What consolation of philosphy?

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William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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  1. Avatar Kevin
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    says:

    What I’ve found as I’ve contemplated the sundry approaches is that there’s always a disconnect when viewing a scientific event – death – through religious or philosophical eyes.

    Religion requires faith in miracles unseen, philosophy calls for deep thought and introspection, and science mandates empirical data. It’s nearly impossible to find a common thread.

    But in what other life events are we limited (or judged) for having a multi-faceted view? As with most things, our concept of death is colored by our life, which means it’s meant to be conflicting, contradictory, and as different for the individual as was their existence.

    It’s existential anxiety – humans find it intolerable to think about no longer existing. So we go about creating this huge identity for ourselves as a way to “leave a mark” on the world. Religion, and the thought of afterlife, accomplishes this, and to a lesser extent, philosophy allows our thoughts to live on.

    Science tells us that at some point, all of us will be as dead as Julius Caesar. That’s a tough message to receive.Report

  2. Avatar Semra Mander
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    says:

    Firstly, I have a major problem with the second quote. Stating that Philosophy masks inner torment(as opposed to Christianity which what, lets it all out?) is highly dubious. In fact I would say, though I can never prove, that Christians and the religious in general, are likely to be less afflicted with internal strife(which is a good thing, and different from internal torment) and less likely to ask deeper questions of themselves and the world around them. Living in a mostly black and white internal and external world, the blame for any ‘internal torment’ can be safely laid at the feet of Lucifer and his minions. Trust me, I know several Christians, and from long conservations I’ve had with them, this is how they view the world and themselves. Philosophy, from the Agnostic/Atheist standpoint, leads to a great deal more soul searching, internal dialogue and constant questioning of the mind and heart. While I do think it can be easy to ‘think’ internal torment away, healing is more likely to come about through the self-analysis that Philosophy entails.

    On the other side of the coin, someone calling themselves a ‘philosopher’ is effectively useless to society. It astounds me that people can pay 50,000 in tuition persuing a philosphy major, taught by ‘thinkers’ that can barely function in the real world, spending long hours building castles in the air that crumble as soon as they’re exposed to the harsh light of reality. Philosophy should be contemplated and practiced privately, not have actual careers and college degrees based on it.Report

  3. Avatar Thomas G.
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    says:

    Great question.

    I think that a life spent in pursuit of philosophy is most definately worthwhile. It is one of the oldest professions after all, second only to… nevermind.

    Whatever your belief system, I think we can all agree that the human mind is hard wired for reflection on the meaning and purpose of our existence. As a catholic I believe that God has endowed us with these gifts, and therefore they are meant to be used. I find it sad that many go through a life without reflecting on it.

    That said, there is undoubtably a wrong way to go about it. Using your talent and gift for philosophy only to draw attention to yourself and your intelect, is prideful, and more akin to the oldest profession than that of philosophy.Report

  4. Avatar Semra Mander
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    says:

    I should also say, ‘Christian Philosophy’, of the Saint Augustine type is an example of how not to do it.

    An intellectual (or so he deems himself), out of fear of death and a burning desire to be certain about the meaning of the universe, seizes on a simplistic, zoroastrian religion that comfortably paints the cosmos in black and white. It’s very simplicity is what led to it’s popularity among the common folk, but the intellectual grows uneasy over the glaring holes, and goes through all manner of mental contortions to fill them. This is all I found in ‘Augustine’s ‘City of God’, instead of the intellectual admitting(as the small voice in the head is telling him to) that it’s all a big scam, he ‘thinks’ it away, to such an extent that his conclusions(City of God) have little in common with the Bible.

    If these mental contortions were painful for Augustine back then, I can only imagine they’re far, far more painful for Christian Philosophers today, considering, for example, all the concessions the Vatican’s thinkers have made to science.Report

  5. Avatar Freddie
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    says:

    On the other side of the coin, someone calling themselves a ‘philosopher’ is effectively useless to society. It astounds me that people can pay 50,000 in tuition persuing a philosphy major, taught by ‘thinkers’ that can barely function in the real world, spending long hours building castles in the air that crumble as soon as they’re exposed to the harsh light of reality.

    Mauvaise foi. Every word.Report

  6. Avatar mike farmer
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    says:

    It seems everyone develops a philosophy, whether consciously or unconsciously — although many people have a problem with Ayn Rand, she was a sharp thinker, and her idea regarding philosophy is that we either unconsiously develop a mongrel philosophy full of contradictions, unexamined ideas we pick up along the way and patch into a guiding philosophy of life, or we spend the time and effort to develope a non-contradictory philosophy of life that is based in reason and objectivity.Report

  7. Avatar William Brafford
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    says:

    Firstly, I have a major problem with the second quote. Stating that Philosophy masks inner torment(as opposed to Christianity which what, lets it all out?) is highly dubious.

    Semra, I wish I could have linked to the article, but unfortunately it’s not on the magazine’s website right now. The particular type of Christianity under discussion was that of Pascal; I think it’s fair to call Pascal a soul-searcher. As I said, I don’t think philosophy always and everywhere masks inner torment — Cioran, by the way, was an aphorist, so the statement was probably intended to be hyperbolic or excessive or counterintuitive or challenging or something — but I do think it could serve that function for me.Report

  8. Avatar Semra Mander
    Ignored
    says:

    @William Brafford

    I don’t doubt that they’re Christian soul searchers , with George Macdonald being my favourite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Macdonald

    The problem is, all this soul searching often leads them to take up positions that are incompatible with traditional Christianity(Macdonald did not believe in eternal damnation).Report

  9. Avatar Bob Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    “Abe said, “Where do you want this killin’ done,
    God said, “Out on Highway 61!”
    Bob Dylan, 1965 via Kierkegaard 1843

    Yes, philosophy; to search, quest, to seek the truth, reality, the Divine Ground of existence. There is sorrow here, and confusion. This generation is lost I think.
    “In the realistic sense the “post-Christian age” is an antidoctrinal revolt which, having failed to recapture the reality of existential tension, has derailed into a new dogmatism.” Sound like anything you’ve read lately.
    and of course:
    “Hence, Christianity is not an alternative to philosophy, it is philosophy itself in its state of perfection; the history of the Logos comes to its fulfillment through the incarnation orf the Word in Christ.”
    Hey kids, it ain’t rocket science!Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “On the other side of the coin, someone calling themselves a ‘philosopher’ is effectively useless to society. It astounds me that people can pay 50,000 in tuition persuing a philosphy major, taught by ‘thinkers’ that can barely function in the real world, spending long hours building castles in the air that crumble as soon as they’re exposed to the harsh light of reality. ”

    As a philosophy major, allow me to take issue with the above.

    When done right, a philosophy major is little more than what used to be called “A Classical Education”.

    When done right, you finish knowing a little Greek, a little Latin, a little German, a little French, and a little Italian. You know how to do research (seriously, pre-Internet, this was a skill). You know how to read for pleasure and how to read for self-improvement (a different pleasure, I suppose) and how to read for scholarly pursuit (or, I suppose, for a job). When done right, you recognize argument, you recognize fallacy, and (ideally) you recognize when you are about to fall into a fallacy yourself (more likely that you had fallen… but, onwards and upwards).

    When done right, you are a well-rounded person who has trained oneself to be trainable. As such, you could become an excellent lawyer, an excellent accountant, or (in my case) an excellent IT guy.

    When done right, “philosophy” is another way to say “educated”.

    Those other degrees are just vocational training.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.Report

  11. Avatar Semra Mander
    Ignored
    says:

    @Jaybird

    Maybe I put it the wrong way. What I meant was that philosophy, as practiced in the bowels of academia and secure in think tanks, ends up so far removed from earthy reality, that when people try to actualise said philosophies, the result is usually catastrophe(Marxism, Neoconservatism).Report

  12. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Heh, no problem. I just hadn’t given that particular speech in a while and thrilled at the opportunity to give it again.

    I should be thanking you.Report

  13. Avatar Scott H. Payne
    Ignored
    says:

    For the record, you are perfectly within your rights to blog like a gibbering fool on this site. Encouraged, even.Report

  14. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Well, then. I’ll share a philosophy major story.

    I went in to talk to my Thesis Advisor and he explained to me what I am about to explain to you.

    “Jay,” he said, “there are four kinds of philosophy majors.”

    He held up one finger. “The first kind are the computer science double-major types. They want to learn everything there is to learn about logic and rhetoric. They want to make their own thought tighter and then be able to make their own code tighter.”

    He held up two fingers. “The second kind is the radical politician. If you want to hear good things about Karl Marx, the philosophy department is the only game in town. The economics and history departments will have negative things to say about him. If you’re into radical politics, you come to the Philosophy department.”

    He held up three fingers. “The Big Questions students. ‘Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a God? How ought I live?’ Those students are drawn to the philosophy department and are likely to get a minor or double major with Religion.”

    He put his hand down. “The fourth kind is the fuckup who can’t get into any other department. The philosophy department always needs more students and so we’ll take anybody/everybody who shows up.”

    I like to think that he considered me a member of the third group when he gave me that speech.Report

  15. Avatar Jim
    Ignored
    says:

    “Trust me, I know several Christians, and from long conservations I’ve had with them, this is how they view the world and themselves. ”

    That’s not very authoritative. You do understand.

    “Living in a mostly black and white internal and external world, the blame for any ‘internal torment’ can be safely laid at the feet of Lucifer and his minions. ”

    If that’s the impression these few Christians have given you of Christain moral reasoning, you need to go out and find you another few Christians, because that is so far afield as to be nearly unrecognizable.

    “The problem is, all this soul searching often leads them to take up positions that are incompatible with traditional Christianity(Macdonald did not believe in eternal damnation).”

    I think you are not at all clear on what constitutes “traditional Christainity” I think you have made that pretty clear. For one thing, it is more than a tradition. Even the tradition insists that a believer go beyond tradition.Report

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