NaBloPoMo: Philosophy Edition

11/01/2010 By Shawn Burns

I’m going to go ahead and say that I’m doing NaBloPoMo this year. It’s a lie. Right now it’s a lie. Maybe at the end of the month it will turn out to be true.

In order to not distract myself too much from what I ought to be doing I will attempt to post on some philosophical issue every day for the month. It’s so crazy it just might work. And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids.

Today’s Post: What is philosophy and why do I do it?

Philosophy is the study of how to be right at the cost of people understanding that you are right or wanting to hear about how right you are. It is the study of how to be right, and an education in how to be wrong, so mostly what it involves is a radical uncertainty about reality (undergirdings, motivations, beliefs) while at the same time being utterly certain that one’s tools for detecting truth are highly calibrated. Philosophers spend much of their time trying to think of how they have gone wrong before someone else thinks it for them.

There are also questions, fields of study, broad areas of expertise: What is real? How do we know things? What is good? What is beautiful? I don’t really care about them.

What philosophers become really, really good at is figuring out why what other people are saying is unjustified or contradicts some other belief they must have. We are professional bullshit detectors, and the world is full of bullshit. The problem philosophers have, though, is that most people don’t like being called on their bullshit (and are convinced they aren’t spewing any anyway), so in the face of persistent questioning about further beliefs and demonstrations that those beliefs conflict with stated beliefs, people tend to just want the philosopher to go away or die.

This has always been a professional hazard.

Philosophy is not the study of how to convince other people you are right. If it were, we’d be in high demand, because there’s always a market for convincing other people to come around to your point of view, no matter how it is accomplished. There is almost no market for actually being right and explaining why other people are wrong. The philosopher is only interested in being right, and in explaining why he is right to the very person who thinks he is wrong. The philosopher doesn’t cater to an audience, hoping to win a vote.

If you argue with a philosopher you will lose, but you will probably not know it, or you will think you’ve won because the philosopher has started talking about things that don’t seem relevant, or you will just be pissed off that someone is poke poke poking you. The philosopher won’t notice that you’re mad, or won’t think your feelings matter, because another professional hazard of the philosopher is a cold rationality that doesn’t welcome diversions from the pursuit of truth. The philosopher will run you down and wonder why you were standing in the way in the first place; nevermind that you are a bleeding mess now. The philosopher will force you into irrational responses because your rational ones are never rational enough.

It takes a special arrogance to go into philosophy. It’s not about sitting around wondering what, really, the really real thing is, man. It’s about dissecting reasons for believing what the really real thing is, man. Philosophers go after assumptions; they lay them out in front of you like someone rifling through your dirty laundry, showing you where the stains are.

So, why do I do it?

Cash money. I can make tens of dollars in this profession. Who wouldn’t want to do it?