This blog-post is an indirect response to a blog-letter discourse that Chris Bateman and myself recently concluded that was about knowledge and how we know that we know. You can read it if you are so inclined at https://onlyagame.typepad.com/only_a_game/2015/09/knowing-that-we-know.html
In reading Chris’ response, I was struck by the examples he used, particularly how he refers to John Haidt’s bias against philosophy. This got me thinking… I too have a bias against philosophy.
It is apparent that Chris Bateman and I have different approaches about this question of knowledge. His focus on knowledge is cognitively and philosophically (epistemology) based, mine was emotional. This difference is likely from divergent backgrounds: Chris is a game designer, author, philosopher, and professor, while I am a social worker, ex-politcal party activist, and a wanna-be game designer. It was my game design interest that led me to Chris Bateman’s blog, where he taught me the value and practice of Virtuous Discourse.
Enough background; the intrigue for me and the focus of this post is about my bias against philosophy.
The Folly of Modern Philosophy
As a part of my university coursework, I took Introduction to Philosophy which I enjoyed and did well in, but found little satisfaction in its answers to life’s ‘big questions’.
In Modern Philosophy there are many branches and specializations, each of them focusing on providing answers to life’s challenges. As I got exposed to these different approaches, I was struck by how they were all brain-cognitive based. I was introduced to empiricist, rationalist, idealist, historic, and constructionist approaches, each firmly rooted in the realm of cognitive thinking. Now I am a thinker and find some of this stuff satisfying, but I am also pretty intuitive and noticed that each approach leaves out emotions and feeling.
I found this unsatisfying. I desired a system of practice that incorporated feelings as well as theories. I studied religion because I saw it meshing both and when I found my religious conviction, I no longer needed philosophy’s methods. Upon thinking this blog post through, my criticism of philosophy goes even deeper.
Modern Philosophy (which I say runs from 1600 A.D. to the present day) appears to have an intentional neglect towards emotions that makes it incomplete. Emotions and feelings are powerful and they govern our behavior for better or worse. They cannot be ignored so need to be understood. Yet, this is exactly what Modern Philosophy does: It does not try to understand emotions, so it ignores them.
Philosophy appears to see emotions as ‘internal’ and not measurable, so should be discounted. Instead Philosophy mimics its evolutionary offshoots of science, engineering, and technology, focusing its attention on an external, objective view of reality. Like science and engineering, Philosophy proceeds without regard to human emotion, feelings, and at times human need.
When I evaluate each of Modern Philosophy’s traditional branches, I see an outwardly external ‘objective’ worldview, where there is not much room for human feelings or emotion. There are considered to be eight traditional branches of Philosophy:
- Logic – “What is valid?” The philosopher practices a rigorous system of thought that follows a strict set of rules. With emphasis on mathematics and logical reasoning, we see Logic possessing an external, objective bias.
- Ethics – “What is right & wrong conduct?” The philosopher evaluates values and morals to find the “best way to live.” Religious philosophical systems are heavily prescriptive of this. With emphasis being on external conduct towards others, we see Ethics’ external, objective bias.
- Legal philosophy – “What is fair?” This philosopher evaluates society’s social and economic structures, looking for values of utility and fairness, a branch that is also heavily influenced by religion. Legalism’s focus on the formal side of Ethics reveals an external, objective bias.
- Political philosophy – “What is best way to govern?” Intimately tied to Legal philosophy is the inquiry about how governments should conduct themselves, rules of formation, including economic distribution. Just like its Legal kin, this branch is fundamentally biased towards the external and objective world.
- Social philosophy – “What is the best way to get along?” Also tied closely with Political, Ethical, and Legal branches, the line of inquiry is about matters of Human Rights, Gender Relations, and questions of Equality, also showing an external, objective worldview.
- Epistemology – “What is it that I believe?” The philosopher accumulates understanding and belief, all with the intention of capturing truth. There is little if any discussion about the emotional aspects of knowing something, demonstrating an external, objective focus.
- Metaphysics – “What is here?” The philosopher steps back and asks the most fundamental questions about existence, reality, and consciousness. What we see here is the first time where there is some attention given to questions of what it means to be human, but again it is focused on thinking and external knowledge. Doing a search for ’emotion’ or ‘feeling’ in this written summary about Metaphysics reveals that those fundamental aspects of human being are not even acknowledged. How can a school of knowledge that strives to understand the meaning of (human) existence ignore the presence of feeling or emotion or need?
- Aesthetics – “What is beauty?” – The philosopher judges external form according to different aesthetic appeals. While art communicates through feeling and emotion, there is little if any discussion about the origin of those feelings and it relegates emotions to simply be a sounding board. For the first time we see a branch of philosophy at least acknowledge emotions, but they are made subservient to an object/form, thus revealing its external, objective bias.
Each one of the above is a pursuit of external knowledge and understanding. Not a single one of these focuses on the prominent importance of human emotion or feeling. While we see branches such as Social philosophy address some question of human need by establishing a basis of human value, this will become (seen below) a trigger point for repression. Aesthetics comes closest to a feeling based philosophy, but it still only uses emotions to measure the external.
Perhaps the siren call of successful materialism has corrupted Philosophy, allowing it to leave its roots behind. Speculation aside, Modern Philosophy largely ignores human feelings and emotions. This leads it to ignore the root fundamental wisdom to ‘know thyself‘ or gnōthi seauton.
In Modern Philosophy we exist because we think, not because we feel. Its focus is external, its purpose is to accumulate knowledge, and at its worst represses conflicting truths of knowing.
External Focus, Tragic Ends
It is the toxic combination of external fixation and attempts to possess and protect an external truth that leads to the rise of worldwide political ideologies. These worldviews largely ignore wisdom and repress diversity of understanding. In its most dogmatic form, political philosophy limits human nature to pithy statements (man is brutish, man is oppressed, etc.). Humans are not allowed to have a plurality of experiences in most political ideology.
Whether religious or secular, political philosophies are the basis of all power relationships in society. It is ideology’s pursuit of practicing an external truth that we witness ruthless repression of our individual, emotional, and plural selves. Such casualties are tolerated. Entire classes, genders, and societies are oppressed and must be ‘liberated’. We suffer because we belong to a group that is oppressed. Solve oppression and we solve human suffering says ideology.
Combined with technology, Modern Philosophy and its ideological offspring has inflicted mass murder on humankind. Humans may be animal-like predators, but ideology turns us into killing machines.
Liberalism, Psychology, and Its Pursuit of Wisdom
Yet, political philosophy is not silent about its own delusion. The birth of Liberalism as a child of the European Enlightenment introduced a new way of seeing society. We finally turn away from monolithic truth (found in Church thought) to pluralistic happiness.
Liberalism acknowledges the emotion of human happiness and sets out to promote it as an end. Yet despite Liberalism’s good intentions, life presents challenges that cause unhappiness. It was this recognition that led some insightful researchers to create a new field of human study, the birth of psychology. While Modern Philosophy studied the cognitive constructs of humans, it never touched on what is it that makes one happy or unhappy.
Wilhelm Wundt was one of the first Psychologists. His medical training became a springboard to study the non-medical ailments of the human condition. It was Wundt’s efforts and wide-cast net that led to Structural Psychology becoming the basis of non-mystical philosophers and researchers speaking to the question of human mind. A hundred and a bit years later we arrive at a watershed moment where Psychology acknowledges how emotions are their own kind of intelligence! No longer is intelligence just a measure of the external things we know, but also of internal feelings.
Psychology has evolved its inquiry to know the internal life of emotions as well as outer life of conduct. A holistic practice found in the four values of Wisdom:
a : Accumulated philosophic or scientific learning and knowledge (via psychological testing and studies)
b : Ability to discern inner qualities and relationships via insight (via depth psychology and counseling)
c : Good sense or judgement (via cognitive behavior therapy)
d : Generally accepted belief or ‘common sense’ (via ‘pop’ psychology and kitchen-table wisdom)
Modern Philosophy instead distracts itself with its Nobel Peace Prizes, ivory towers, and sole pursuit of external knowledge. So much so that it has ignored Aristotle’s and Plato’s pleas:
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
Know Thyself… a practice Modern Philosophy does not do… to a shared tragedy. A tragedy that would make any ancient Greek philosopher and poet weep.