You might sort out two different kinds of important change. The first kind is the sort of change that happens all the time – perennial change. You are born. You grow. You get sick. You get better. Empires rise. Empires fall. Friends come. Friends go. These are the sorts of changes, along with a few thousand others, that characterize human life. Philosophy, in its oldest sense, responds to and explores perennial change. Originally, in ancient times, it was meant as a kind of therapy for dealing with life’s perennial changes.
But then there are the changes that are more specific to our times – local change. Carbon emissions are changing the climate. Worldwide information transfer is immediate. New forms of life and artificial intelligence are being created. Economic and political events around the world are sensitively dependent on one another. Many different kinds of intellectuals are thinking about these local changes, but so far philosophy has largely ignored them and has stuck to the more perennial changes.
Perennial changes are important, of course; being able to navigate through them is what it is to be wise. But philosophy, I believe, also has to start responding to local change, since the local changes we are experiencing have deep and significant consequences. Indeed, our local changes might well change our perennial changes. We need to think about the future of “empires,” and whether nation states will have anything to do with that. We need to think about new life forms, and the ways biotechnology will challenge our understanding of “human being.” Same goes for artificial intelligence – we need to think about moral obligations we will have to the conscious beings we will manufacture. As world cultures meld together into politico-economic units, we need to think about the kinds of new obligations we will have to one another. And throughout all these local changes, new pressures will be brought to bear upon our perennial existential questions: Who am I? What is my life about? What is important?
I call these new challenges for philosophy “Philosophy 2.0.” Of course, the “2.0” bit is a reference to Web 2.0, which is what the web became when it started getting truly interactive. Web 1.0 was basically like television with a million channels: click, watch, click, watch, click, etc. But now, in Web 2.0, you can put your own stuff on the web, or take stuff off and mix it up in your own way and throw it back out there, or use applications and programs that are on the web instead of loaded onto your own computer. It is a profound change in the way we are entertaining ourselves; a transition from a “read only” culture to a “read/write culture.” That’s another local change that may have perennial consequences.
Philosophy 2.0 is about getting interactive with local change. Philosophy 1.0, as we might call it, is occupied with perennial change, and it needs to keep chugging along, for as long as human beings are around. But its “product” is about to get tweaked by Philosophy 2.0. Our philosophical thought about local change will impact our thought about perennial change. This is a genuinely new situation for philosophy, since we do not have a luxury we have had in the past: time. Normally, philosophers can wait until the dust has settled before looking back and making sense of where we have been. But we are going to have to get used to looking through the dust, and making the best guesses we can, since ain’t nothing gonna settle anytime soon. We need direction and big-picture planning like never before, and it is the obligation of philosophers to join into that debate. Besides, philosophers have unique knowledge and skills to contribute. They are most in touch with the big pictures of the past (from Plato to Heidegger), and so are in the best position to assess how the big picture is changing. They are used to thinking in terms of systems, and local change is all about systematic change (whether economic, environmental, or technological). And they are more sensitive than most to all the complexities of moral, epistemological, and social issues.
Part of philosophy’s romantic attraction to me has been its inherent Luddism. Philosophy professors don’t need overheads or PowerPoint or WebCT or any other gizmo; they only need a piece of chalk and an empty afternoon. But this image has to change. Philosophers need to be up on the details of local change, and need to start thinking through them and responding to them. That might not affect the pensive ambience of the philosophy classroom, but it will affect the lesson plans. Many people have been working hard to distill the results of local change to the generally educated public; philosophers need to make use of those efforts and get acquainted with the local world. Things need to get messy. We can not afford cleaving only to the relatively stable regions of perennial change.
What philosophers will bring to the table is a deep familiarity with perennial changes, and keen insight as to how local changes will change them and possibly be informed by them. This is a dimension that is now either being neglected, or carried out by those who don’t really know what they are saying. We need Philosophy 2.0 now more than ever.
Most of my hacker friends understand the appeal of Luddism. If we had our way we’d all be living on farms growing our own food. In fact, 3 or 4 of use have been talking about how we can make that happen. Hackers just love solving problems and computers and the internet give them a place to do that and make money at the same time. We often reflect though, at least in the IRC channel I frequent the most, that it would be nice to be solving the sorts of problems presented by learning how to sustain ourselves.
Forgive the rambling post here:
I am not entirely clear on what Huenemann is saying. Is it this?
Instead of teaching meta-ethics, we should teach social ethics, bio-medical ethics, etc.
Instead of teaching about the metaphysics of change (“perennial philosophy”), we should teach applied philosophy (philosophy of technology, philosophy of risk, social and political philosophy)?
But this seems a far too simplistic summary of your point – that philosophers should do more “applied philosophy”. If that philosophy is to get so “applied” that we find ourselves doing social science stuff, then – other than bringing certain thinking skills to bear on the issues – in what sense are we still identified uniquely as “philosophers”?
What am I missing?
If the basic point is that Philosophy 2.0 would be a philosophy that has greater entrenchment in the everyday, local, and immediate concerns of humanity, then I am all for it. (I see these connections all the time, perhaps I presume to much when I assume that my students will be able to take perennial philosophy and see its local import). In other words, if what we bring to bear on these issues is careful and systematic thinking along with a healthy dose of intellectual prudence, then good. I think we can already bring that, without really modifying philosophy into a 2.0. In other words, I am inclined to say that the problem is not that philosophy is going about things in the wrong way, rather the problem is that no one gives a damn about the way philosophers go about things. If that is so, then is going 2.0 just a fixing something that ain’t broke just so it can have more popular appeal?
So I find the 1.0 philosopher in me pulling back a bit. Part of me is inclined to say that no matter how much local change there is, the perennial questions are left largely unchanged. This is why we can still read Plato and Aristotle and find them so incredibly relevant (even those that think their metaphysics are now irrelevant are still usually attracted by their ethics). Think of the incredible amount of local change between their time and now. And yet, without much modification at all, their texts speak to us with a kind of immediacy. In other words, the Philosopher 1.0 in me is tempted to say that local changes are philosophically irrelevant. Why? Because amidst all of the local change, human nature (the human condition) does not change. We have the same questions, hopes, dreams, and fears that we had 2000 years ago, albeit with different window dressing.
Again, what am I missing?
I don’t think this really addresses Kleiner’s concerns directly but it’s marginally relevant and he might enjoy reading it.
Gin, Television, and Social Surplus
No “instead ofs”. Philosophy 1.0 is always central, in my view. But I think more philosophers need to pay more attention to 2.0. Right, 2.0 is applied philosophy, though from what I know most work in applied philosophy deals with issues that have been kicking around for the last 25 years or so. Not so much deals with the world specifically since, say, 11/9/95 (when Netscape went public).
Some big philosophical questions don’t change. But if it becomes possible to extend healthy human life indefinitely, (with genomics and nanobots), and if artificial consciousness is created, and if we’re capable of engineering entities that are sorta-human-sorta-not (“homo-platypus,” I call it), those changes will raise new big philosophical questions, or change the old ones substantively. Aristotle would be all over this like butter on baklava!
I see. I was reading it as an either/or.
I think you are right, the “applied field” of philosophy has not remained very current. I teach Social Ethics, and as best as I can tell the only changes in the textbooks over the last 20 years have been the addition of a terrorism section in the just war chapter. Some texts have technology issues, but mostly they tread on fairly well worn turf (privacy concerns, etc).
A few other thoughts:
a) I hope perennial philosophy gets a louder voice. On our way to extending human life indefinitely, etc, we need to ask (from the point of view of “eternal truths”) if we ought to be pursuing such things in the first place!
b) There are bits and pieces of Phil 2.0 out there. In the late 90s when I was at Boston College there was a course offered on “philosophy and new urban planning”. I take it this is the kind of thing you have in mind?
Artificial intelligence is not very intelligent since it is unable to make judgments. It is merely programmed – that is why I keep getting the unintentional smiley icons!
More on Charlie’s view of philosophy —
I think this is similar to what Will Durant was shooting for although “science” is so broad now that it’d be hard to try to take on a project as broad as his. Some have said, iirc (if i recall correctly), that even he was unable to do his project well because of the scope.
How can philosophy be a handmaiden to science when science depends on philosophy to demonstrate her suppositions (causation, which is ultimately a metaphysical question)?
I think that’s a question to ask the history books. Perhaps ignorance regarding suppositions started working out really well? That’s what it seemed like to me when I studied epistemology. Science does sort of buy in blindly but it doesn’t seem to cause much trouble for it (Popper somewhat covers this). Maybe people look at the world pre and post science and just decide, “hey, this science stuff sure is making our lives better”. Then they quit talking to the philosophers and theologians for day to day matters and banish them to the academy.
I’m a fan of both philosophy and theology. I don’t think ignorance is bliss (especially not for me). I’m not sure philosophy and theology really help anything though, the more I think about things and look at how contemporary people exist in the world. I keep finding these random people who disagree with me (and each other) about philosophically ‘foundational’ issues that easily show me how much I still have to learn about life.
“Maybe people look at the world pre and post science and just decide, “hey, this science stuff sure is making our lives better”. Then they quit talking to the philosophers and theologians for day to day matters and banish them to the academy.”
I think that is exactly what happened. But it does not mean that the question of causality (is their an order to the world that we can discover) is just a historical question. It remains a philosophical question – whether or not in (accidental) fact anyone gives a damn about that question.
But if we want our science (and I do), then isn’t it part of the responsibility of philosophers to identify and explicate the principles that allow her to operate? This is not just an idle epistemological pastime for academics. In fact, it might have serious ramifications for Philosophy 2.0. That is, if science must presume at least an ordered (and more likely it also needs a teleolgically organized) world, then what else does that mean? What does it mean for human nature and destiny? For the reasonability of religion and its role in the public square? What does it mean for the ordering of society? … …
To my mind, the least relevant philosophy is the philosophy that refuses to say anything. I’m not arguing for a dogmatic philosophy, but is it any wonder that philosophy is irrelevant when many (most?) academic philosophers are skeptics?
Well, here’s another question. Why is it that US Christians tend towards pop psychology christian books instead of going to Aquinas, liturgy and catechism? I think the fact that they do it sucks pretty bad but even to point that out to them I’d need to talk to them (i.e. write something pop level).
Aren’t there a bunch of Christian philosophers out there writing books? I remember reading the “Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith” by C. Stephen Evans. I really liked it at the time but sure had a hell of time getting other people to read it. I had a hell of time accepting his particular epistemology.
Maybe you should write a whole book on why philosophers need to focus on teleology. I think to some extent it hinges upon where people see life’s core conundrums.
Book title — “God is NOT dead, He’s in the teleology!”
Better title yet: “The ENDS of Faith”!
The literacy of religious and non-religious people, as regards great books and great ideas, is truly embarrassing. I more than share Mike’s frustration.
There are some people writing books like this, but it is almost all Catholics (not much Protestant work that I know of). Machuga’s ‘In Defense of the Soul’ is exactly the kind of book that needs to be written (and assigned).
Regarding Philosophy 2.0. Here seems to be the rub:
I think applied philosophy has to follow from “first philosophy” (Philosophy 1.0). You can’t do 2.0 until you’ve agreed upon some 1.0. But here is Huenemann’s worry – “ain’t nothing gonna settle anytime soon.” I take it he thinks we should then just press on, make good guesses, and do Philosophy 2.0. Trouble is, with all due respect, I think a lot of Huenemann’s “good guesses” are actually really bad guesses (he would say the same of mine).
What basics would we have to agree upon, as a “community of philosophers”, before moving on to 2.0? To use the web analogy, how highly functioning (how much agreement) do we need at the 1.0 / BETA level before moving on to 2.0? I think, in order for philosophers to have any voice at all, we’d have to say at least:
a) We have a metaphysics and epistemology that buttress rather than disintegrate the foundations of science.
b) The world is ordered (minimally causally, probably teleologically) and hence knowable.
c) We are knowers (no claim here about how easy this knowing will be).
Is that fair? (I am aware that I am insisting that we all be broadly Aristotelian here 🙂 )
Both great book titles, by the way. That is a project I should consider at some point.
I think my 1.0/2.0 terminology is misleading you. We don’t need to complete or settle 1.0 before moving to 2.0. Don’t let “2.0” be too significant; I picked it only because it sounds cool to me.
We won’t get your a, b, or c. If we need those before we can say anything about today’s world, expect a long silence!
My claim about making guesses before the dust settles is about jumping in and trying to sort out new problems brought on by new tech and globalization, etc., while they are still relevant problems. So, for example, PETA has put up a $1m prize for the first team that makes artificial meat in a petri dish — that’s right, artificial meat. It’s meat, but never came from a living animal. Are we okay with this? Any legitimate moral concerns? Personally, though it kind of creeps me out, I can’t see that any of the main arguments for vegetarianism really cut against artificial meat (so to speak). But why then have so many people quit PETA in disgust? What is at steak, er, stake? Maybe the best objection here is Heideggerian, having to do with forms of life and whatnot. Is anyone trying to articulate exactly what the objections are?
Probably not the best example, but one on my mind.
Everyone that does science assumes b and c. But that is another fight for another day.
Regarding the topic at hand:
I see. I was taking 2.0 the wrong way. I quite agree that philosophers should weigh in on such matters. Here is where 1.0 will continue to be relevant. The objections that one raises or more generally the point of view one takes on the 2.0 issues will stem from their stance on 1.0 issues (a utilitarian, a Kantian, and a Thomist may well have different things to say on 2.0 issues because of their competing 1.0 views on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics).
This is all fine of course. Philosophers won’t speak with a harmonious voice as a “philosophical community”, but we’ll offer several different takes on the 2.0 issues. The philosophical viewpoints would surely add to the discussion. For my part, I think a teleologically informed philosophy will slide easily into these 2.0 discussions.
A journal I read called First Things is, I think, trying to do 2.0 philosophy/theology. firstthings.com
Their mission statement:
“First Things is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.”
I’ve read First Things on and off for years. I have become less and less impressed over the years. Before I used to be able to see a clear distinction with what they were doing and the right wing establishment but at some point that line seemed to be blurred and I stopped reading. It’s been a few years, I should read a few articles. Also, I know they let a variety of views write there. Have they let a mormon write there yet? Maybe that happened a while ago, I can’t remember.
Speaking of stuff getting pulled in, the site reddit that I pointed a couple links to Charlie from used to be mainly part of the geek culture but it got sucked into the left leaning [+cute pictures people] masses. So there’s a remnant of that, especially on the programming sections of the site but the main site is more miss than hit now.
First Things got a bit neo-con on the war for my tastes, so I agree. But I think it is still a very good journal.
That’s good to know. I do think their writing is at about the right level. At a certain level it promotes reflection and that itself I think is necessary.
As I have thought about this over the day (and on a nice bike ride, where good thinking almost always happens), I find myself agreeing with Huenemann that we need 2.0 now more than every. But I do not have the same urgency that Huenemann has. Why not? My particular tradition (Catholic) has long been doing philosophy 1.0 and 2.0. She has a long tradition of both speculative philosophy (1.0) but also 2.0 concrete applied philosophy (particularly her social justice tradition, but also her cultural and political philosophy). In fact, I think the Catholic tradition has done a remarkable job of balancing theoretical and the practical (this might be why I end up feeling nonplussed by Mike’s concerns over philosophy’s excessive abstraction). Catholic philosophy’s 1.0 and 2.0 commitments are, more often than not, highly integrated. She usually speaks with a fairly clear voice (set aside for the moment whether you agree with it) on 2.0 issues (stem cell research, genetic research, etc). Sometimes she might even get too involved in “local” issues (a lot of jokes were made over the “ten deadly sins of driving” that some Vatican official put out a year or so ago).
One note on First Things and its conservatism: I am Catholic, so I might have more sympathies with parts of the “right wing establishment” (whatever the hell that is, the right wing does not seem very well established right now!) than Mike would approve of. In the terms of American politics, I find myself on the left when it comes to issues of social justice (I include the environment there) and on the right with issues of life.
I’m half joking when I say that. I don’t think whatever sort of establishment we have has a wing. Whatever it is is wholly owned. The owners are the people who get the people asking partisan questions instead of productive questions. Those who have mastered the art of deflection.
It’s a little past midnight while I read this so I’m hoping what I’m writing is somewhat coherent. I agree with Huenemann that Philosophy 2.0 needs to be considered by more philosophers. I think the main thing reason philosophers want to stay, or perhaps more comfortable, in 1.0 is because it asks the generals stuff (what is Truth? Reality? Knowledge? Justice? Good?). 1.0 delves into the questions that philosophers have been asking since Plato. The 2.0 are the things that are just temporary questions (how do we deal with artificial intelligence? what about artificial meat? what about climate changes?) and because of this, philosophers have been perhaps trained to not talk or deal with this temporary stuff and deal with these general stuff. Perhaps an exception would be the pragmatists, but they too, seem to only want to discuss the 1.0 stuff but from a different angle. So I agree that philosophers should get involved in the 2.0 stuff but when you ask philosophers why don’t they get involved thinking about these things, the reply I hear is, “well, let’s leave that to the specialists.” The problem is that we ARE the specialists.”
Two things that might make things clear:
1. I’m on a group emailing list and one of the topics that has come up is that if philosophers know how to argue and come up with reasons and justifications on certain issues, why is it that hardly any philosophers have come out discussing the war in Iraq? Now it’s true that certain intellectuals have come out and discussed about it (Christopher Hitchens is one example that I can think of), but I really can’t think of any philosopher that has actually come out in public explaining it. They may give a discourse about it through a journal, but this brings me to my second point. . .
2. If this is the case, does Huenemann mean that we should become more like Socrates or Sartre? Not in the sense of following their philosophy, but actually getting involved in local issues, and being part of situation and being aware of context and trying to solve those issues.
I may be rambling here, but like I said, it’s late and I don’t know if I’m making coherent sense of not.
Philosophers have not been totally silent on 2.0 issues. I know that each division of the American Philosophical Association has passed (overwhelmingly) resolutions concerning the war in Iraq (and its dubious moral and just war footing).
Part of the problem is that philosophers could shout from the rooftops about 2.0 issues and this will not guarantee that anyone will listen. I don’t think it even occurs to the media outlets to bring a philosopher on to discuss theses issues as an “expert” because philosophy has completely lost any “practical credibility”. I have no idea how to get that back, but my sense is that we have an anti-intellecutal country totally enthralled with number crunching (polling) rather than prudent debate, so philosophers are out.
There is a new book out from George Weigel on taking back political philosophy from statisticians called ‘Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace’. His summary here:
Point is, I think there is little reason to hope that we will be invited to the 2.0 discussion, even if we were talking about these issues.
Is that too pessimistic?
Just to add to that, the Catholic Church has been a constant and clear objecting voice to the war in Iraq. Catholic philosophers through the Vatican have put out a fair amount of material on the illegitimacy of the war. Same goes for stem cell research, genetic engineering, etc. And these arguments are not sectarian, they are arguments from natural reason. So there are philosophers (granted, Catholic philosophers) talking about all of these things already. But you hardly hear any of this in the public square.
My point is this, from the point of view of a Catholic philosopher, the problem is not that we are not doing 2.0, the problem is that no one gives a crap. Is there any reason to think the situation would be different for secular philosophers?
Public perception is one of the big factors that has to be dealt with carefully. Understanding deeply how people on the street are thinking is a good beginning. If philosophers understand human nature so well then they should be able to do a bit of perception management.
The obstacles for catholic philosophers and secular philosophers are going to be different. Secular philosophers are free to at least try not to offend a huge chunk of the audience from the get-go. Catholic philosophers are always going to have a hard time with that since their chosen identity itself has alienating aspects (not that this is their intention).
Calling yourself a “secular philosopher” might be similarly problematic. I think the label humanist could be extended to be more inclusive of religious thought.
I think you are right that the perception out there is that Catholic philosophy is merely sectarian (even though that is false). But I am not convinced that a “humanist” philosopher is going to have much more luck. Is there any reason to think they will? To the contrary, isn’t there overwhelming evidence to the contrary? After all, philosophy has seen a radically diminished role in the academic world, so much more so then from the point of view of the general population. I fear that people are just so unwilling to really think about anything that philosophy has little hope of entering the conversation.
Forgive my elitism here, but most of what counts as “thoughtful discussion” on these 2.0 topics (stem cell, genetics, cloning, war, etc) is a bunch of Oprah-ized feelings garbage. Philosophers will demand that people think in paragraphs, not soundbites. Certainly the media, and I am afraid the general American audience, are just incapable of this. The remark about “thinking in paragraphs” has often been made about Pope B16. How did this style of thought play out in our media? Well, we got endless focus on the sex abuse scandal since the media was too lightweight to discuss any of the other substantive issues – like the relationship between faith and reason in religion, and the challenge to Islam to take these issues seriously.
Here’s a yahoo founder’s take on philosophy. Paul Graham on Philosophy
Geeks are not shallow thinkers. They’ve just moved on from philosophy because it lacks relevance. I’m not sure about the other US subcultures, they’re probably all doomed like Kleiner says. Activists and humanitarians are usually on top of things but also don’t read philosophy because they perceive it lacks relevance. I tell them I believe in philosophy as a way of life and they just stare at me. I talk about contemporary issues or that we don’t own a car anymore and they light right up.
Yes, Americans tend to be much more interested in “what are you going to do” rather than reflecting much on “why are you going to do it”. I think you need both. But we are a push on into action culture, not a very reflective one (and what little “reflection” people do is Chicken Soup for the Soul).
But perhaps I should not be so pessimistic. When I was in graduate school at Purdue, I once went to get an oil change at Grease Monkey. The guy that changed my oil got to asking me what I did for a living. I told him I was studying philosophy, and he asked, “Really, you ever read Heidegger?” Apparently this guy (no college education) was on his 3rd read of Being and Time. So who knows! I am always convinced that their is a thirst for philosophy since the philosophic life is a big part of aspiring for knowledge, and I think all humans by nature desire to know. But our culture really disincentives the reflection. I don’t see philosophers (secular or otherwise) having a seat at the 2.0 table until that changes.
I skimmed the Paul Graham article. I am not much surprised by his reaction to philosophy in college. It sounds like he encountered basically two kinds of philosophy: skepticism and “philosophy-denying” analytic philosophy (Wittgenstein – all philosophical problems are only apparent).
I am totally continental in my training because I found analytic philosophy to be utterly useless (its value, it seems to me, ends at the instrumental value of training clear logical thinking).
Is part of our cultural resistance to allowing philosophy some relevance due to the Anglo-American bias toward analytic philosophy? (I know this is a really broad term). This is a philosophy that, in practice, is simply a “tribal” conversation about language that no ordinary person can really understand and that seems to have no practical relevance whatsoever. Contrast this with Aristotle’s practical philosophy of virtue and prudence. Contrast this with, say, Heidegger – whose writings on technology have (at least for me) almost endless applications to 2.0 issues.
Huenemann – what do you think?
I think you are right that analytic philosophy hasn’t exactly enhanced philosophy’s broader appeal. But I’m not sure continental philosophy has either: Heidegger is popular only among academics and workers at Grease Monkey, apparently!
Here’s something that might have appeal: a philosophy which grapples with continental issues (identity, sociality, tradition, technology) but with the kind of clarity that characterizes the more readable end of the analytic spectrum (as seen in writers like Russell, Moore, Nagel, Bennett, Nussbaum, and Dennett). Rorty had this, and he’s probably the most widely read philosopher of recent times.
It was pretty comical for me to complain about analytic philosophy’s tribal language when I then went on to reference Heidegger!!
Rorty is a great example.
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