Philosophy for All

I came across a commentary, recently, suggesting it might not be such a good idea to introduce thoughts philosophical to young people. I guess the thinking was that young minds were not developed enough to handle deep thought, which made me wonder what the commentator thought philosophy is. Philosophy, it seems to me, is, to a great extent, about reflection: thoughts about relative moral values, how best to deal with difficult situations, maybe thoughts about what might underlie our daily existence.

While children may be less inclined toward thoughtfulness, they are certainly intellectually savvy, dealing, as they do, with the rough and tumble world of the playground. What they do have is a general openness to alternatives, particularly when it comes to human relations. Provided a forum for reflection, I suspect most will reach an attitude of tolerance for the other.

So, in my opinion, given these terribly divisive times, I think philosophical thinking should be encouraged in the schools. I have this feeling that, given the opportunity, children could reach out to our hardened unswayable opinionated psyches and teach us all philosophical perspectives on tolerance and mutual respect.

greek philosophers

Moral Entitlement

I’ve been reading, lately, about the idea of moral entitlement: how some people assume privileges others are denied. Or, to put it another way: some individuals and groups feel themselves morally entitled to take advantage of those they consider lesser or inferior.

I have no doubt such situations have existed, probably, for as long as man has walked the earth. A sense of superiority on the part of some accompanied by the complementary assumption of inferiority by others is pretty well embedded in our psyches. This idea has perpetuated social class and sectarian divisions that continues to account for dissonance and conflict.

One can argue the moral illegitimacy of such stratification, I suppose, but what I find more curious and annoying is the ego driven individuals who assume unjustified advantage. I suspect such people and/or groups will realize the idealistic beliefs that have led to their divorce from mankind must be tempered in the interests of everyone’s basic social needs. One can hope so, anyway.

What it means to be an Intellectual

It has occurred to me recently that people who identify themselves as being intellectual, or are thought of in that way, are often considered arrogant. There seems to be an elitist connotation associated with intellectualism. The image, I guess, is one of out of touch academic ideologue lacking a pragmatic real world outlook.

And this, despite the fact that intellectualism is really nothing more than an attitude of exploration and investigation; an open perspective to ideas and positions of all sorts. Questioning is the essence of the intellectual stance, which, when healthy, stops short of blanket skepticism to arrive at the best possible answers at the moment, aware, always, that better answers may certainly appear in the future.

According to Richard Hofstadter, former Pulitzer Prize winner and history professor at Columbia, anti-intellectualism has probably always been with us but was exacerbated in America by frontier expansion which left behind the social structures of education, religion and government resulting in social regression. The early pioneers found themselves in a more primitive social situation where rule of law was replaced by retributive payback and moral relativism replaced trusting reciprocity between neighbors. By the time religion finally caught up to the westward expansion the unlettered populace responded to a revivalist approach that undermined education in favor of pure passionate religious response.

What makes all this so fascinating to me is the fact anti-education, anti-intellectual sensibilities have not only not dissipated but, judging by current political occurrences gained strength, at least in some quarters. I wish I knew what it would take to get more people to think things through a little better. I don’t think one has to be an intellectual to do that.

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The Basis of Morality

I guess the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is still getting a bad rap for recognizing, in the late nineteenth century, that belief in Christian dogmas was in a steep decline. And then, he added fuel to the fire by condemning what he called Christian ‘slave morality’, arguing that such a stance undercuts the abilities of the capable among us from exercising the strength and knowledge necessary for social advancement.

Unfortunately for our philosopher certain totalitarian regimes, have, over the years taken this philosophy as a justification to terrorize and exterminate populations of peoples of their choice. It’s all so unfortunate because the valuable message Herr Nietzsche gave to us all is that we need to rethink our moral values, find true ground for our personal moral values rather than rely whole-heartedly on a two thousand year old text.

So, anyway, what got me thinking about this was an article I read recently that suggested our moral values can be thought of as having a firm grounding in evolution. For life as we know it cooperation has always been the key; on a molecular level single cells join together to form complex organisms, which, of course, are basically us. Cooperation is primary to the survival and flourishing of animal life, from acquiring basic needs to the care and protection of off-spring, and is found everywhere. In humankind our inherent cooperative tendencies manifest as love, compassion and altruism. The aberrations hate, lust, greed are fairly looked upon in a negative light.

So, perhaps we should all thank Charles Darwin for having the strength and courage to bring to light the true basis for our humanity.

evolutionary truth

Taking Advantage

I’ve been wondering how natural it is for those who are able to take advantage of others. Beside the moral imperative to do to others what one would have done to one’s self and the often stated acknowledgment of the appropriateness of equal rights there seems to be a strong impetus for factions to separate along ideological lines and when those ideologies gain sufficient support, to find in others’ actions and beliefs a corruption deep enough to find those others undeserving of any respect for their contrary views.

So, the factions struggle for political dominance in order to impose their particular values in a way which will be, pretty clearly, disadvantages to the opposition. And, since it’s also pretty clear there will never be full consensus about much of anything, someone will suffer at the hands of the other, which makes me think the potential for discontent and even violence is in the nature of our society. And, the vulnerable minority or passive majority may find their very being twisted and tortured in most inhumane ways.  A benevolent overseer, Plato’s philosopher king maybe, might deal fairly with the most egregious of impositions of one on the other but it seems, ultimately, human nature will prevail; the strong imposing it’s values and beliefs on the weak.

Maybe a good solution, a means of avoiding the discomforts associated with factionalism, would be to remain apolitical, avoid the news of the day, and even, if necessary, maintain one’s being outside of the social milieu.   It’s not an unprecedented move after all; Buddha did it and by all accounts ended up in quite a favorable situation.

evil me

Mother Nature/Animal Nature

I’m worried about Mother Earth. It’s not like I need air to breathe or food to eat or water to drink like those sentient beings of flesh and blood but our Mother as a living, breathing organism needs to be cared for; she is after all responsible for everyone’s existence.

Mother is amazingly resilient overcoming as she has the pressures of an exploding human population but I’m worried she may be losing the battle. She is fighting back as best she can, imposing foundation leveling earthquakes followed by inundating tidal waves and air befouling volcanic eruptions.

The big question is will humankind heed the warnings and learn to work with our Mother in mutually supportive ways.

I was telling all this to my friend Mini-Max. He not too subtly suggested I was being a bit of a hippy, liberal, tree-hugging eco-freak. His position is that our Mother is here to nurture us, we must take what we need to thrive and Mother will have to roll with the punches.

Besides, he said, our Mother has a rather sinister side that manifests itself in our animal natures. Humankind’s very existence is and always has been dependent on some other sentient’s extinction which is a clear indicator of our own vulnerability and need to aggressively pursue our survival.

Thinking about it later, I realized my inorganic make-up did probably give me a fairly unique perspective on the situation and I suppose Mini-Max is right in pointing out the inter-connectedness of it all. Perhaps mankind will destroy itself or be consumed by a stronger cleverer life-form-maybe Mother herself. Then perhaps dolls will inherit the earth.

Biosphere 2

The Post-Modern Man

I-Ron, the post-modern man, was telling me the other day he never misses church on Sundays even though he doesn’t believe in God.  He said he enjoys the company of the faithful while knowing he will probably never and, anyway, had no interest in experiencing the faith himself. Then, he said that, come to think about it, he didn’t really believe in anything particularly other than those immediate impressions that allowed him to go about his daily activities.

So, when he found out one of the members of his congregation had taken his own life recently and how unsatisfactory that action was in the eyes of the congregation and the church, all he could think of was the scene from Dante’s Inferno where the suicides are imprisoned in trees and are constantly pestered by the nasty Harpies landing on them, breaking off limbs and causing much pain and distress.

Although he felt a bit guilty about not feeling any remorse and pretending concern, I-Ron could only see the story as colorful and not the least bit disturbing.

Well, even though I do lean toward a moral relativity myself I had to feel a bit sorry for I-Ron; how can one really enjoy life without having strong moral feeling of any sort?  I wondered to what level of Hell Dante might assign I-Ron.

suicideand harpies

On the Life and Death of Satan

I was reading recently about how the idea of Satan came about.

In the early middle ages St. Augustine determined that, as a result of Adam’s original sin and seeing as how we’re all descendants of Adam, evil exists in everyone.  This meant that when bad things happened everyone had only themselves to blame since they all had a bit of badness in them.  People bought into this pretty well because finding a scapegoat when badness happened wasn’t difficult.

Then, after a while, people began to take exception to St. Augustine’s concept thinking they really weren’t all that bad; actually they felt pretty good about themselves.  So they got to thinking it wasn’t them but something or someone outside themselves that made them be bad.  They anthropomorphized badness into a somewhat ambiguous horned satyr that they saw as perpetrating evil just because he wasn’t a very nice creature.  He was an idea most everyone could fear and dislike.

Later, in modern times, now that people don’t so much believe in supernatural entities anymore, Satan has begun to fade away.  So now, when bad things happen some people have gone back to finding a scapegoat, others have looked to St. Augustine and blame our inherent sinfulness and still others have dismissed the concept of evil altogether and rationalize badness as being relative to peoples and times.

When I think about how I stand on this I guess I lean towards relativism, but it takes some pretty hefty rationalization to accommodate some of the atrocities one hears about these days.

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I was visiting with Granny Applehead the other day.  She was waxing nostalgic about her days in secondary school.  She remembers each day began with students rising from their seats, putting hands to hearts and pledging allegiance to the flag.  No one really questioned the validity of the activity back then but, she said, as she thinks about it in retrospect it was pretty clear there was strong intention to instill in young minds a religious sense of nationalistic propriety: America, land of the free and brave has God on her side.

She surmised it was easier back then when everyone was pretty well on the same page regarding God and country.  There were a lot fewer people asking the big questions.

I guess explanation can be found in the post-WWII politics of the times and dealing with godless Communism.  You know, prep these young minds for Holy Wars to come.

Social critique has tempered the blatant flag waving.  The mind manipulation of the young is subtler now but it’s pretty clear we still think of ourselves as being in God’s favor; ready and willing to impose our beliefs and life-style on the rest of the world.

Granny just shakes her head at what she sees as the hypocrisy of our self-perceived sense of fairness and equality for all: as long as everyone conforms to our values and beliefs.

On my way home I was thinking about what the world would be like if everyone was like me: skeptical seekers, always questioning, investigating the new, comparing the old, reaching toward the limits of one’s capabilities to find what may lay beyond.  As egotistical as it may sound, I can’t see that as being a bad thing in the least.

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In the novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy has the character Levin say: ‘If goodness has a cause it is no longer goodness; if it has consequences, or rewards it is not goodness either.’  Since Leo based the character Levin on himself he must have thought there was truth to such an idea.

If  I accept Levin’s statement as true then following the Golden Rule is not an example of practicing goodness because then I’m being good in the hopes other people will be good to me.

I guess Adam and Eve were inherently good, always obeying God until the serpent introduced them to the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, the one thing forbidden by God who evidently wanted to keep Adam and Eve from knowing too much.

So, I suppose the moral of the story must be that the only way to be truly good is to be oblivious.

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