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Closer To Reality: Philosophy - by John Prytz



# Everybody, including readers here, have personalbeliefs. Almost by definition, if you have a personal belief, you believe thatbelief to be obviously true. You are not an exception to that rule; I am not anexception to that rule. Part of the construction of personal beliefs isadopting definitions that re-enforce those beliefs. You seem to think that eachand every term or phrase has a unique one and only one definition that iscarved in stone. If things were that clear-cut, it would be impossible to havedebates since everybody would have to absolutely agree on the unique one andonly one possible definition before-the-fact of each and every term that willbe under discussion. Thus, 100% of everybody would agree on 100% of everything.Somehow the world doesn't seem to work that way. Sorry 'bout that.


# Actually I suspect not everyone will bementally capable of answering any and all deep existential and metaphysicalquestions. I also suspect not everyone who is mentally capable of coming toterms with what you consider to be deep existential and metaphysical questionswill actually give a stuff. The highest priorities or interests of some of thegreat unwashed often has nothing to do with what you or even I might term TheBig Questions.


# Philosophy (of causation or anythingelse) is not a subject whose postulates are set in stone, absolutely fixed,pinned to the wall and not subject to debate. Philosophy is full of debatablewaffle, so there is probably no such thing as any central point, but rathercentral points depending on what side of the fence you are sitting on; maybeeven sitting on the fence. If you're sitting on the left side of the fenceyou're going to miss or misunderstand the central point put by someone sittingon the right side of the fence - and vice-versa. There is no such thing in philosophyas "has to be", otherwise it wouldn't be philosophy, which for allpractical purposes is a something that "has to be" something thateveryone can agree to disagree on, hence debate.


# The Accidental Metaphysician gives thethumbs down to those who wax lyrical outside of their field(s) of expertise. Ifyou’re not a formally trained professional philosopher therefore, you havelittle street credibility when it comes to dealing with the Big Questions. Nixto that viewpoint.


It would appear that everyone with FORMALtraining in philosophy have had no luck in answering the Big Questions. It thathad been the case, all of those Big Questions would no longer be a part ofphilosophy but reside in cosmology or physics or neurology or the law orelsewhere. There would be no debate about a before-the-Big-Bang or the Copenhagen (or ManyWorlds) interpretation of quantum physics or free will or dualism or morality.


Now if professional philosophers adoptdrastically differing positions on any one Big Question, ranging from oneextreme to the other extreme, then sorry, there's no rhyme or reason the restof us great unwashed can't enter the fray. Formal training in philosophy leadsno closer to truth than the average John Doe pondering the same Big Questions.Philosophy is one of those fields where anyone can join in and strut theirstuff, unlike say medicine or law or various other professional fields thatreally do require expertise. We're all experts in philosophy since we all applyphilosophical principles and positions to ourselves and the world around us.I'd better not practice unlicensed medicine on myself, and I’d better not be myown lawyer, but I'm quite okay in pondering my own free will, or lack of it.


# Though I’ve been accused of it, I neverrecall saying that philosophy hasn't made progress. All fields of inquiry makeprogress as newcomers add to what has gone before. My beef here is that unlikemany other professions, philosophy isn't an exclusive professional 'membersonly' club. And agreeing to disagree seems to be a mantra of or betweenprofessional philosophers. Never have so many debated for so long with solittle conclusive results, although, as the Accidental Metaphysician says,progress happens.


However, IMHO, if two (or more)professional philosophers can find themselves on totally opposite sides of anissue involving say theology, free will, consciousness, the nature of time,etc., then all that formal training doesn't amount to a hill of beans, unlikesay the medical profession where one would expect a reasonable degree ofconsensus when it comes to a diagnosis. Squabbling siblings can argue oppositesjust as effectively as professional philosophers with equal results.


Since philosophical questions areunanswerable questions, I put just as much stock in the opinions of John &Jane Doe, even myself, as I do the professionals. Philosophy is one of the fewprofessions where I feel safe in making that judgment. I wouldn't go to justanyone for legal advice or medical advice.


Further, philosophy is one of thosesubjects that can be self-taught, though for best results it helps to have asparring partner(s), usually and easily found down at the local pub.


# The professional philosopher may be moreadapt at writing textbooks and tossing around unpronounceable jargon, but thatdoesn't mean he or she thinks any more deeply about an issue than the averageperson in society.


# Philosophy on the whole is prettyworthless, for while it asks consistent questions, it fails to give consistentanswers. About all that can be said for philosophy is that it gives youoptions, but from that point on you gotta do the hard yards and sort things outfor yourself. So philosophy is pretty much a do-it-yourself activity. So inthat context it's marginally more interesting than watching paint dry or thegrass growing.


# I've watched many a Big Question interview,such as you find on the website “Closer to Truth”, coming out none the wiserabout what the heck the philosopher in question was on about. That just re-enforcesa previous comment I made in a long ago previous post that, for example, “Closerto Truth” should pick a panel of kids from say 10 to 14 or so and interviewthem on all of the Big Questions. Kids would be really quick smart to cutthrough all of the jargon and associated bovine fertilizer. Sophisticated itwouldn't be, but they would cut right to the chase.


# Apparently philosophy and logicintellectually trump all else, or at least that’s the impression I get from theAccidental Metaphysician.


Let's see, what were those 3 R's again? Ohyes, reading, 'righting and 'rithmetic! Somehow philosophy got left out of theessentials. Going back to my high school days, philosophy was never a requiredsubject, unlike English and history and bonehead general mathematics andscience; even gym was required. Actually I couldn't have studied philosophy inhigh school even if I had wanted to. It was never a part of the curriculum inany shape, manner or form. And philosophy was never a mandatory subject when Iwas a university either. Seems in the grand educational scheme of things,philosophy isn't regarded all that highly as an essential to having a wellrounded education. Why's that? Alas, apparently that’s all just a quirk ofcultural history – an anomaly; a mistake.


So our Accidental Metaphysician seems tobe saying that reading, writing and arithmetic are not as important asphilosophy when it comes to having to make your way in this world. I mean hisexcuse to the IRS tax office might be - sorry I couldn't do my tax returnbecause I don't know how to add and subtract, but I know philosophy if that'sany help. Methinks that if you go for a job interview I'd bet that your abilityto read and write and do basic mathematics will weigh more heavily in thepanel's consideration of your suitability than your ability to pontificate onthe Big Questions! You couldn't post your philosophical thoughts here withoutfirst having mastered reading and writing. I want my GP to know medicine, notphilosophy. The plumber had better know plumbing first, philosophy second.There are multi dozens of professions, emergency service workers andsupermarket clerks come to mind, that are essential in our society withoutthose professions requiring detailed or even any understanding of philosophy.Your military officer had just better obey orders as opposed to endlesslypondering the philosophical issues and consequences of those orders, even ifthere are philosophical issues and consequences. Shoot first; ask questionslater.


# When it comes to the average persontrying to manage their average day and overcoming the average challenges faced,the 3 R's have a more useful application than philosophy or logic or indeedquantum physics or evolutionary biology. It would be really nice if we allcould be omniscient but there are only so many years one can spend in highschool / college / university / adult education; there are only so many hoursin the day; the human brain does not have an indefinite capacity to absorb moreand more and more. Thus, priorities have to be set, firstly by federal, stateand local government and their school boards (the schooling curriculum) and byparents and ultimately by students when they reach a certain age. Anyonebelieving along the lines of the Accidental Metaphysician are of course free asa private citizen to lobby the relevant powers-that-be to elevate the teachingof philosophy and logic in say years 7 to 12 - as electives. Actually it soundslike a good idea to me. I can find no philosophical or logical objection tothis.


# The Accidental Metaphysician laments thedecline in the levels of comprehension or understanding in the areas of logicand mathematics in the greater population. On this we basically agree.


I haven't seen or read about any studies doneon rational / logical thinking and whether it is in decline or not, or whatcomparisons there are with respect to other nations. However, there have beenmany studies done that show a rather sharp decline in the ability of students,even university and graduate students to do bonehead mathematics using penciland paper, a phenomena that seems to cut across many of the traditional Englishspeaking countries, not just USA. Apparently many attribute this to the readyaccess of electronic calculators that comes part and parcel with smart phones,laptops, PC's, and as just standalone instruments as solely functionalcalculators. I gather they are even allowed in many exam rooms now. Of coursein the retail trade now electronic scanners now do the sums and calculatechange. Everything is electronically calculated so sales staff don't have toworry about that aspect of their jobs. Fortunately, I can still do elementarymathematics using pencil and paper.


# While on the subject of relevance, inconclusion, the topic of philosophy might conjure up better image if it weren'tassociated with a group of ancient white-bearded old men in robes debatingangels and pinheads. That hemlock episode doesn't help the image either. If Ihad to sum it all up, it would be along the lines of never have so few gone onfor so long about so little (of practical relevance) with so little results toshow for it all. Apologies, Winston!

Science librarian; retired.

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