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Introducing Philosophology - Transience Divine
February 26th, 2012
02:07 am

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Introducing Philosophology
I'm reading "The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World" (Owen Flanagan) for my program's bookclub. The book rolls around what strikes me as a fruitful intersection of pseudo-science and pseudo-philosophy ("neurophilosophy" and "eudaimonics"), and I don't want to critique the value of this project. But the book presents itself as a rigorous philosophical inquiry, and this I struggled with. The author is a naturalist ("The world is material; we are social animals; meaning is to be found in human 'spaces'"), which would be fine if he didn't make such a shoddy attempt to argue against other philosophies.

I'm a agnostic mysticist-- I believe that the material world is a consequence of a non-material existence from which consciousness derives. But I'm interested in other philosophies on their own terms, and open to discovering that the mystic world is an illusion. But neither mysticism nor naturalism seem capable of proving the other wrong, so intelligent people become comfortable with the unresolvability.

From his naturalist stance, Owen points out that people's first aim is to survive, and have basic needs met. With this, they feel a drive toward the good, true, and beautiful. Here, "meaningful human lives... involve being moral, having true friends, and having opportunities to express our talents, to find meaningful work, to create and live among beautiful things, and to live cooperatively in social environments where we trust each other". But in the rich world, most of us (or at least most of us educated, white males), we have all those things. We are happy. So then, do we strive for contentment or nirvana?

I claim that at this point, people turn to, and develop, a philosophy. This helps them decide how to employ happiness and navigate meaning, and a philosophy is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, many of them then imagine that "a philosophy" is "the philosophy"-- that is, the right one-- and strive refine their philosophy to try to make it that right one, and then argue for it and against others. This path is useful to a point, and there is great progress that can be made refining one's philosophy. But if there is a path toward "true philosophy", I don't think this is it. As much as the modern approach to philosophy involves refining "a philosophy", it is psychologically fruitful. When it attempts to exclude other philosophies, it is a source of unhappiness and bigotry.

If these practices constitute philosophy, and we would rightly all call ourselves philosophers, then we need a new word for the work of Plato and other ancient philosophers. I call this line of inquiry "philosophology". Plato asked, "What does it mean to be a philosopher?" That is, what ties all of these philosophies together and what distinguishes them? How do we shape a philosophy, and how are we shaped by it? What are they reaching toward, and how is it attempted to be grasped?

These are not quite psychological questions, though they aren't too far from them. They are questions about the nature of meaning and existence, the relationship between human and universe, and the potential for right action-- but instead of philosophies, which are about answering these questions, philosophology asks questions about those answers and the questions that resulted in them. It recognizes that all of these questions have many and ambiguous answers, and takes that as a natural state worth studying. I believe that if there is a path to truer philosophy, it must be from this basis.

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From:siderea
Date:February 26th, 2012 07:34 am (UTC)
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I'm stuck on a premise. Maybe you don't need it for your point? I'm not sure.

The problem is
Here, "meaningful human lives... involve being moral, having true friends, and having opportunities to express our talents, to find meaningful work, to create and live among beautiful things, and to live cooperatively in social environments where we trust each other". But in the rich world, most of us (or at least most of us educated, white males), we have all those things. We are happy.


Er, actually, I'm under the impression that a lot of even wealthy white male people in our society aren't all that happy, precisely because they are adrift from morality, struggle to find and cultivate true friends, have limited opportunities to express their talents, are deeply alienated from their labor, subsist on a material environment of crappy mass-produced phony artifacts, and have social networks so impoverished that Facebook is actually a step up. Insofar as you and I and people we know don't experience life that way, we're part of a tiny counter-cultural minority.

I don't know if this is a problem for your point, because (I am realizing) I'm unsure what you mean by a "philosophy" when you say it is a thing that helps one decide how to employ happiness and navigate meaning, if it is not about how to approach, e.g. morality, love, self-actualization, work, aesthetics, and society.

And have you read All Things Shining?
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From:spacehawk
Date:February 26th, 2012 08:17 am (UTC)
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Er, actually, I'm under the impression that a lot of even wealthy white male people in our society aren't all that happy, precisely because they are adrift from morality, struggle to find and cultivate true friends, have limited opportunities to express their talents, are deeply alienated from their labor, subsist on a material environment of crappy mass-produced phony artifacts, and have social networks so impoverished that Facebook is actually a step up. Insofar as you and I and people we know don't experience life that way, we're part of a tiny counter-cultural minority.

+1
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From:jrising
Date:February 26th, 2012 05:53 pm (UTC)
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True, and I mean this less as a premise than a criteria for relevance. I think too much emphasis is placed on the selection of one's philosophy as a road to happiness-- too many self-help books argue, "If you think about things my way, you'll be happy like me." There is certainly a deep connection between one's philosophy (that is, how you see the world and your relationship to it) and the possibilities one sees for happiness, but I claim that there's less than one might suppose.

If you're unhappy, seeking out a new guru might help, but there seem to be much more reliable paths. You should try going outside more, making new friends, contributing to your communities, and seeing a psych[iatr and/or olog]ist. Moreover, it seems clear that there is plenty of potential for open, inspiring worldviews and meaningful, happy lives within any family of philosophy. The debate between naturalism vs. mysticism, for example, has no place in the book I'm reading on how to find meaning. If the answer is going to presume a particular philosophical backdrop, that's fine and the book can be informative to me whether or not I usually act under that premise (because we are not so rational and act under many contradictory premises all the time).

[As a happy person on a road to self-actualization, I struggle to understand why more healthy, white men aren't happy, but I don't think I can speak for or counsel them. I certainly can't take credit for my own satisfaction-- it started with random chance and loving communities outside my control. You can speak to these problems because you've studied them, and I may take the time to do that at some point. For now (vocationally, though not in this post), I'm trying to focus on the majority of the world that's sick and poor and with measurable roadblocks to happiness, and leave worldviews out of it.]

As to your last point, one's philosophy is certainly for all those things, from how you love to how you die. But I aim to dethrone it and democratize it. Philosophies are both necessary and wonderful, but we don't need wars over them. Reasonable people can disagree. In fact, for philosophologists, that diversity is the most interesting part.

Thanks for the book reverence-- All Things Shining looks like a good read. By the way, congratulations on your hours!
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From:abangaku
Date:March 7th, 2012 06:50 am (UTC)
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If you're unhappy, seeking out a new guru might help, but there seem to be much more reliable paths. You should try going outside more, making new friends, contributing to your communities, and seeing a psych[iatr and/or olog]ist. Moreover, it seems clear that there is plenty of potential for open, inspiring worldviews and meaningful, happy lives within any family of philosophy.

You know, this has been rolling around in my mind fruitfully ever since you posted this comment. Because, your recommendations really seem very healthy to me; and, as an educated white male who's nevertheless not often very happy (though, maybe my chronic depression, which I only learned existed after I left MIT, does exclude me from the category of "healthy white men"), I've really been taking this as an inspiration to, at the very least, reconnect with people. I want to quote this, like, on Facebook or something: what do you think?

Also, I remember forming the opinion back in my Brown days that most philosophy classes were really -- and I swear I thought I made this word up -- philosophology. It's like calling an art history class an art class to actually call what they teach there *philosophy*, so went my argument. Not quite the same meaning as your definition, I suppose. But still: it seems like there's a big philosophology-shaped void in today's academic understanding.

Also: when are we getting together??

~Lawrence:
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From:spacehawk
Date:February 26th, 2012 08:15 am (UTC)
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I'm a agnostic mysticist-- I believe that the material world is a consequence of a non-material existence from which consciousness derives.

Oh, interesting. I'd like to know more about this.
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From:jrising
Date:February 29th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC)
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I'm not really sure where to start. I think the first-person-ness is really important. Not only do we have this capacity, which I claim that science can't explain, but it's the only thing we really know. Add to that the dense mediation done by the brain in processing our world, and I'm left wondering how much of my world is constructed. When I look around, I see a combination of myself staring back at me, and things that are Other. I presume that these Others is similarly endowed with first-person-ness, and that between us we construct this world. There may be a separate "objective" world that does not rely on my consciousness, but I don't observe it. I do observe a wonderful consistency (as well as magic) in the world that I believe that we all agree on, so I spend time learning about it, but I think I am mostly just learning about myself and Others.
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