Thank you for your response on December 8, 2015. My apologies for the tardiness of my reply. It is an undertaking to write a response that captures something I feel convinced off but struggled to articulate, especially something that I find to be complex. These letters have offered an opportunity to validate my biases and convictions so many thanks for engaging with me on this matter.
We both agree that Modern Philosophy does have practices where smartness is placed above wisdom (the tone of your response in places is *smart*, but that’s fair given you’re a Philosopher practicing in Modern times – Ha!). It is at these times I would argue that Modern Philosophy could be ‘missing the boat’ despite claiming to be a vehicle of transport.
Modern Philosophy is a cognitive exercise, which you consider to be a virtue as it provides a playground for nerds, intellectuals, and thinkers. This is the rub for me. While I value the cognitive intellect, I do not see it as being primary in the toolbox of human capacity.
In my limited exposure, I see Modern Philosophy as complicated, prescriptive, and arcane. It is complicated as it requires an immense amount of commitment and exposure in order to engage with it. It is prescribed because it only recognizes cognitive and intellectual realms of understanding. Combined together Modern Philosophy becomes arcane and inaccessible to the everyday person. According to one of my friends, Modern Philosophy is a form of mental masturbation; its effort and energy attracts intrigue but the benefits remain isolated to the individual.
So why do I pick on Philosophy for being too cognitive, when it is the very nature of Philosophy to be cognitive? Because Philosophy and its various sub-disciplines make claims to provide a deeper understanding about life and its problems while Sport (which you highlight) and other disciplines do not. Surely such a claim must invite more scrutiny. At the least, Sport and its Sports Psychology sub-discipline recognizes the impact of an athlete’s emotional life such as confidence and self-doubt. Philosophy is mostly silent on our emotional life, and for this omission Philosophy remains limited to me.
I have little to contribute to your points about Christians being for and against positivism. My fight is not with Christians at all, my intention simply to point out that Church thinking was monolithic and actively repressed plural thinking, followed by an extreme reaction that plunged Europe into plural chaos. So while Nature may abhor a vacuum it also does not tolerate permanence. Those past religious and political wars have led to our modern practice of plurality, tolerance, and unprecedented peace. Plurality thus is critical to our modern understanding of who we are. So while you are correct that plurality alone does not lead to happiness, without it personal happiness is not possible.
So let me respond to your main position that Modern Philosophy’s value is found in its status as a discipline.
Philosophy beyond Discipline
You value Modern Philosophy because it is a discipline. A discipline being defined as “A branch of knowledge, typically studied in higher education”, essentially an academic endeavor. Being a non-academic (and admittedly biased against most academia) I have a ‘pop-culture’ view of Philosophy. I equate Philosophy to mean that it is a ‘view to life’. A Christian has a philosophy, as does an agnostic, as does a humanist, etc. It as a noun whose meaning cuts across all disciplines. Perhaps small ‘p’ philosophy is what I am referring to while the discipline of big ‘P’ Philosophy that you refer to is something I know little about and to be honest is not something I have practiced.
Still I can appreciate the value of some of its practices. You mention how Philosophy is mostly a practice of ‘conceptual plumbing’. I find that definition to be fascinating. I can’t help but think of plumbing the depths of our minds and conventions to not run afoul of hidden things, mimicking what depth psychologists and mystics practice. To go deeper into what things mean is of real value to me.
But ‘plumbing’ also could be viewed through the trade concept of waste and water piping. What if the plumbing is for a house that nobody visits? This is what much of Modern Philosophy does in my opinion, installing an elaborate plumbing system in a structure that is inaccessbile. There are people like yourself who have a masterful command of imagination and will find this hidden house to be full of meaning. Yet this same house will lack appeal to the larger population, thereby reinforcing my perception of Modern Philosophy being elitist and of limited value.
You also mention how Philosophy as a discipline can provide ‘reflectiveness’, but Philosophy cannot claim sole jurisdiction over such a practice. Reflectiveness and its psychological concept of ‘self-reflection’ is something that happens in all sorts of places. This happens in my job as a Social Worker, where I am faced with questions of how to approach a sensitive situation. I can practice ‘reflectiveness’ without having to be a student of Modern Philosophy.
Yet does self-reflection actually get practiced in the discipline of Modern Philosophy? Let’s look at the following summary about Ethics: The discipline most concerned about human interaction. This article spends it time framing the elements in an ethical situation but says nothing about the observer’s own reaction to a situation (i.e. moral distress). Kant commanded us to not fall victim to emotion, so even the emotion of distress is not mentioned in the practice of Ethics. This greatly obscures the practice of reflectiveness, like a carnival fun house mirror that stretches or distorts what is reflected.
A Philosopher who attempts to be reflective is only as good as his or her awareness like a mirror is more vivid if it is free of dust, cracks, fogginess, and smudges. Indeed any person no matter the discipline is only as good as his or her awareness. Good awareness is the constant signalling system only found in the realm where our emotions roam.
Compasses and Mine Detectors
Emotions should not be neglected or rejected as they are a kind of intelligence. In keeping with analogies, I see the role of emotions and cognition as being two kinds of intelligence, both being required. Emotions are like a mine detector while Thinking is like a compass. They have very different purposes but we need to be wise to know when to use one than another. A compass can lead us into a minefield yet a mine detector does not tell us what direction we need to go. You recently commented in a recent Twitter exchange that the analogy of a mine detector is problematic since it is about looking out for danger. I think it remains relevant; ignored feelings and emotions are just a volatile as a landmine.
Modern Philosophy is all compass and very little mine detector. It goes to lots of interesting places, but it does not pay attention to the emotional landscape that these places are.
Which is why Jonothan Haight can successfully pick battles with philosophers by establishing the Moral Psychology camp. His book “Righteous Minds” takes what was fundamentally a domain of Philosophy and brings a fresh, practical, and wise perspective to it. He recognizes that emotions are what drives many of our decisions, just as Donald Trump is commanding such interest because he knows to appeal to American’s emotions (for better or worse). Haight has developed an insight that Modern Philosophy as a discipline has failed to do.
Perhaps there is some way to combine Modern Philosophy’s command of imagination and concepts with the wisdom of knowing one’s emotions. Haight has already established an innovative perspective from a Psychological foundation, perhaps an Outsider Philosopher like yourself could match his challenge?