Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Trouble with Philosophers

Partly because of a debate elsewhere on the blogosphere, I've started to re-read Bryan Magee's fascinating 'Confessions of a Philosopher'. Here's a passage that I think says something about 'the trouble with philosophers':

All the problems that plagued me were questions about the situation in which I immediately found myself. Some of them were questions about me, some were questions about the world around me, but all of them were practical questions, which is to say questions about how things are, to which something or other had to constitute a true answer, or so it seemed to me. To none of these questions would the existence of God have constituted an answer, and I never felt any inclination, no matter as how young a child, to believe in one. There is a story that G.E. Moore, when asked why he had never addressed himself to questions about God, replied that he had never seen any reason for taking such questions seriously, and the same applied in those days to me. The postulation of a God seemed to me a cop-out, a refusal to take serious problems seriously; a facile, groundless and above all evasive response to deeply distrubing difficulties: it welcomed the self-comforting delusion that we know what we do not know, and have answers that we do not have, thereby denying the true mysteriousness, indeed miraculousness, of what is...'

Well, where do we start? We could notice that he is, at the time, between nine and twelve years old, and since he was 'in a family in which religion was never mentioned', a little humility about the possibility of having missed something might be a good thing.

But look how he sees the existence of God: a theoretical thing, that might answer some problem, or be a cop-out as far as answers to the problems are concerned. He's missing completely the possibility that God might be an objective reality - and that, if he is, it's probably wise to know it. He thinks he's answering life's problems; or at least looking for them. But he's ignoring the elephant in the room because in his opinion it's no help at all. Sadly, Magee goes on to speak of the daily terror that his philosophic speculations brought: 'From that day on I wrestled with demons for at least a part of every day of my life...'

That's the trouble with philosophers - well, some of them. They think they're dealing with the big things and all they're doing is ignoring the big things in favour of academic games...


Jon said...

I remind you of a recent comment you made:

"The basic problem is that both 'evangelical' and 'Anglican' are adjectives that (in some circumstances) act as nouns. That's why Guy's white dog/dog white isn't an analogy at all. 'Dog' is never an adjective, and 'white' does not stand as a noun.
The nearest real analogy I can think of will leave me open to charges of racism, but hey ho. In the phrase 'Black African' both 'Black' and 'African' are really adjectives. But 'African' is doing service as a noun. If you talk about 'Black Africans' and 'White Africans' you are saying that the significant thing about them - the 'naming word' - is that they are African. (Because in English the adjective comes first.) But if you say 'African Blacks' and 'American blacks' - well, then, it is now 'blacks' that is doing service as a noun and you are saying that the signicant thing about these people is that they are blacks.
Guy and Gary are being misled by the word that comes first in the phrase, and I wonder (seriously) if that has something to do with the Welsh language?"

I'm just saying...

Gary Benfold said...

Sorry Jon; I haven't a clue what you're on about.

Gary Benfold said...

If you'd like to give me a clue, Jon - I'll gladly respond