Beware of Philosophers bearing Trojan Horses

RomanVirgilFolio101r

Sinon is brought to Priam, from folio 101r Roman Virgil

We witness the greatest human horror acted out for the good of an idea. Lives, societies, countries can be fractured, mutilated, deeply and inconsolably scarred by the embodiment of an idea. In turn, we worry about the harm ideas can cause. We fear they will mess with our heads, bend wills, break hearts.

So last time (excluding the special edition), when I suggested that we imitate — that is, imaginatively act out — ideas that are not our own as our own, I also acknowledged the worry that we risk being damaged, corrupted, by the bad ones. Continue reading

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Yeah, but I’m not smart enough

As we learnt last time, Socrates was the greatest know-nothing; and importantly, he knew it. Still, despite his genuine protestations, Socrates was actually brilliant. ‘The wisest of them all’ the Oracle of Delphi said; and everybody knew it.

Now it might occur to you that it is actually Socrates’ brilliance that affords him his philosophical ignorance. He had the right kind of smarts to come to grips with, and flourish from, knowing he knows nothing — the extraordinary natural talent to be a philosopher. He’s marked by the divine sign, for goodness sakes! Whereas, like those everyday thinkers who Socrates relentlessly questioned, someone like me (you think) does not have his sort of philosophical mind, just an ordinary mind confined to the usual ignorant.

Perhaps, resigning you to declare: ‘Yeah, it’s alright for Socrates, but I’m just not smart enough to be a philosopher.’ Continue reading

What are we doing and why are we doing it?

Okay, no more messing about, let’s do some philosophy. Yes, that means you!

Last time I concluded that my guiding principle for being a philosopher is to continually ask ‘what are we doing and why are we doing it?’ Now I am going to show you one way you can put this into practice, and I am going to start big. No made-up examples, no obscure dead white guys, no philosophy finger-pointing at pop-culture faux pas.

My example comes from living philosophical powerhouse Daniel Dennett. His Intuition Pumps is an excellent book offering an invaluable philosophical toolkit for thinking. Designed for a general readership it is extra pleasingly accessible, yet remains challenging, robust, thoroughgoing philosophy. Go check it out.

Having had the pleasure of seeing him lecture, Professor Dennett is a genial, yet formidable character, who presents his complex ideas with such convincing ease that you risk being lulled into placid acceptance. These charms, in person and in print, gives us all the more reason to consider what he says carefully. Both to make sure we actually get his ideas right (not merely accept them), and to check if they are actually right. In this instance we adjust the guiding principle to ask: What is Dennett doing, and why is he doing it? Continue reading

Know Thyself

Last time I signed off by saying, ‘make mine an espresso.’ While I do occasionally enjoy an espresso, I usually drink long blacks. I also said how fitting it was that my opening post was ‘being composed in a cafe.’ Although I did mostly work on it in my usual cafe, sipping a long black, I also worked on it at home at my desk, at the kitchen table, even on the couch. In fact I first sketched out its main points travelling on a train. Unlike my observations of party-goers which I made clearly generic and rhetorical, the statements about myself imply that they were actual events. I was saying something true.

Instead, I admit, I also employed them rhetorically. I went with the ubiquitous espresso over my more obscure preference of long black, because I thought it enhanced the prose, drawing a familiar picture of someone hunched over her laptop taking minuscule sips from those tiny cups simply to justify her continued occupation of a cafe seat. Similarly, by implying that my philosophy blog was being written entirely in a cafe I aimed to signify a continuity between my project and philosophy’s coffee house tradition. Above all else, though, I hoped generally my rhetoric would convey a genuine sense of opening a conversation; like one between friends meeting for a coffee — sincere, thoughtful, cheeky, stimulating, human.

Nevertheless, I am a philosopher. My admission of rhetorical liberties may be forgivable for a ‘writer,’ but a philosopher? Continue reading