“Don’t they teach logic in the schools these days?” I fear that I ask myself the same question along with the good old professor from the Chronicles. Unfortunately, and it is a real tragedy, American higher education seems to be taking a dive towards complacency in the last few years. My generation is the first to be less intelligent than the last, a discouraging thought.
Even more discouraging is the knowledge that, even for those who are supposedly the guardians of good reasoning, the walking bastions of philosophy, even they often have not one iota of a clue as to what the nature, use, and import of logic is. Good reasoning for many of the young and newly graduated philosophy majors is simply whatever they heard in their lectures or read in Daniel Dennett’s ridiculous books that agree with their emotivism-inspired positions. I shudder to even consider their thoughts philosophical at times. What passes for philosophy with the youthful today is a mere shadow of the splendor that was once the hallmark of our great tradition. Today we have far more rhetoricians tramping hither and thither in philosopher’s garb than true thinkers and searchers after clarity and truth. Today, the aim is not furthering work on the great and enduring questions, and making genuine progress (which is not the same as scientific progress, which itself is a confused concept) but rather to approach the world with pre-conceived or ill-conceived positions and arbitrarily attack all those who oppose. This is especially wearying in the militant atheist groups that seem to plague the modern campus (and here I have especially in mind the Center for Inquiry). If I could, and get away with it, I would write a book detailing just how illogical the Center for Inquiry people and positions are… but alas I do not have either the time or the patience. Suffice this to say: stay away from their nonsense!
What is, perhaps, even more dangerous than the misuse and misappropriation of philosophical techniques, concepts, tools, and traditions (those sophists!) are those who haven’t the faintest idea of what philosophy actually is and then proceed to infect others with this virus of misunderstanding. Facebook is working over time in this regard. After all, it asks for one’s “philosophy”. How absurd! As if one already has a “philosophy”, as if it is something that one possesses! Philosophy is not a set of creeds or beliefs or life choices that we all somehow appropriate or think up over out brief lives. Get behind me sophists!
It is precisely these people who need philosophy more than ever and more than others. Which, incidentally, is why it is a mistake to ask a philosopher “what philosophy do you follow?” or “whose philosophy do you like?”. That is simply not what philosophy is; it cannot be possessed but only utilised. We don’t own a philosophy, or have one, or anything of that nature. Rather, at the best of times (and, incidentally, at the worst of times) we allow philosophy to possess us. Philosophy enters a life as a kind of exstasis, an excelsus! That is, it causes one to “stand outside oneself” (that’s what ecstatic means) and see life through a glass darkly. We cannot, any of us, escape the glass darkly but we can learn to see it for what it is and to see through it. That is what the practice of philosophy allows. Philosophy, far from being a position or possession or set of beliefs (how foolish!) is more than anything else a practical endeavor for life. It is the practice and desire of truly living. What was it that Socrates so wisely said? Something about unexamined lives.
After writing this I realised that one or two of you that may read this might take my last three sentences as contradicting a position I hold about the practicality of philosophy. Namely, that philosophy is not concerned with practical matters. This is not a contradiction! Philosophy is not concerned, for its content and area of inquiry, (philosophy as such in the classical sense, and first philosophy) with practical matters. As such philosophy is an entirely non-practical enterprise, which seeks to give structure to all subsequent practical enterprises. Yet, it is in precisely this activity of philosophy that it holds its greatest practical gift: giving structure. In the instance of the discussion above, the practical structure of living is given when persons harmonise (and, to use an Anselmian term, seek rectitude between) theoria and praxis. That endeavor is about as practical as one can get (even if the content of the inquiry is not!).