Monday, May 23, 2005

Irrelevant, boring stuff


We all know about this scenario. A conversation starts, via email or in real life. Something comes up in conversation, and our conversational partner takes to it like a duck to water.

Their enthusiasm can barely be contained, but you just can't muster the energy. Their opinions about the latest sheik-mysticism beliefs as re-interpreted by Guru Bob Smith, world leader on ... whatever ... just don't float your boat. Or maybe Zen Bhuddism just doesn't sit well with your Orange Pekoe outlook right at the moment. Perhaps you're engaged in a flirt with the joys of subjectivism, are seeing people's wills-to-power behind all political moves and cold logic just seems irrelevant.

However you get there, sometimes what other people find interesting just doesn't do it for you.

How can you stop them wasting your time? Most philosophers will want to take the moral high ground, rather than say, beating them with a stick until they stop. Unfortunately, in order to take the moral high ground, you need some kind of authority to appeal to, otherwise you just end up sinking under the weight of your own hubris.

Here's the problem -- is there any what to determine what's important and what's not? If we really do pay attention only to what interests us, then what's objectively important (if there is any such thing) is irrelevant. Ouch.

We might be able to get off the hook by saying that what's important is sensitive to our context - what we know already etc etc, and that we all take different paths in life. But that just ends the conversation. What we want is to either a) get more interested or b) get them to stop.

Let's look at it from the other side to see what we can learn about how the situation seems to the offender.

It's more than likely that one day we will be banging on about some philosophical viewpoint which is terribly important to our world view, but it will singularly fail to grab our conversational partners. This can be a terrible blow to our philosophical egos, which are convinced that through some reliable method we have arrived at a good way of looking at the world - a neat, useable framework for understanding things which seems to be True and Right.

What does it mean for knowledge that turns out to be boring and un-interesting to the next person? What kind of value can we really place on knowledge, when all it takes is a fresh cup of coffee to completely re-paradigm your outlook on the world?

I wish I knew.



Blogger Bill Cooper said...

Dear MP from what I gather you and I inhabit different worlds, you seem to be a tertiary educated person with access to a world of people with similiar backgrounds, whereas I left school in form 4 and due to work and many children have never managed to get a formal education. But.... we seem to have similiar problems in trying to get people to discuss matters that we think are important to the world in general, most people are either not interested or do not want to enter a discussion where their personal thoughts and values may be exposed for all to see and evaluate. Even though both sides of the conversation are liable to the same scrutiny it can be a step many people can't take. It is far easier to discuss the footy,fishing,racing etc. As for me well I just read a lot of books, a bit of a one sided conversation but still conversation of sorts.

5/25/2005 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Different ages also.

If you're looking for a social group, the Heart of Philosophy cafes attract a wide range of audience.

But yes, promoting that kind of discussion is important to me, and I see this blog as a way of doing that.


5/26/2005 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Illusive Mind said...

I'd be very wary of any philosopher's (or philosophy student's) attempt to objectively prove the importance of the topics that happen to be of great interest and importance to him and for the most part of very little concern for the rest of the world.

However, the only way I can see is to find out an area of great interest to the locutor and show how what you're talking about is related or affects that subject.

A discussion about utilitarianism might interest a football fan to the extent that a utilitarian might suggest that the money paid to footballers is better spent on saving people's lives.

However, there is no guarantee that the person you're speaking to will not at this point walk away or cause you serious bodily harm...

5/26/2005 04:07:00 PM  

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