Saturday, January 28, 2012

Useless fellows

Academic philosophers, that is.

A friend of KK posts the following by Gary Gutting of Notre Dame: Philosophy - What's the Use?. A better piece than one might expect, given his areas of interest. Perhaps only one of his AOI, philosophy of science, could be relevant to non-philoshopers and that is assuming that he does it well.

He makes a rather modest claim about the usefuleness of philosophy:
It is useful in "defending our basic beliefs against objections" and it aids us in clarifying "what our basic beliefs mean or logically entail." Is this enough to save academics their jobs when the Big Crunch comes?

Such distinctions are major philosophical topics, of course, and most non-philosophers won’t be in a position to enter into high-level philosophical discussions. But there are both non-philosophers who are quite capable of following such discussions and philosophers who enter public debates about relevant topics.
Might it be the case that most academic philosophers aren't able to enter into such high-level philosophical discussions, either?

He closes with an admission:
The perennial objection to any appeal to philosophy is that philosophers themselves disagree among themselves about everything, so that there is no body of philosophical knowledge on which non-philosophers can rely. It’s true that philosophers do not agree on answers to the “big questions” like God’s existence, free will, the nature of moral obligation and so on. But they do agree about many logical interconnections and conceptual distinctions that are essential for thinking clearly about the big questions. Some examples: thinking about God and evil requires the key distinction between evil that is gratuitous (not necessary for some greater good) and evil that is not gratuitous; thinking about free will requires the distinction between a choice’s being caused and its being compelled; and thinking about morality requires the distinction between an action that is intrinsically wrong (regardless of its consequences) and one that is wrong simply because of its consequences. Such distinctions arise from philosophical thinking, and philosophers know a great deal about how to understand and employ them. In this important sense, there is body of philosophical knowledge on which non-philosophers can and should rely.
Why should we trust an academic's opinon about morals if he has no substantial ties to the community and is more of a parasite than the guru he aspires to be? What we need aren't professional thinkers, but emplaced teachers of classical or traditional scientiae and sapientia so that we, too, may learn to reason to the truths which we no longer acknowledge as a community. But this is possible probably only for a few, and so what is more important is the renewal of evangelization, first through effective witness. As the professor points out, knowing how to reason well can help us in apologetics. But if philosophy just provides us tools for thinking but no direction, then what will happen to society as people continue to bicker about the big issues? Who will save people from themselves? Because of the consequences of original sin, the division into competing schools or individuals will never be resolved, but God is merciful and has revealed Himself to us.

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