Sunday, February 6, 2011

Science, Religion, and a Surprise Third Contender

Today I revisited one of my old facebook notes, and found it a pretty decent piece of writing, in addition to its being germane to the topic of the previous post. Where that post concerned the nature of philosophy, this note concerns its value.

As long as I'm introducing a re-posted facebook note, I'd also like to draw the attention of new readers to an earlier entry in this blog which also includes the text of an old note. Neither Owed Nor Promised is a rather long post setting forth my philosophical worldview in very broad strokes, and can be considered something of a preview of what's to come in this blog.

Now, without further ado, here's this entry's featured content:

Sam Harris has written a book called The Moral Landscape which has sparked a huge debate about whether science can tell us what we should believe is morally right, or whether we must ultimately turn to religion. This debate makes itself a little ridiculous by leaving out the mode of discourse this is most important to the domain of morality: philosophy.

Nobody cares about philosophy. That's not just a problem for philosophy; it's a problem for everybody. Philosophy is that form of discourse in which we engage in critical, rational, and creative ways with the concepts that are most fundamental to our lives: what is real, what is right and wrong, what is good or bad, better or worse, what can be known and how it can be known, and what really matters anyway. When we neglect philosophy, we neglect clear thinking and serious discussion, and we simply take for granted the categories and basic assumptions that are handed to us by society. Philosophy is something that we can grow and understand only so much without.

When we divide all discourse between science, religion, journalism, and cheap editorials, we fail to get at the root of anything, and to really question our ideas as far as we should. This is most important in the areas of morality and politics because they're not about objects that we can observe (Can you take a yardstick to justice or value?), but rather subjects that can only be addressed by a widespread conversation. This is the case in a democratic society, at least. In a more closed society, these issues would be decided for us and we would just have to take the answers we were fed. Then again, if we don't discuss them and decide upon them for ourselves, that's exactly what's happening...

So question everything, friends, and make a little time to think things through, or you can be sure that someone else is doing it for you. And remember that, when it comes to issues close to your heart, science and religion are not the only voices to consider. For those of you who are interested in philosophy but haven't seen a way into it yet, I'll list a few decent introductions:

From Socrates to Sartre


Sophie's World

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