Monday, April 25, 2016

There is nothing but philosophy

I respect philosophy.  I have two doctoral minors, one in philosophy and one in psychology.  When I started teaching, I found from day one that philosophy was more relevant to teaching as practiced in a university than was the academic psychology I studied.  I did have a psych course on construction of questionnaires and two semesters of the history of psychology and both of those were valuable.

When I named my blog, I thought of the typical thought sequence our minds go through: fear first since dangers may need immediate attention, fun when we have a chance to have fun and the means to do so and finally filoz(ophy), or thought, reflection, consideration, analysis, all the mental work that philosophers apply to questions and topics.  That sequence of reactions is referred to by the Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman's title:"Thinking: Fast and Slow."

I suggested that my philosophical friends venture further outside their usual discussion areas, saying that we didn't have to always stay in them.  One responded,"What else is there?"  An interesting question but not an easy one to answer.  Sometimes, broad philosophical themes relate to what have been called the "terrible" questions about the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of an afterlife, the proper conduct throughout life.  Sometimes, the branches of philosophy are said to be metaphysics (what is there?  What is it to exist?), logic (what arguments are valid and which are not?), epistemology (what is it to know?  How can we know?  How can we tell if a statement is true?), ethics (what is the right way to live and respect and support others and one's self?) and aesthetics (what is beauty and how can we find it, have it and produce it?)

As a college student, I wondered why there were "doctors of philosophy" in English and geography and other subjects.  Shouldn't they be doctors (accredited and verified teachers) of their own subjects?  I guess a "doctor" is a person judged by qualified others to be sufficiently knowledgeable to teach others and I guess that we could as well call the PhD's "doctors of the theory and subject of X".

It seems to me that the ancient philosophers like the Greeks and the Chinese asked good questions, deep questions, thought-provoking questions but the men (!!??) were limited in number.  They also asked (and asserted answers) backed by little or no evidence, because oppositional trials, scientific investigations and replications of experiments (what is an experiment?) were not well-developed.  In general, we have taken their critical thinking and inquisitive approach and extended it and added a few things to it.  The extensions and the additions were inspired by the same spirit of inquiry that lead from "What is virtue?" and "Can virtue be taught?" to today's meta-analysis of 35 studies of the effect of exercise on our brains.  We got where we are, for better or for worse, by thinking, questioning, doubting and imagining, inspired by philosophers.  

We are rather slow.  We don't have antlers or poisonous fangs.  Our brains are our best tool and they are philosophical engines. However, today we can turn those engines toward diet, electronics, artificial intelligence and better language translation and many other areas the ancients overlooked or hadn't gotten around to.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

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