April 10, 2020

Distinctions Without a Difference


The Doodlebug Island Philosophical Society meets once a month in the back room of Dandy-Lee Gifford’s ale house and chic boutique, where the wrangling won’t disturb anybody. The room is large enough to accommodate pugilistic exercises should shouting, swearing, and name-calling prove inadequate. Now, not all meetings end this way, just those at which participants have been frisked and weapons removed.

The reader, should he or she be contemplating going out, would be advised to seek other ale houses or boutiques, because the season’s first meeting is tonight at 7:30, and the discussion topic has to do with whether or not candidates for a doctorate in philosophy should be required to read the work of noted philosophers as part of their programs, or rather develop their own philosophies, graduate, then read what others have written.

On the surface, this might appear to be one of those “distinctions without a difference” sorts of arguments. But in light of the fact that many students, while actually enrolled in fields other than philosophy, nevertheless are graduated with doctorates in philosophy, the question becomes: why should those whose intent it is to think, act, and write philosophically be treated differently?

Proponents of the proposition that students would do well to read what the great thinkers have had to say before they attempt to fashion their own views are in the majority. They point out that math isn’t reinvented with each generation, and that scientific discoveries aren’t withheld from students. Why shouldn’t it be the same with philosophy? They are careful not to argue that history isn’t reinvented with each generation because here on Doodlebug we take delight in writing and revising history according to our own liking, and we have raised it to an art form.

Those who propose simply encouraging students to cobble their own philosophy from what they perceive to be the a-prioris of life–those givens from which all propositions and conclusions derive–argue that until a student has contemplated his or her own life’s experiences, few will comprehend or appreciate what others have had to say. Their view is summed up with these words: “Until you’ve examined your own life, anything else won’t matter; and after you’ve made such an examination, anything else won’t make that much difference.”

You’d think there would be a middle road that would satisfy, but if you think so, let me disabuse you of that notion. Combatants in philosophical wars are about as ecumenical as religious people, and for about the same reasons. People fall in love with their own ideas, and they imagine those ideas, if properly understood by everyone else, would bring a new age of peace, harmony, and understanding. Compromise, which is what the ecumenical spirit is all about, is present in about the same proportion as consideration is in a grizzly bear. Maybe not quite so much.

There is record of a person changing his mind at an ecumenical gathering of the saintly, satisfied, and sanctified, but he was a hard-rock miner who had wandered in by mistake. His AA meeting was next door. He fell off the wagon celebrating his escape.

Perhaps you wonder, as I do, why so many are driven to participate in these mental free-for-alls when the pay-offs are so slight. Gene structure is thought to be largely responsible, genes that helped us through the hunter-gatherer stage, tribal wars, feudal periods of ignorance, and dependence on myth.

Short of internecine war, there seems to be no better form of entertainment than to argue rhetorical questions, and, considered in this light, it is perhaps fortunate there is an unending supply of them. Supplicants always name God as a co-defendant in their assertions, which seems strange since one of the more often debated questions is whether there is a God or not.

Given the vituperative nature of mankind, their sentient interest in winning arguments that reason tells you can’t be won, I don’t particularly blame God for keeping a low profile and extending His visit to any nearby planet where creatures of His creation are not so voluble nor so confoundedly obstinate. In His absence, I’ve tried to bring logic and cogent reasoning to the group, yet they appear inured to the common sense and brilliant deductions which I believe attend my positions. I don’t know how others are preparing for tonight–but I’m taking a bullhorn and a whip!

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes
Leave A Comment