My name’s Ned. In a few weeks, I’m going to be graduating from NYU with a B.A. in Philosophy, and while I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll be pursuing a graduate degree in the field, I do know that my independent philosophical studies aren’t over.
I’m writing this blog partially as a forum for chewing over and discussing the discoveries I make. But more than that, it’s an attempt to present hardcore philosophy in a way that makes sense to smart people who lack a background in academic philosophy.
In the past I’ve looked for other blogs that do just that, but I haven’t been able to find any. Sadly, it seems that the vast majority of blogs out there about philosophy are for academic philosophers alone. It’s emblematic of what I think is a broader problem with the field: the failure of good philosophers to reach out and try to teach what they know.
Because, make no mistake, philosophy is good for you. Like a lot of things that are good for you, it can be aggravating in the short run—I could have saved myself a lot of headaches and prolonged fits of existential angst if I had gone with a History major—but the rewards are profound.
A solid education in philosophy breaks down some of your most fundamental beliefs. It’s not just that you know less than you thought you did; it’s that whether or not you can be said to even know anything is up for debate. Philosophy throws a thousand deeply important questions at you and then, when it comes time to give up the answers, shrugs and says, Well, we don’t really know yet. Here are a few possibilities.
That’s when the frustration and existential angst sets in. But while having so many of your most basic assumptions about the way the world works get knocked down can be devastating, it’s also freeing. Now that you know how little your beliefs rest on, you can discard them for better ones. You can build your own world of ideas to replace the one that was built for you.
Doing that is the project of becoming yourself. It’s a project without end, but it’s also one of the most important projects you can undertake. Philosophers and philosophy students spend their time studying the tools you can use to do this, but we’re needlessly stingy when it comes to sharing them. Too much of what’s come to be called “popular philosophy” is little more than self-help seminars dressed up in philosophical trappings. Or worse, it’s like Simon Critchley’s most recent piece for the Times, a smug, winking evasion that doesn’t bother challenging its readers with actual philosophy because—so goes the implicit assumption—they’re not smart enough for it.
I think that’s dead wrong. You are already a philosopher, and the reason why I started this blog is because I want to prove it to you.