Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Philosophy: What I Do With It

Over here you can find a pretty oblique answer to the questions: what kind of thing does this blog mean by “philosophy”? and why do I think that it worth blogging about? The linked post is really an essay on Plato, and it is quite long. Hopefully the thoughts on this and the next post give a more direct and readable answer to the questions just stated, and function better as an introduction to the philosophical content of this blog.

I do not have the will or the ability to live a life of philosophy, but I do wish to life a philosophical life. The style, standard, frequency, duration and subject matter of my attempts to write philosophy, are hard for me to describe in advance: indeed, part of my motivation for making these attempts is that they might reveal to me just what that style, standard etc. really is. But the first sentence in this introduction will probably turn out to be a good guide to the nature of that philosophical content of this blog.

By that first sentence I mean that I do not have the time, enthusiasm, or the natural ability to pursue the discipline of philosophy as fully as one does so when one becomes an academic philosopher or a popular philosopher or any other person who makes a living out of writing philosophy. I am full of admiration for the small number of people who do possess the time etc. to make such a living, but I am one of the large number of people who do not. Nevertheless, I am also one of the people (who are also pretty large in number, I suspect) who wish to engage in philosophical reflection for its own sake and who (more characteristically) wish to engage philosophically with the non-philosophical activities that fill up the large part of the life of this group. Voting, writing, enjoying literature, working, socialising, and (to some extent) falling in love: all of these activities can, I think, be informed and enriched by philosophy, and I am one of those people who would like the activities of everyday life to be magnified in this way by reasoned contemplation.

For me, and perhaps for others, this approach to philosophy has two main consequences for the philosophy thus generated. Firstly, the subject matter of that philosophy is unlikely to coincide with that of standard philosophy (by which I mean the work done in orthodox Western philosophy departments). Unless the urge to do philosophy for its own sake is especially strong, then one is likely to miss out some of the more abstract and technical topics; hence this blog is unlikely to contain any thoughts on high-level metaphysics or on formal logic. And I will make unusual additions to the standard philosophical subject matter, as well as unusual exclusions. For example, over here I have placed under the label of “philosophy” a piece of writing that deals mainly with travel. As far as I know, this is a pioneering effort in the philosophy of travel; I doubt, however, that any professors of philosophy would, upon reading a piece like that one, make excited moves to add their own contributions to this ground-breaking field of study. Travel is just not the sort of thing that you worry about as a philosopher. As a person who lives, however, you are likely to travel at some point or another, and if you are going to worry about it you might as well do so philosophically. Of course, I do not want to include just anything under the label of philosophy. I do not want to disgrace the label on my blog, or render it meaningless through inappropriate use. But I do want to apply the philosophical method to a wider range of topics than is usual.

The second major feature of my approach to philosophy is that it will probably lead to a greater than usual amount of reflection upon the nature of the relationship between philosophy and non-philosophical activities such as work, writing, etc. It is an orthodox philosophical urge, I think, this urge to reflect upon one’s own forms of reflection; because my forms of reflection are unorthodox, however, my reflections upon those forms are likely to be unorthodox as well, in their subject matter and also in their methods of inquiry and presentation. So, for example, the piece on travel here is an attempt to illuminate the relationship between philosophy and travel. And probably I will write one or two more pieces in the same spirit: the spirit of questioning and clarifying the connection between philosophical reflection and everything else, where “everything else” means practical activities like work and play, but also non-philosophical forms of reflection, such as literature. Worse, I will probably include under the “philosophy” label even those bits of writing that have only a thematic, and not a methodological, connection with standard philosophy: on this blog, a poem about philosophy counts as “philosophy.” This may seem like a failure to take philosophy seriously. However, I prefer to think of it as something quite different, as a consequence of a serious desire to work out what philosophy amounts to, and hence a desire to deploy any medium I can in the attempt.

My peculiar approach to philosophy, and also some interests that are independent of philosophy, lead me to take a particular interest in two branches of the discipline: philosophy of literature, and philosophy of education. I enjoy writing creatively, and I have aspirations to teach, and these interests would exist even if I did not know philosophy from scatology. But my approach to these branches of philosophy will probably be guided by my approach to philosophy as a whole. So, firstly, I am especially interested in the relation between literature and philosophy; if pressed to give details, I would say that I am interested in the extent to which literature, novels in particular, can be a legitimate source of ethical insight. Another aspect of the philosophy of literature that I might pursue is that of metaphor; but that aspect does not have quite so intimate a connexion with my desire to study the relationship between philosophy and non-philosophy, as the ethical-epistemic aspect.

In the field of education, I am interested in questions surrounding how philosophy might be incoorporated into school education. One such question is what sort of philosophy should be taught in schools, if philosophy does find its way into that domain. One answer, which I favour, is that it should be that kind of philosophy that enables students to live a philosophical life, though not necessarily a life of philosophy. Hopefully my peculiar approach to philosophy on this blog will help me to clarify this notion of a “philosophical life,” and to discover how it might be compared and contrasted with a “life of philosophy.”

That, then, is a rough account of what I expect to post in the way of philosophy. It is a rough account because I do not really know what will be the standard, style, frequency, duration and subject matter of my attempts to do philosophy on this blog. The only certain thing is that, with time, I will know.