Philosophy Matters

It’s kind of funny how willing I’ve been to mouth off on this blog on a number of very important, complex issues when the most direct experience I have with those issues is through spending a lot of time on the Internet, while the one topic on which I actually do have some degree of (undergraduate) formal training–philosophy–has gone pretty well neglected.

Part of that probably has to do with the fact that I’ve gotten pretty sick of it at various points during this past semester, most notably during the finals week from which I was just ejected, naked and sobbing. In order to expedite the whole graduation thing, I took four (!) philosophy classes this semester, which I figured would result in either a miserable, three-month grind or a bracing dose of challenging, thought-provoking academic rigor. Sadly, this was a semester high on the first-order logic and metaphysical esoterica (which are both of value, but not exactly why I picked the major) and low on political philosophy, so things tilted towards the “grind” end of the spectrum.

But somewhere in between having an email debate with some other members of the International Youthful Bloggers With no Real Political Influence Conspiracy (IYBWRPIC) over the merits of political philosophy and writing a paper on Hume, liberty and necessity, I remembered something: I enjoy the shit out of philosophy. And more importantly, it’s a discipline that does matter, however marginal a role it plays in modern political debates.

So starting with this break, I’m going to be trying a new angle with the blog. Basically, I want to do as much as I can to bring political philosophy to the non-philosopher, demonstrate its continued relevance, and, if possible, start some philosophy-minded conversation about contemporary political issues.

But then again, I also plan to use this break to finish Crime and Punishment, watch all of Justice with Michael Sandel (which you can bet I’ll be discussing here) and amass a better-than-perfunctory collection of, and knowledge regarding, prog rock. So we’ll see which of those goals actually get fulfilled.

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7 Responses

  1. Wow. I’ve never been reacted against this productively before. I’m vaguely honored.

    In any case, it’s worth clarifying that I don’t think all political philosophy is useless. I just find the amount of it that engages seriously with real-world political choices distressingly small. Off the top of my head I can think of Machiavelli, Weber, Schmitt, Geuss, Sen, and…I’m drawing a blank after that. And two of those people (Weber, Sen) aren’t primarily philosophers, and one (Schmitt) was a total Nazi prone to stuff like praising the Night of the Long Knives as the “highest form of administrative law” (and Geuss is kind of a huge Lenin fan, as Matt has noted). One might be able to extrapolate from Rawls, Locke, Rousseau, etc. practical advise for how to act in a given political situation, but that’s not what they’re really interested in.

    • You should be flattered! If you hadn’t made a pretty compelling case, I wouldn’t be thinking about it this hard.

      It’s funny that you mention Locke and Rousseau, given that the former’s work influenced the Declaration of Independence, and the latter’s was so influential on French revolutionaries that Edmund Burke actually blamed him for the entire revolution.

  2. Ned, if you do such a thing, I’ll be sure to chime in. I’ve been halfheartedly looking for blogs that discuss philosophy in some form or another.

    And Dylan, while Rawls and Locke may not be interested in political philosophy first and foremost (though Locke certainly does give it a fair amount of attention), the ideas they present are incredibly applicable to politics regardless of intent.

    Ned – As a sidenote, if you’re going to start blogging about philosophy, it may be wise to start using a real commenting system (Disqus/IntenseDebate).

    • I recommend these blogs if you’re looking for a couple other ones.

      Sadly, I don’t think Disqus or IntenseDebate will work in a WordPress.com account. Is there some way to make the existing comments system better in the preferences?

      • The only way to make the comments better without using some outside resource is to tweak the theme, which I don’t think you can do without paying.

        ID/Disqus both have plugins for WP, but I only have experience with self-hosted installs. Automattic owns ID and WP.com, so it would be weird if they didn’t play nice together.

  3. If your watching Sandel’s entire course on Justice, you will certainly want to include Kant in your discussion — don’t you think?

    • I’ll mention any philosopher who I think is relevant. But to be clear: I’m still one semester away from even having a BA in philosophy, and so my understanding of a lot of relevant political philosophers can be sketchy. This blog is far more concerned with the methodology of political philosophy than any individual thinker.

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