Philosophy and the Problems of Work: A Reader
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Anyway, I have been chasing that high ever since. Walsh took the 49ers from the worst team in football to the Super Bowl in less than 3 years. Not with a grand vision or pure ambition, but with what he called the Standard of Performance. That is: How to practice. How to dress. How to hold the ball. Where to be on a play down the very inch. Which skills mattered for each position. How much effort to give.
- The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell!
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- Simon Critchley?
By upholding these standards—whatever they happen to be for your chosen craft—success will take care of itself. Truly life-changing. This is the classic of my generation; it is the book that defines our age and ultimately, how to find meaning in it. The main character—who lives in New Orleans just a few blocks from where I lived —is so in love with the artificiality of movies that he has trouble living his actual life.
The Moviegoer—it is like a good Catcher in the Rye Amazon but for adults. Just a perfect book. What Makes Sammy Run? His first, What Makes Sammy Run? The writers are really almost the only ones, except for very honest politicians, who can make any dent on that system. I tried to do that. He murders the others. Which part of you will you allow to rule? The part that betrays your friends, family, principles to achieve success?
Or are there other priorities? One of my favorite categories of books: moral biographies. That is, the stories of great men and women in history, written with an eye towards practical application and advice. As always, I tend to default to the Penguin collections. There is a reason that Shakespeare based many of his plays on Plutarch—not only are they well-written and exciting but they exhibit everything that is good and bad about the human condition. What I like about this book is that the profiles are not about statesmen or generals but artists.
There are so many great lessons about craft and psychology within this book. The best part? It was written by someone who actually knew what he was talking about, not some art snob or critic, but an actual artist and architect of equal stature to the people he was documenting. Totto-Chan is a special figure in modern Japanese culture—she is a celebrity on par with Oprah or Ellen, with a magazine, news show and exalted position to boot. The book describes a childhood in pre-WWII Japan as a poorly misunderstood girl who obviously suffered from attention disorders and excess energy.
And I mean understood and cared about and unconditionally supported her in a way that both inspires me and makes me deeply jealous. If only all of us could be so lucky…. Most people get worse as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. In fact, Rockefeller began tithing his money with his first job and gave more of it away as he became successful. He grew more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference. I was 20 years old.
Teaching High School Philosophy
Moses built just about every other major modern construction project in New York City. Robert Moses was an asshole. Seneca was a stoic as well, but like Marcus, he was practical and borrowed liberally from other schools. Reading Seneca will do that. A Syrian slave in the first century BC, Publius Syrus is a fountain of quick, helpful wisdom that you cannot help but recall and apply to your life. Those are a few I remember off the top of my head.
But all of them are good and worthy of re-reading in times of difficulty or boredom or in preparation of a big event. This is as ephemeral as I am going to get. But those beautiful lines are really the same direct advice and timeless, perspective-changing observations as the others.
Man is sent to a concentration camp and finds some way for good to come of it. Finds some way to turn it into the ultimate metaphor for life: that we have little control over our circumstances, complete control over our attitude, and our ability to make meaning out of the things which happen to us. Life is the one who asks and we must reply with our actions.
Montaigne was deeply influenced by some of the books I mentioned above. A favorite: Whether he was playing with his cat, or whether he was the toy to his cat. They remind us that we are ultimately responsible for our own life, for making ethical choices and for fulfilling our potential. I prefer Emerson to the more indolent Thoreau and because unlike most classic writers, he embodies that uniquely American drive and ambition but in a healthy way. If you have not read Emerson, you should.
If you have—and you remember fondly his reminders about recognizing our own genius in the work of others, or his reminders to experience the beauty of nature—that counts as philosophy. See how easy it is? Schopenhauer is another brilliant composer of quick thoughts that will help us with our problems. But the fragments which do are humble, noble and mostly about avoiding needless fear and anxiety in life.
Those are all good things are they not?
This classic essay on the life of Epicurus is also great. Descartes, Huygens, Boyle, Newton and others adopted diverse versions of the then metaphysical view that the Universe is made up of atoms. But then science broke away from metaphysics, from philosophy, as a result of natural philosophers adopting a profound misconception about the nature of science. As a result, natural philosophy died, the great divide between science and philosophy was born, and the decline of philosophy began.
It was Newton who inadvertently killed off natural philosophy with his claim, in the third edition of his Principia , to have derived his law of gravitation from the phenomena by induction. One hypothesis disappears altogether, and one other, not required for the main argument, was tucked away among theorems. In these and other ways, Newton sought to transform his great work in natural philosophy into a work of inductive science. Newton hated controversy.
A Brief History of Trans Philosophy
He knew his law of gravitation was profoundly controversial, so he doctored subsequent editions of his Principia to hide the hypothetical, metaphysical and natural philosophy elements of the work, and make it seem that the law of gravitation had been derived, entirely uncontroversially, from the phenomena by induction. Laws and theories had to be arrived at, or at least established, by means of induction from phenomena.
Metaphysics and philosophy had become irrelevant, and could be ignored. Thus was modern science born, and natural philosophy, which had given rise to modern science in the first place, was quietly forgotten. Newton did not ignore explanation. His Rules of Reasoning stressed that induction required one to accept that theory which is simplest and, in effect, gives the best explanation of phenomena. In other words, they take for granted one or other version of standard empiricism, the doctrine that evidence decides in science what theories are to be accepted and rejected, with the simplicity, unity or explanatory power of theories playing a role as well, but not in such a way that the world, or the phenomena, are assumed to be simple, unified or comprehensible.
Philosophy and the Problems of Work
The crucial point, inherited from Newton, is that no thesis about the world can be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independently of evidence , let alone in violation of evidence. The decisive split between science and philosophy, which is one outcome, persists today. Philosophy was profoundly impoverished as a result of this split. Instead of science being a branch of philosophy — namely natural philosophy — science became distinct from and independent of philosophy.
Philosophy lost a great chunk of its body, as it were, and by far the most successful chunk to boot. Divorced from natural science, philosophy continued to dwindle in significance down to today. Psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, linguistics, logic and cosmology all broke away from philosophy and established themselves as independent disciplines. By the early 20th century, philosophy was in a state of crisis. It was entirely unclear what was left for it to do.
One attempted solution was Continental philosophy, conducted mainly in Europe: it could ignore science, ignore reason, and plunge into a celebration of bombast and incoherence. Another attempted solution was analytic philosophy, conducted mainly in the English-speaking parts of the world: philosophy could devote itself to conceptual analysis, serious problems buried under a sheen of esoteric, spurious analysis of concepts.
But all this is unnecessary and absurd. The story I have told of the inevitable dwindling of philosophy, as components became, in turn, scientific, successful and independent, is a nonsense. The proper task of philosophy, even more important today, perhaps, than ever before, is to keep alive rational — that is, imaginative and critical — thinking about our most urgent and fundamental problems of thought and life. It is, above all, to keep alive such thinking about our most fundamental problem of all, which can be put like this: how can our human world, the world as it appears to us, the world we live in and see, touch, hear and smell, the world of living things, people, consciousness, free will, meaning and value — how can all of this exist and best flourish embedded as it is in the physical Universe?
This fundamental problem straddles all the more specialised and particular problems of both thought and life. A proper, basic task for philosophy is to ensure that this problem is actively explored at the heart of education and academic enquiry, so that rational thinking about this problem both influences, and is influenced by, the more specialised thinking that goes on in the more specialised disciplines of the natural, social and technological and formal sciences, the humanities and education, and the more particular contexts of personal, social and global life.
Keep alive rational thinking about fundamental problems as specialisation becomes rampant. Far from having its own distinctive subject matter, problems or methods, philosophy, properly conducted, has the subject matter and problems, potentially, of all the specialised disciplines, and the methods of all of enquiry, namely the methods of rational problemsolving.
Far from being yet another specialised discipline, distinct from and alongside other specialised disciplines, as so much academic philosophy strives to be today, philosophy, properly pursued has, as a basic task, to counteract specialisation by keeping alive thinking about fundamental problems in a way that interacts, in both directions, with specialised research. Again, philosophy properly pursued, is not the exclusive preserve of qualified philosophers; a basic proper task for professional philosophers is to encourage everyone to engage in some philosophy, some rational thinking about fundamental problems: non-academics as well as academics from the diverse specialised fields of academic research.
We need a name for philosophy pursued in this spirit. Let us call it Critical Fundamentalism — a rival to Continental and analytic philosophy. Critical Fundamentalism goes a long way towards recreating natural philosophy, for Critical Fundamentalism explores the fundamental problems of the diverse fields of natural science, from theoretical physics and cosmology, to neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Critical Fundamentalism, conducted in a scientifically enlightened way, would both influence, and be influenced by, scientific research.
It would have the capacity to contribute to science by clarifying fundamental scientific problems and suggesting possible scientific solutions; and it would of course be influenced by the results of scientific research. This two-way integration of Critical Fundamentalist philosophy and science would amount, in all but name, to natural philosophy! The above story about the inevitable decline of philosophy is thus a nonsense. The successful establishment and pursuit of the natural sciences, the social sciences, logic and linguistics does not impoverish philosophy, properly pursued as Critical Fundamentalism, at all.
The vital need for rational imaginative and critical thinking about fundamental problems remains undiminished. It is needed so that science, and so that academic enquiry as a whole, can meet elementary requirements of rationality. Rationality demands that one keeps alive thinking about the fundamental problems one seeks to solve.
The self-mutilation of philosophy by the adoption of Continental philosophy or analytic philosophy — which results in philosophy failing to do what it most needs to do — is entirely unnecessary.
Why, then, did it happen? In part, perhaps, because of a failure to appreciate just how vital, how necessary, it is to keep alive influential rational thinking about fundamental problems, especially as specialisation becomes more and more rampant. Instead of seeking to counteract the evils of rampant specialisation, academic philosophy has tended, in the 20th century, to seek out eagerly, even desperately, its own specialised niche. There is, however, a far more important reason for the failure of philosophy to keep alive the spirit of Critical Fundamentalism over the decades and centuries.
This failure stems from the failure of philosophy to solve one of its most fundamental problems: the problem of induction. I began by indicating how Newton killed off natural philosophy with his false claim, in the third edition of his Principia , to have derived his law of gravitation from the phenomena by induction without appealing to metaphysical hypotheses. Subsequent natural philosophers concluded that they must follow Newton in ignoring metaphysics and philosophy, and attending only to evidence in considering what laws and theories should be accepted and rejected.
The outcome was science , decisively dissociated from philosophy. The crucial tenet of this conception is that, in science, no thesis about the Universe must be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independent of evidence , let alone in violation of evidence.
In the end it is evidence that decides what is accepted as scientific knowledge.