Thursday, November 8, 2007

why can't we all just get along?

When I walk through the hallways, I always overhear conversations. It's not intentional. That's just what happens when I walk through public areas where people are having conversations.

I ran across an interesting conversation. I only heard a very brief bit. It went something like this.

Student A says to another: "I really like the philosophy readings that we're doing. But it doesn't connect with me. It doesn't connect with life, you know? Life. And so it's not important. It's kind of meaningless really."

That caused me to wonder what it means to say that some particular philosophy or subfield of philosophy doesn't connect *with life*. I completely understand what it may mean to say that some particular subfield of philosophy (say, philosophy of science or epistemology) does not connect *with me*. I guess that would mean something like *I don't like it* or *it doesn't appear to have anything to do with anything that I'm interested in* or *it doesn't address the kinds of things that I take to be important to me*.

So, I get that. What I don't get is the less qualified statement that some particular philosophy or subfield of philosophy doesn't connect *with life* itself. I mean, why can't we all be axiologically pluralistic on this issue? For those who are intensely interested in social justice, perhaps social and political philosophy is what matters to them. For those who are intensely interested in personal existential issues, perhaps existential philosophy is the kind of philosophizing to which they ought to gravitate. It seems completely innocent a point so far. For those who are interested in X, then they should pursue a philosophy of X, so far as studying philosophy goes. But why would that impact the value of Y and the philosophy of Y?

It's when that innocent point (i.e., that a person who is interested in X should generously pursue the philosophy of X) is somehow transformed into a normative claim that *all* philosophy should conform to that particular model that I begin to be puzzled. Suppose a person finds it intensely interesting to study the theoretical advantages and disadvantages of logical models of probability in the philosophy of science. Suppose also that this person derives great personal pleasure and a sense of meaning from doing so. Suppose that this person takes this subfield of philosophy to be intrinsically valuable in and for itself, perhaps purely for the sake of learning or coming to know something that was not known before. Why should it be the case that this endeavor either is by definition *not connected with life* or in need of any defense for its legitimacy at all?

No doubt, someone may reply: But isn't Philosophy (note the capital "P") supposed to be about ________?" Generally, the blank is filled in by some qualifying feature that (inadvertently in most cases) is rigged to rule out things like technical subfields concerning analytic epistemology, Anglo-American philosophy of language, or analytic ontology. (And I do recognize that this kind of intolerance or ignorance goes in both directions... if we use the increasingly meaningless Continental-Analytic divide.)

The reply to this reply is: "Why should anyone else accept your totalizing conception of Philosophy?" [My actual reply would be to deny that there is anything that we call "Philosophy" (note the capital "P").]

So, I guess I wonder why we can't all just get along. Why can't we adopt an axiological pluralism with respect to what counts as legitimate philosophy or philosophy that is *connected with life... you know, life.*

From a personal perspective, there are entire swaths of philosophy that I find completely not connected with *my life*. But what relevance does that have to do with anyone else who loves those swaths and whose love of philosophy reverberates with and against those swaths? And what relevance does that have to do with philosophy vis-à-vis *Life* (whatever that is). Answer: seems to me none at all.

I wonder why we shouldn't all return the favor with respect to each other, our choices, and the fragments of inquiry that we conveniently label "philosophy."
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