Tuesday, August 16, 2005

10-day Summary


First of all, my humble apologies for the lack of postings. I have been quietly redefining "busy" to all new levels. Over the last ten days, I have had some personal committments, gotten a paper accepted to the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing, held down my day job and otherwise managed to have insufficient mental energy to provide anything of quality via this medium.

So, if you like, pull up a chair, and we'll talk again about public philosophy.

Today, my philosophy tutorial was one of the most enjoyable ever. Everyone, bar none, is interesting, vocal and intelligent. Much like a successful dinner party, everyone felt rejuvenated by the interchange of ideas, the feeling of society, and the playful exercise. Unlike a successful dinner party, nobody had to foot the bill.

This is the continuing hope of all people who favour an increase in public philosophy. Things like this, more often, would make our lives better. Just like playing a game of social sport, or going out to dinner, philosophical argument is both fun and good for you. In fact, most people engage in some form of intellectual play regularly, and with relish. So why is it that philosophy become relegated to universities, where it is considered dry challenging work, and unhelpful for practical purposes?

I would say the reasons are circumstantial -- which is also to suggest that if the circumstances were /different/, then so might the perception and involvement with philosophy. The feeling I have is somewhat contrary to the general elitist view of the "common man", but it is not entirely without condescention.

A common attitude taken by philosophers is that the common man somehow lacks the constitution for philosophy. Certainly, it is to be agreed and encouraged that not all people will share the same appetites, including that for abstract argument, but that is not the point being advanced. Rather great thinkers (a station with which I do not self-identify) regard themselves as quite different in kind from other people, and generally superior.

My opinion is that I have never met a healthy individual who does not get a great deal of pleasure from intellectual play at whatever their interest and academic level might be. The most obvious form of this is in joking -- a joke is little more than intellectual playfulness. At their most base, jokes are about gaining pleasure from misfortune, but most people find humor more in ridiculous circumstances, or the confusion of abstract ideas, or in changing perspective to something unexpected and absurd.

Perhaps, then, the task of the joker is not so different from the task of the philosopher. While the philosopher may take a very serious attitude to their work -- and I think it is valid to respect anyone tackling a hard or meaningful problem -- nonetheless their methods are in examining extreme circumstances, resolving confusions of abstract ideas, or finding a new perspective by which to understand an issue.

Might not philosophy be finally successful if it were marketed as merely the biggest, best joke?



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8/16/2005 01:23:00 PM  
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Blogger Lone Ranger said...

My opinion of philosophy is that it elevates mankind to heights to which it does not aspire and cannot reach. While philosophers sit around a sanitized room exchanging ideas, outside, there are about 37 wars raging at any one time, billions living in poverty, and more billions being victimized by criminals and criminal regimes. Philosophy is no more relevant than science fiction writing. The eternal struggle between good and evil is real.

8/16/2005 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous michelle said...

Hi Tenny,
Interesting discussion and one you know is close to my heart. In fact- on your dinner party conversation- stay tuned for Philosophy Dinners by Heart of Philosophy.
I think what the public discussion needs is exposure to philosophy being fun and not just confusing. At our recent Rye Philosophy Cafe I think many people were exposed for the first time to the usefulness of thinking things through and participating in a community discussion where ideas were pounded together instead of simply egotistically argued- mine is better than yours. Don't lose hope- I think there are lots of opportunities and the climate is ripe for more enjoyable public philosophy.

8/18/2005 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous RdR said...

Hear, hear, Michelle. Philosophy can be very relevant to everyday life -- and in non-trivial ways. One only has to look at the way corporations struggle with enormous ethical issues to see that.

And then there are simply the fun puzzles that seem to re-occur.

Recently an airport simulation system that I tested had a problem: when the time increments were set very low, all of a sudden all the airplanes on the tarmac stopped moving. As the time-increment got smaller, distance that the airplane moved also got smaller. At a certain point, the intended minimal distance was smaller than the footprint of the airplane tire -- and the airplane stopped moving.

I'm sure Zeno was chuckling in his grave.

8/20/2005 08:30:00 PM  
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