[lit-ideas] At war with the Mikes {was Re: Gripes]

  • From: Robert.Paul@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Robert Paul)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: 21 Aug 2004 17:20:29 PDT

MG: (quoting, I think): If it refuses or fears to concern itself with such
questions, doesn't philosophy forfeit all claims to be taken seriously?

No.  Philosophy is not art, it's not religion, it's not psychology.  

I'm not sure what philosophy is, but it's not any of those things.

MG: If you don't know what philosophy is, then how can you know what it's not?

RP: Well, I know that philosophy is some sort of human activity. In light of
this, I know that philosophy isn't a small, iridescent beetle, even though I
might not know, beyond this vague description, what philosophy _was_, in any
interesting sense. The argument 'I don't know who Tage Regenswetter is, but I
know that Mike Chase is not Tage Regenswetter,' seems to have the same form (and
it's a good form, unless complicated stories about personal identity are told),
and surely a witness in court who was asked if he knew whether someone was Tage
Regenswetter or not, could say that he did know, and he wasn't, even without
knowing the first thing about TG (who might, of course, be a dog, or a concept).

MG: I think maybe the very last concern of philosophy would be how we feel about
our lives.

MC: Why is that?

RP: Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living, and even Mill
had to acknowledge that there was a fairly clear sense in which Socrates
unsatisfied was happier than a pig satisfied: he rejected, or tried to,
Bentham's conclusion that there was no ordering of satisfactions and that
pushpin was as good as poetry. Before them had gone the greatest examiner of
character and responsibility in Western thought. Yet the Nicomachean Ethics does
not exhaust Aristotle's contribution to philosophy--far from it--and whether
Mill's Methods of Logic or his Utilitarianism is the more valuable may not be as
easy to decide as philosophy textbooks usually make it out to be.

MG: At least [philosophy can't help us understand how we feel about our lives]
in any Dr. Feelgood way.

MC: I don't know what you mean by this.

RP: I think that MG means that philosophy cannot _pace_ Bentham, help us
understand our lives at the level of pleasant sensations and smiley faces. That
is, even if philosophy could help us understand our lives (or show us why we
can't) it would do so at a more interesting level than this. This was surely the
Socratic program. And if MG does mean this, I'd agree. At what level and how
philosophy does help us understand our lives, I have no idea: I don't really
understand what's meant by understanding one's life, as a broadly conceived
enterprise--no idea what would count as having understood my life, e.g. And (for
me), where the answer does not exist, the question does not exist. 

'What is philosophy' is a philosophical question in a way that 'What is
history?' isn't a historical question. In order to answer it, one might have to
do some philosophy: and where would that leave us?

Robert Paul
Reed College
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