We've had requests in the past for a general discussion of what philosophy is, without focusing on any particular text, and I've always swatted these aside, as I was afraid that the conversation would be too unmoored, too bullshitty. Well, last Sunday, 3/3/13, we recorded just such an episode, by accident as it were.
See, we're trying to write a book, and trying to figure out how to have some of the PEL-style interaction get into that book instead of it just being some essays by us individually. So we took a stab at having a short conversation that we could then transcribe and edit into a dialogue chapter.
Two hours later, we had a full, regular-quality episode, and while some of what was said will be familiar to long-time listeners, we still managed to surprise each other, and probably engage with each other (as opposed to monologuing) a bit more than on a regular episode.
The question "why do philosophy?" of course morphed in part to "why did we in particular get started doing philosophy?" Our touchstone in preparing this was to keep in mind our previous discussions of Plato's Apology and Gorgias, so there's a little bit of Plato talk in there, but for the most part is just our own opinions about what makes philosophy valuable and how it differs from science on the one side and religion on the other. (And even how it's like art!)
Randall Miron says
Very much welcome. All I have to say at this point is that if you slag on Wittgenstein, I will cry, or stomp around cursing, or write angry posts on Facebook, or maybe even try to think afresh about what Ludwig has to say about philosophy and its (de)merits. 🙂
Aaron Watson says
Sounds very interesting – I think my favorite parts of the podcast are after the initial setup is done (vegetables) and you get into the meat of what it really means, and reflecting on the reading (dessert). This sounds like it will be all-meat with some desert, i.e. comfort food.
I apologize for my analogy but I just came from a lunch buffet.
My two cents, we’re studying/reflecting/interpreting our experience of the world, and also the qualities or limitations of that experience on some meta-level, and from that mobius strip of data we’re creating our own meaning to those events, and then deriving how that meaning dictates what actions we should take in the future. And from those actions we perceive new inputs which cause the process to loop over again and again and again, building on it’s new insights (or errors).
Nate Johnson says
I was listening recently to some other (ie lesser) podcast and the the guest was saying that he thought philosophy was more like art than like science. It seems that ‘philosophy is like ______’ is pretty common, whether it’s a philosopher stating outright that philosophy should be considered a science, or someone trying to turn philosophy into math, etc. I don’t hear very often that science, religion, or art are just branches of philosophy, which sounds like it has as much going for it s anything else. Is there a kind of insecurity within the history of philosophy that leads to these kind of re-identifications? Or is more that the insecurity lies in the artists, the theologians, and the scientists trying to take philosophy down a peg or two, and philosophy, like Socrates, has its head too much in the ‘Clouds’ to respond to criticism (better)?
academic philosophy is having a very hard time these days (at least in the USA) trying to make any claims for both legitimacy and relevance/usefulness to folks outside of the discipline (and a few on the inside), and in our current political climate many depts are on the ever shortening line to the chopping-block (not to be confused with History’s slaughter-block).
At my university, all the humanities are being eviscerated. They don’t make money, which is King of course, so all the money goes to the engineers and business guys.
Really sad for the people most interested in literature.
Nate Johnson says
I was a creative writing major in college and I’ve always felt that literature and the humanities in general, including, importantly, philosophy, had a great importance for mankind. I think that the humanities give individuals perspective, other points of view. I think that seeing the world from another perspective, somebody else’s point of view is essential in making great human beings. Math and science are important, but I think all this focus on them is dangerous in the long run.
Nate Johnson says
Well, not to say that philosophical thought never promotes the status quo, but the status quo doesn’t need any help from philosophy staying right where it is. To me it seems that most of the great changes in the world have sprung from philosophy. And not to inject politics, overly, into this (because it’s not always political), but those with vested interests in the status quo are almost always those who would have the power to empower (or more usually depower) change. I’m not convinced that vested interests are intentionally devaluing philosophy and the other humanities, but I think it goes a long way towards explaining why there isn’t a lot of fighting to keep it around.
Michael Rissman says
I came to the site tonight to post on what philosophy has done for me in the past month. It has made my life more livable in the face of circumstances that might make it otherwise. The two heroes of this story are first Socrates and then Epicurus.
Up until a month ago I volunteered lots of hours at a local grade school. I had been volunteering for a few years working with advanced math students. Then, a teacher, to save her own skin, accused me of improper behavior with the students. The school had no choice but to turn the case over to the police. All the school told me was that I should stay away – they could tell me nothing about the charges or who made them. I saw a lawyer. His first words after hello were, “Prepare to spend the rest of your life in jail even if you are innocent.” He went on to explain that child molestation cases were the modern equivalent of witch hunts and that if they wanted to get me they could.
It took the police a couple of weeks to complete the investigation. I looked over my shoulder a lot and looked out the window wondering if the car I heard approaching was the police coming to get me. But I did not think of running, nor did I feel sorry for myself. I thought of the example Socrates set. He reminded me or my responsibility to the kids. If I were to die in jail, and child molesters don’t live long in jail, so be it.
No sooner was that cleared then I got a phone call from my oncologist saying that a recent routine CAT scan showed that cancer that had been in remission might be back. Epicurus helped me anticipate that day. I have lived a full and generous life and I am ready for the end whenever it comes. I have decided that chemo would never be an option. I’m healthy now and strong and will stay that way as long as I can. Today I got the results of a MRI; it is cancer. I will get a biopsy and then will have the growth removed from my liver. But I am calm in knowing that it is in my power to make the end as good as I want it to be.
They say that burrowing animals dig exploratory tunnels for the joy of it. Evolution selects for the trait because tunnels dug out of curiosity come in handy for escape. I read philosophy out of curiosity. I enjoy thinking about what makes a good life. That my curiosity has paid off is serendipity.
Wayne Schroeder says
Holy crap Michael, that is one boatload of S&%H^*&T%(*F&C%(*&^K (my philosophical response).
Dyami Hayes says
So just to clarify: This episode will NOT be about feline aesthetics?
Wow. Disappointing P.E.L…. bunch of rac- errr… catists!
Mark Linsenmayer says
It is rather insensitive for that cat to be wearing blueface.