Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Anti-Philosophical Nature of Today's Intellectuals

With a few minor changes I repost this from the New Clarion.

In the introduction to Ayn Rand's book "Philosophy: Who Needs It" heir to her intellectual estate Leonard Peikoff wrote "Ayn Rand was not only a novelist and philosopher; she was also a salesman for philosophy--the greatest salesman philosophy has ever had." Boy was she ever. The first of her writings I read was the title essay of her book "For the New Intellectual." Her nutshell compression of philosophic history in terms of Attila and the Witch Doctor immediately oriented me to the fact that if I wanted to understand the world's problems and by implication, their solutions, I must look at philosophy. And so I did.

But I feel like a Cassandra when I try to urge others to study philosophy and all I get is lowered eyebrows and remarks like "Philosophy! Who studies that nonsense?" And so it goes. Now I don't really mind it coming from other non-academics like myself. After all I thought that way myself until I read FTNI. But what really amazed me is the utter anti-philosophical orientation of today's educated class. They seem to think only in terms details i.e. this detail caused that detail and so on. There is no reference as to what principle caused the first detail. Here are two examples:

In the Jan. 9th Detroit News is an oped by Jennifer Carlson, assistant professor in the dept of sociology at the University of Toronto titled "Gun debate misses the mark in Detroit." The theme of the article is "Does Detroit need more guns, or more gun control? Both alternatives ignore the city's bigger problem - the culture."

She writes:
"On the one hand, guns exacerbate a culture in which human life is treated as valueless and disposable."
Unlike so many other modern intellectuals she happily does not blame inanimate matter, guns, as the cause of Detroit's crime but, rather perceptually, cites the culture. She is right.

But like so many thinkers of today she does not ask the next logical question: what causes a culture to be the way it is? To answer that question I think we should ask what is a culture? My dictionary says it's the concepts, habits, skills, arts and institutions of a given people in a given era. So we see that a culture is a dynamic mixture of the ideas and beliefs of many individuals, so by culture we mean the ideas and beliefs that dominate that society even though some are opposing views. Another way to say this is that the dominant ideas and beliefs are that society's prevailing philosophy.

It would be great if today's intellectuals would identify the dominant philosophy in Detroit, Michigan and the nation but they won't. Why? They believe philosophy to be irrelevant. Here is another example:

In the Thursday Mar 6th Detroit News, editorial director Nolan Finley penned an oped "America is on the path it chose". In it Mr Finley cites polls that show while Americans mostly don't like big government, they also don't want to cut the various welfare programs. He writes:
"Because he (Obama) believes that despite what they say they want, Americans prefer indulgence over sacrifice. The concept of smaller government appeals to them, but the reality of actually cutting programs makes them squeamish."
It's unfortunate that Mr. Finley uses the word indulgence, a pejorative term usually projecting the image of a glutton or one who is serving himself. I would have used the phrase self interest over self sacrifice. But for now I want to say that throughout the editorial Mr Finley does not ask the next logical question: Why do people vote perceptually against that which they want conceptually? Why are the culture's perceptions at war with their conceptions? Is there a field of study that can integrate man's perceptions and conceptions so that he doesn't act in contradictory ways? Yes. That field of study is Philosophy.

Philosophy is a broad science having five divisions of study, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and aesthetics. In a nut shell, philosophy studies the nature of everything but in terms of principles, principles that us humans use to guide our lives.

That said, if you look at modern philosophy and see things like post-modernism, post-post-modernism, deconstructionism, and others you would probably conclude that it is all unintelligible drivel. And you'd be right. So, is regarding philosophy as irrelevant the proper attitude for our intellectuals to take?

Imagine for a moment you stepped into a time machine and were transported 100 years into the future. Upon arrival you discover life has deteriorated significantly. People are sick and dying all over the place. You inquire as to why they don't go to a doctor or hospital and are greeted with astonished looks and statements like "That doesn't do any good" and "Modern medicine doesn't make any sense." So you decide to check it out yourself by going to several hospitals. There you see doctors waving rattles and wands over the beds of sick and dying patients, nurses singing chants and incantations alongside patients. You are informed that it is like this throughout the nation.

So, Would you conclude that the science of medicine is irrational and is to be ignored? Or would you, based on your knowledge of 100 years ago, conclude that now it is more urgent than ever to study the science of medicine to discover the turning point at which it went irrational? Naturally you would decide the latter, hopefully. That is where philosophy stands today. It is not my intent here nor would it be appropriate to go into a history of philosophy nor do I have an extensive knowledge of it. I'll just say that the last major turning point where philosophy plunged into irrationality began with the writings of Immanuel Kant. There is no doubt that Rand's philosophy of objetivism marks a turning point toward a rational philosophy. But is there time for it to spread? I think so. Yes, philosophy needs salesman, lots of them and now more than ever before.


1 comment:

Harvey Morrell said...

FTNI was my first Rand as well. I still think it is a wonderful introduction to her work.