start reading. If there are confusing terms, you can always start looking them up. It will be hard at first, but then gradually it will get clearer.

Have you read Hannah Arendt? That's a philosopher you must find interesting. And then, you can go on to other people who referred to her work and debated it. Or, you can read her Men in Dark Times, find among the thinkers she describes those who interest you and proceed to learn about them.

Or, for example, if you are interested in ideology, Terry Eagleton gives a very good, easy to understand introduction and then start getting to know the thinkers he mentions.

Clarissa said...

Self-esteem is formed in early childhood. By the age Hugo's students get to college, their self-esteem has been formed for 15 years or so.

Charles Rowley said...

One can stay within the real world without focusing exclusively on utilitarian philosophy. As a classical liberal, I place liberty (negative freedom in the sense of Isaiah Berlin) as the highest value.

I do not have to rest my valuation of liberty on utilitarian grounds. I can adopt it as the highest value without any justification.

Now let me demonstrate how the goal of negative freedom may be at variance with utilitarian philosophy.

Suppose that we live in a society where one half of the population would like to own slaves and the other half, for reasons of risk-aversion, would like to be slaves, to sell themselves into slavery in return for a safe haven and a secure life.

Universally endorsed slavery contracts might then be contracted. I would not like to be part of that world.

A good philosophic text on the philosophy of liberty, that does not rest on utilitarian premises, is Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia. Another good shorter text is Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl, Liberalism Defended: The Challenge of Modernity (The Locke Institute, 1996).