Wednesday, March 02, 2016

What Does It Matter What Philosophers Think?

What does it matter what philosophers think?

Here you are, living your life. You're concerned about your health and the safety of others in your family. You have these persistent fears in the back of your head about what might happen if you lose your job, or how you are going to pay the rent if you have no job, and how you are going to get by if you can't afford the rent. In addition to your own burdens, you take on - to some extent - the burdens and worries of your friends.

And some self-absorbed self-proclaimed "philosopher" is spewing nonsense like:

For example, it makes sense to say that if an agent has a desire that P, that this is fulfilled by any state in which P is true. A person who wants a steak should be equally satisfied by any of a set of identical states. It would make no sense for him to say, "I like them all except Number 3," when there is nothing to distinguish Number 3 from any other steak.
To which the response is, "What possible reason do I have to care about what this person is writing?"

What I think I am doing is developing a better understanding of what really matters. Knowing what really matters is the first step to making a plan to realize what really matters. It is a tragedy, is it not, to devote huge amounts of time, money, and effort into realizing something that doesn't really matter? Or, worse, to make that investment in something that ought not to be?

Like a Donald Trump presidency - something that definitely ought not to be - and yet something to which people are investing time, money, and effort.

The Trump campaign that is characterized by unjustified hatred, bigotry, injustice, the use of violence to silence dissenters, a willingness to slaughter children if it can advance a political objective, the national registration and monitoring of whole segments of the population (by people who absolutely refuse to register and monitor guns), an admiration for the despotism of people like Russian President Vladimir Putin and even speaking in praise of his willingness to murder dissidents.

Most people simply judge things by their feelings. They mix this with a presumption that their feelings cannot possibly be wrong, that they are incapable of error, and anybody who reaches a different conclusion is either an idiot or morally corrupt or both. Republicans and Democrats, Atheists and Theists, Sanders supporters and Clinton supporters, assume they know all of the truths that need to be known, and that the opposition is filled with malevolent idiots.

Then there's the person who takes a step back from all of this and asks, "Really? Is there nothing more to be said?" This person begins to look for ways to sort through the mess, to look for what can be thrown out and dismissed, which requires looking for ways to hold the various options up light so that one can make those judgments.

The next thing you know, this person is asking, "What really matters? How can I know? How can I have at least some confidence that I am not being deceived?"

In that search, one ends up asking questions that end up exposing principles such as, "If an agent has a desire that P, that this is fulfilled by any state in which P is true."  One ends up being somebody who wants to know if this can be defended or refuted. One ends up reading and writing about the kinds of things that go into this blog.

This, then, leads to questions such as, "What does it take for a desire to be a desire that is worth having? That is worth cultivating? Or that is worth avoiding? How do I know? How can I have at least some assurance I am not being deceived?"

Eventually, one ends up writing a blog with posts dedicated to the issue of the rationality of ends.

Really, if you are asking the question, "What does it matter what philosophers think?" you are actually asking the wrong question.

The real question is, "What ends are worth having and how can I know?"

If that is the question that you have, then it makes very good sense to study what philosophers think - because this is exactly what they (or, at least, what a subset of them) are trying to figure out.

No comments: