Friday, June 10, 2005

Who is interested in philosophy anyway?


There seems to be a big divide between the number of people with questions and the number of people interested in philosophy.

Large amounts of time, money and publicity go into new-age therapies, self-help books, weight loss, economic and political theory, biographies and semi-fictional books with a message. Philosophy is a word that brings both confusion and curiousity into the minds of the un-initiated. People, broadly, are interested.

Yet that level of interest often fails to convert into the book deals, speaker events, media publicity and so forth that all the others command virtually without effort. People know what they are getting when they read a newspaper, but they can quickly find themselves lost on a philosophy blog such as this. Presumably, whatever gives them that uncomfortable feeling - be it an academic tone, too complex a theory, the lack of an obvious-to-anyone connection between the argument at hand and the implications for their own lives - is what holds philosophy back. Maybe it's the determined tone put by someone who is advancing a critical argument that makes people dis-engage.

People other than the general public also fail to engage - politicians, journalists, lawyers, doctors and judges are also notably absent. A few short semesters of jurisprudence, media ethics of "History and Philosophy of X" subjects are often the total exposure of these individuals to what I might term academic philosophy. Yet these people are precisely the ones relied on to be able to distinguish between a strong and weak moral position, between right and wrong, between a sound argument and a bad one in practical terms.

Is it that academic philosophy is necessarily a pen-pushing affair - like the relationship between pure mathematics and engineering?

For myself, I don't think so. I myself have studied philosophy after entering the workforce, and feel I have answered the challenge of having a practically relevant professional perspective. Philosophy for me isn't just an exercise in the manipulation of ideas, but something which I use to build most of my opinions. It can help me decide when to suspend judgement and when to form an opinion, how to recognise when an emotional attitude is actually harming me versus when it is doing me good.

So why isn't this true for most people? Why don't we see the enthusiastic engagement by public figures of power and authority in the debates presented in, for example, this blog or any other like it?

Whoa, time's up! More later if I have any good ideas on this...



Anonymous Anonymous said...

apropos of nothing, when people complain it is the 'system' that is at fault,to whom/what are they referring? Can you lend me your thoughts on 'blame'?

6/10/2005 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

I think the reason why more people are not interested in philosophy is that they see it as an academic exercise and not relevant to their life. They don't see it as the study of how to live a good life, but as I have mentioned before, the study of the meaning of words.

If people understood that the purpose of philosophy is to discover wisdom, they would be interested.

6/15/2005 10:25:00 AM  
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10/04/2005 09:40:00 PM  

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