Mar 222013

Mark, Seth, Wes, and Dylan share what drove them into philosophy and keeps them there. How is philosophy different than (or similar to) science? Than religion? Art?

The consensus seems that philosophy, to us, is inevitable for the curious. It’s just inquiry, unbounded (in principle at least) by any fixed assumptions. While scientific and religious endeavors can be self-questioning as well, there’s a limit to that self-questioning; you have to grant some foundational principles as true (e.g. about natural laws or the existence of God) as true before you can get far enough into your inquiry to figure out what questions are still to be answered. The same is true, of course, of particular philosophic inquiries (arguably, particular sciences are just more narrowly focussed, empirical strains of philosophy; that’s certainly how the creation of sciences has played out historically), but for philosophy as a whole, nothing is off limits to questioning. So if the philosopher is ever questioning him or herself, how could that be pleasurable? How is it not nauseating? One solution: The Partially Examined Life, where you follow your intellectual conscience as best you can while accepting that you’re probably still wrong about something you’re taking for granted, and maybe you’ll figure that bit out next week.

We did no formal reading for this discussion, but did tell each other to keep in mind Plato’s “Apology.” For more information, look here.

End song: “Wake Me” by Mark Lint and the Fake from the album So Whaddaya Think? (2000). Download it free.

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Aug 182010

Sam Harris makes it clear that his atheism is in fact motivated less by reason and more by spleen:

Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself.

He compares it to building a shrine to Satan or a 9/11 truther institute. And: “At this point in human history, Islam simply is different from other faiths.” Namely:

And honest reasoning declares that there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West, and it is decidedly inconvenient that discussing these facts publicly is considered a sign of “intolerance” by well-intentioned liberals, in part because such criticism resonates with the actual bigotry of not-so-well-intentioned conservatives.

To prove this, who quotes the Koran and notes that he doesn’t hear “from Western Muslims … any frank acknowledgment of these unpleasant truths.”

But of course, the Old Testament is equally terrifying, and Christians and Jews aren’t in a habit of putting out press releases frankly acknowledging all its unpleasant truths. And one’s being unaware of something doesn’t mean that it’s not happening: an empirical investigation would be required to see what kinds of conversations are going on in communities all over the world. It’s not something Harris, in this case, seems to care about — but of course it’s not something he could do thoroughly enough in principle to allay his suspicions. That’s why intelligent people refrain from generalizing in such situations.

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