Feb 062011

Unlike DK, who thinks it all boils down to pointless questions of semantics, I have a great respect for philosophy. Perhaps too great, in that I have always understood its purpose to be the examination of stuff, any stuff, with the goal of reaching enlightenment, or just understanding, or even just theoretical solutions to theoretical thought-problems.

In simplest terms, I think the purpose of philosophy is to examine with intent to reveal, rather than obscure. If that means delving into pointless semantics, so be it. Words, after all, have meanings. And if it means spending a lot of time examining something and ultimately getting no further toward a conclusion than, ‘Well, I guess it sort of depends,’ I’m cool with that. Stuff has many facets, and people have many perspectives. Sometimes agreement can be reached, and sometimes it can’t. And when it can’t, that’s often more interesting, because then you can examine why, which hopefully leads to more enlightenment, or just understanding, or whatever.

So it pains me to read stuff like this from supposed champions of philosophy.

According to La Wik, Alain de Botton has had an elite education which, presumably, trained his mind in the ways of examining stuff, including a master’s degree in philosophy and an unfinished PhD in same. He is credited with making philosophy accessible to a wider audience, though not without some accompanying criticism.

I recognise that a first-rate education and some degrees is no guarantor of quality of thought, but I would have liked to hope these can permit a man’s thought to rise at least fractionally above that of the common herd.

But there is no point of view or argument in this article that I have not seen a hundred times before from all types of people, even from the keyboards of that most reviled and aphilosophical species, the blogger.

There’s the underlying theme of ‘people are so selfish, they actually think they have nothing to learn from the government about how to live!’

There’s the crass comparison with religious rules and taboos, observers of which ‘libertarians’ are said to pity often—a necessarily unfounded statement, and one that entirely fails to examine the question of consent.

There’s the assertion that the existence of advertising makes us unfree and mass consumption has turned us away from morality.

And then finally, there’s the blanket belief that ‘we’ (speak for yourself, Alain) lack the strength to resist temptation and could all do with reminders to be nice and act like good grown-ups.

We may begin to wish that someone could come along and save us from ourselves… Complete freedom can be a prison all of its own… It is not much fun, nor ultimately even very freeing, to be left alone to do entirely as one pleases.

To paraphrase a rather greater thinker than I: is this language which philosophy may properly speak?

Is it part and parcel of making philosophy accessible to the masses to obscure meaning with meaningless contradictions? Freedom can be a prison, indeed.

Is it the task of philosophy to perpetuate misconceptions such as equating libertarianism with absence of moral judgment, when in fact libertarianism contains very robust concepts of what constitutes right and wrong?

Perhaps so; I, after all, am a product of state education and have no degree in philosophy. Who am I to judge?

But all the same, I feel desperately sorry for the real philosophers out there, when the man popularising their discipline to the proles is a real-life version of Dr Floyd Ferris.

  2 Responses to “Another Point of View”

  1. Utter tripe, isn’t it?

    As if the process of being elected somehow gives you a morality upgrade, a self-discipline boost to raise you from mere Child-voter to Adult-representative, or better yet, to fully-vetted and monitored (presumably, but by whom?) Nanny-elect.

  2. My particular version of libertarianism includes the notion that you should be free to choose (or not) a moral framework.

    He seems to assume that libertarians desire an amoral society or that they yearn for a world where nobody attempts to state what is morally right or wrong.

    I’m a libertarian atheist and my wife is a practicing catholic minister. We’re expecting our first child in May and I’m quite happy for him to be brought up within a catholic framework because, despite my metaphysical disagreements, I believe that traditional christian values are a convenient shortcut. What I hope is that I’ll be able to discuss God, politics and morality with him as he grows up and has the freedom to make his own choices about how he lives his life. This is a far cry from an all encompassing nanny state where there is no escape.

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