Sunday, March 14, 2010

In Response To A Philosophy Post

I was reading a blog and comment thread about philosophy, science and such that Josh posted a link to on Twitter. (Okay ignore how dorky that is on so many levels.) It was a post called "Non-foundationalism for the layman."

It was an interesting read. The author laid out some ideas and tied them to some other ideas and left enough unsaid to create some discussion. And the comments were certainly filled with discussion.

What I came away with, however, wasn't any better understanding of different philosophical approaches to finding what is true. What I came away with was two things.

First was a question. Why do philosophers always seem to clothe their ideas in the garments of other philosophers thoughts? Most conversations I hear or read between students (and here I mean anyone questing for knowledge through study) of philosophy seem to become clogged with allusions to philosophers and the theses they make. As an example, let me take a portion of a response to a comment by the author:

My encounters with Straussians left me respectful of and somewhat interested in the big names, but unconvinced of the total approach, probably because I was already into Alasdair MacIntyre before I met any Straussians.


Or a later response by someone else:

I am fine with not sticking my hand in any fires out of certainty about what will happen. I think you’re getting at Kantian distinction between noumenon and phenomenon here. I certainly think that we can judge the later, even if we have to make assumptions as to the former. As you say: “My belief that the word “fire” can’t ever perfectly correspond to the fire-in-itself in a transcendent way has never caused me to abandon my dedication to not sticking my hands in fires!”


Now, please don't get the idea that I am in any way holding any of this up for ridicule, because that is not my intention. I'm merely trying to relate something that I've often noticed in philosophical discussions.

As a layman, or mere philosophy dilettante, I am very clearly not well versed enough to offer much in the way of intellectual name dropping. But, I can see that for people who are well versed, this type of conversation could provide a shorthand of sorts. By referring to Kant (who, I hear, was a real piss ant), Nietzsche or Aristotle, one would also be referencing a whole series of ideas that these different thinkers have previously expounded upon.

It seems to veer away from what I have always perceived philosophy to be about though. That is, the simplification of our complicated world in such a way as to greater understand its meaning. (And, yes, that statement was a simplification itself.)

Anyway, after much thought, I'm still left wondering why philosophers so often use variations of "so and so said that x, thus y must be the case." Or to simplify further, why do they gotta use so dang many big words to say stuff?

I left with a second thing. (See, I didn't forget.) I left with a glimpse of truth. Or, perhaps, with a glimpse of a truth. It wasn't anything that was said in the blog or comments. It was more of a response to an underlying question in most philosophical discussions. What is the truth? It was clear and simple.

What is truth?

The sound of snow melting in the spring.

Not particularly elegant or ground breaking, but I think that might say just enough about life to be considered a truth. Then again, it could just be something that sounds neat to say. What do I know? Who am I? Why am I? Where...ahhh, forget it.

Just go out and hear the snow melt.

10 comments:

Josh said...

Yeah, I think it's just a shorthand -- like, much easier to say, "You know what John Hart would say about that" (assuming the other party is familiar with the philosophical works of John Hart) than to go to the trouble of regurgitating everything John Hart said about it.

Shawn said...

"I don't know why they always make me...mmrrmble...since I was a paperboy...mmrrmble...Eileen should have to do it...mrmmble...thought it looked fine..."

I think you're right and it is generally a form of shorthand. I still can't help but think there's a certain culture of making things more complicated rather than less though.

dbackdad said...

And sometimes it's just a way of showing off. It reminds me of the scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon's character cuts the snob off at the knees in the bar, "See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you're gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you're going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don't do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a f***in' education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!"

Knowing some obscure quotes from dead philosophers is not a substitute for real understanding.

How 'bout dem apples? :-)

The Zombieslayer said...

I'll tell you why. Just like the scientific method, you often use past evidence to build a new assumption. Or something like that. I'm sure a Kantian philosopher can say it better than I would, except a Nietzchien one may disagree completely and an Existentialist may or may not see a point in it all.

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