Mike Kueber's Blog

June 30, 2012

Philosophy in America

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 1:12 pm
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Early in my adult life, I adopted the adage that the unexamined life was not worth living.  I probably first picked up the phrase at the University of North Dakota, where one of my freshman classes was Introduction to Philosophy, with a sub-set of the classes reserved for the study of logic. 

While I worked at my career in the insurance industry, my love of philosophy went into quasi-hiatus.  Although I never stopped examining life, it became more of an incidental pasttime instead of a focused examination.  Since leaving the insurance industry, however, I have resumed thinking about philosophy and enjoying it more. 

A few years ago, when my third son told me that he was taking an Introduction to Philosophy course at UTSA, I was pleased.  There is nothing more satisfying to me than knowing my child enjoys thinking about life and doing the right thing. 

Then a few weeks ago, my youngest son, who is getting ready to matriculate at Franciscan University (“Academically excellent, passionately Catholic”), told me that he was thinking of majority in philosophy.  BINGO.  (We can worry about a job later.)

The New York Times Sunday Book Review this weekend included a review of a book that provides further encouraging news about philosophy in America.  According to the reviewed book – America the Philosophical by Carlin Romano – “America is the best place to do philosophy that there has ever been, surpassing even the Athens of those ingenious and polite men Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In one fit of enthusiastic chauvinism he goes yet further, and announces that it is the ‘perfectly designed environment’ to ply his trade, as if no greater intellectual paradise could be imagined.”

The book’s critic, Anthony Gottlieb, notes that Romano is able to make his argument only by first re-defining philosophy to make it more practical.  This variation of philosophy was first articulated by a contemporary of Socrates:

  • Isocrates (‘A Man, Not a Typo,’ as Romano headlines him) wrote that ‘it is far superior to have decent judgments about useful matters than to have precise knowledge about useless things.’ For him, philosophy was the imprecise art of public deliberation about important matters, not a logic-­chopping attempt to excavate objective truths. Isocrates, Romano says, ‘incarnates the contradictions, pragmatism, ambition, bent for problem solving and getting things done that mark Americans,’ and his conception of philosophy ‘jibes with American pragmatism and philosophical practice far more than Socrates’ view.’”

That makes perfect sense to me.  I never understood the philosophical question, “Do I Exist,” or the witty rejoinder, “Who wants to know.” 

Keep it real.

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