Monday, May 17, 2010


New York Times has started a new philosophy section, "The Stone":

I've always understood philosophy to be an implicit science: every discussion--political, biological, psychological, etc.--is implicitly and necessarily philosophical. Yes, you can have explicitly philosophical discussions [the nature of "good" and "evil", for example], but that leads to my second point[s]:

Many of those questions have been answered, contrary to book sales figures; the questions have survived the centuries only because people cannot tolerate [or even comprehend] being wrong. Consider how ideas propagate:

Teach Idea A, while demonizing Idea B. Idea A is logically disproved, but Idea B has already been demonized, which effects cognitive dissonance: logically, Idea A cannot be tolerated, but Idea B has been so demonized that it is impossible to accept. Unfortunately, most individuals will adapt reality to Idea A, and the disproved idea continues.

Which brings us back to the New York Times article: it's going to tolerate disproved ideas; philosophy tolerates disproved ideas, because many "philosophers" tolerate disproved ideas. That the notion that people can be completely wrong is apparently a radical thing to suggest ["Everyone has their own reality, and we have to be tolerant."] is ridiculous: most people are completely wrong about many things--I've been wrong about many things; the difference is, I've adapted to the logical things, rather than the illogical; I only wish we [philosophers, society, etc.] expected everyone to do so.


  1. Or, as Mark Twain put it, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

  2. While I fully agree with your Twain point, I feel I have to take issue with "all the big questions have been answered".
    While it's true that my 'uninteresting' alarm beells go off when I hear someone contemplate the nature of good and evil and whether we have an identity or are just a set of conditionings, these are only uninteresting questions because they are merely semantic ones, There are deeper questions that we haven't got a satisfactory answer to yet, like "How do we define knowledge?" Trivially, it's a bunch of guesses that we are more than reasonably sure of, but I advise you to take the London University's Philosophy 1 text book (edited by A. C Grayling) and read the first chapter to look at the complexities involved in this basically unanswerable question (it's worth giving a shot at it anyway, since it's so important).

  3. While it is true that many of the great ideas have been asked and answered, it is also true that it does little good for those who haven’t engaged the great ideas and know little about them. Moreover, it is required that these ideas be redefined for the useful purpose of the generation that is grappling with the unique dilemmas of their times. For instance, in our present day we have questions that are manifestly different from those of previous generations due to a globalized world with instantaneous communications and weapons that truly are of mass destruction: that is, they are massive enough to ruin just about everyone’s day. By the way, I haven’t seen the 9/11, Dresden t-shirts, but having given the underlying ideas I completely get the connection. THAT is one facet of what I think philosophy is useful for: the art of thinking.