Life-Aims and Aimlessness

 

“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.”

  • Albert Einstein

“They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones.”

  • George Orwell, 1984

 

The difference and distance between intense aim-oriented focus and foggy near-aimlessness are matters of degree, of course.

If we are to accomplish much of anything here in the Global Circle, substantial mindfulness of some central shared aims will likely be necessary, or at least immensely helpful.

I’d like to offer, as a Draft Statement here on the blog, my suggestions regarding the “Defining Views” of the Global Circle, which can also be understood as some of the central views of what I’ve called Vital Philosophy and what Nick has called Global Philosophy (as I understand that):

Draft Statement of the Defining Views (for consideration and improvement) 

The Defining Views of the Global Circle can be expressed roughly as follows:

  1. The aim of philosophy has, must have, and should have something substantial to do with human flourishing and sustainability as well as the flourishing and sustainability of things upon which human flourishing and sustainability depend—importantly, the environment and non-human life.  If this, broadly and charitably understood, isn’t the overarching and comprehensive aim of philosophy, it is at the very least a crucial part of that aim.
  2. This aim is only satisfied to the degree that the world actually becomes a better place (to be and to live) and human lives are improved, in ways broadly consistent with the aim.  The aim is not satisfied merely if philosophy (as an academic discipline) flourishes even as the conditions of humankind, non-human life, and the environment deteriorate or even stagnate in their present conditions.
  3. The aim is always “in process” and subject to improved understanding, different and better ways of expressing it, and continual improvement.  That said, because of the nature of the aim, not to mention the nature of life itself, it is not the sort of aim that one must or should “perfect” before beginning to put it into serious practice.  Indeed, it’s likely that the aim can never be considered “final” and “precise”, especially as expressed in words; and it’s also likely that there are myriad different ways of expressing the aim, in whole or in part.  Thus, the aim is a bit like living life; one must do it and apply it, to the best of one’s ability, even as one learns more about it and refines it.  Understanding, expressing, improving upon, and applying the aim are parallel and interrelated processes.
  4. Furthermore, many of us see these views as crucial in helping to inform, inspire, and improve upon the aims, scope, and practice of academic philosophy, that is, the teaching and practice of philosophy in academia.  We believe that the practice of academic philosophy, and of universities themselves (academia more broadly), should play a much more direct and active role in aiming to improve the human condition as suggested by these aims.  We believe that a revitalization of philosophy in academia should, among other things, aim at a revitalization of academia itself, both aimed at making philosophy and academia more directly relevant to helping the world realize (in all senses) what is of value in life, sustainably.  We believe that the pursuit and activation of wisdom, in real life and society at large, should take on a much higher priority in both philosophy and academia, and that the pursuit of knowledge should be understood as part of, and as a means to, this higher priority.  (See for example Nicholas Maxwell’s ‘From Knowledge to Wisdom’.)
  5. The broad group of philosophers and other humans who hold these views, or something very close to them, desire to be inclusive, not exclusive.  We invite sharing of all sorts, participation of all sorts, and flavors of all sorts.  Our intention includes both understanding and practice, aimed at making substantial real progress according to these views.

 

This is all another way of saying that the aim of philosophy necessarily includes human flourishing and sustainability as well as the flourishing and sustainability of those things—other life, the biosphere, the environment—upon which human flourishing depends; and, that this aim is only satisfied to the degree that actual human flourishing and sustainability and etc. are enhanced in the real world.  In contrast, it is not satisfied if ever-increasing knowledge simply stays within people’s minds as they pursue even more knowledge, or if knowledge is put to use foolishly, in unwise ways more so than in wise ways.  (This is why Francis of Assisi, as one example, was a better philosopher than Goethe’s Faust, and why it’s wise to think carefully before opening Pandora’s Box—and sometimes not to open it at all, or at least not until one is entirely capable of managing whatever might pop out.)

The wisdom and necessity of this philosophical realignment—placing wisdom development and actualization above knowledge acquisition in the hierarchy of priorities, and treating the latter as a subset of and means to the former—should come as no surprise.  After all, philosophy means “love of wisdom”, and to love something includes wanting it to actually be fruitful in its own terms and to realize its own ends.  A wise humankind is not a “brilliant” and clever, but unjust and pain-ridden and ultimately dead humankind—a humankind that ultimately fouls its own nest and eats its own kind.  No!  A wise humankind is a flourishing and sustainable humankind that respects and cares for its nest and for each other.

Many of the greatest philosophers of antiquity understood this.  Have too many modern philosophers lost sight of it?

Elusive wisdom!  Where—and when—shall we find her?  Where—and when—shall we practice her?

Comments?

Be Well,

Jeff Huggins

 

 

 

I recently read and reviewed a book I…

I recently read and reviewed a book I highly recommend.
See http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/727872194

Superfuel tells us the sad story of how uranium was chosen over thorium to fuel our nuclear power plants.
Thorium can provide an abundant, safe, and clean energy solution.

An energy solution is one prerequisite to creating the wise world we want.

I recommend this book and I ask you to join me in advocating thorium as part of a wise energy solution

Scientism

Scientism has become a fashionable topic recently.

The piece by Steven Pinker in New Republic defending science against charges of scientism, whilst nevertheless implying science had all the answers for non-scientific challenges, prompted lots of reaction.
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114127/science-not-enemy-humanities
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114548/leon-wieseltier-responds-steven-pinkers-scientism

I happen to agree with Wieseltier here, and relate this blind-spot of science, denying the value of any wisdom beyond GOF scientific empiricism to Nick Maxwell’s “Scientific Neurosis”.
http://www.psybertron.org/?p=6224
http://www.psybertron.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/neurosisreview.html

What do you think?
It’s an advance on the tedious science vs religion debate, and maybe a public conversation where we can inject some vital philosophy, bring some values of wisdom to life?
Regards
Ian

Vital Philosophy—a timely series

In the interest of expressing what I think, helping to get things going, engaging readers and catalyzing productive conversation (hopefully), and revitalizing philosophy, I will be presenting a series of reasonably brief and pointed posts in the next several weeks.

I’ve listed the titles, as currently planned, below.  As some readers may recognize, the first post—Vital Philosophy and Global Philosophy—was posted earlier this week, and provides helpful context for the rest, which (ideally) would be read in the order presented.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Be Well,

Jeff Huggins

Vital Philosophy—a timely series 

Vital Philosophy and Global Philosophy (already posted:  Sept. 15, 2013)

Life-Aims and Aimlessness

Alien Observations

What Good Am I?

Edge

“Modern Philosophy”—as normally practiced

Intricate Nuanced Demure Ideas

Actions speak louder than papers

Philosophy, philosophers, and cooperation

Welcome on the bus!

First steps in the revolution

Knock Knock

Afterwords —

The ground we stand on

Vital Philosophy revisited

 

Vital Philosophy and Global Philosophy

“What’s in a name?  that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

 

Nick has understandably applied the label Global Philosophy to what we are up to, and has highlighted the following as one way to summarize the matter (here, in the form of a so-called Mission Statement):

“The Global Circle consists of philosophers sympathetic to the idea that philosophy should tackle, and promote awareness of, global problems—global intellectually, and global in the sense of concerning the planet and the future of humanity.”

I’d like to offer a complementary label—not instead of Global Philosophy, but in addition to it, to augment it—in order to highlight a different vital aspect of the matter:  Vital Philosophy.

In my view, and if I understand Nick’s work correctly, Vital Philosophy and Global Philosophy are the same—that is, two different names for the same rose, that shed light on it with different but complementary emphases.

Vital Philosophy is …

Vital— in the sense of having to do with life; involving life; regarding life and the things that enable and enrich life.

Vital— in the sense of relevant to life; necessary to life; crucial.

Vital— in the sense of lively and alive; active; energetic; advancing.  Here, even the aim of Vital Philosophy is never dead or final, and is always subject to being better understood and advancing—in other words, the aim itself is alive.

It’s interesting to consider the etymology of ‘vital’—going back to ‘vita’, life.  A great fit!

Viva Vital Philosophy!

So what else might be said of Vital Philosophy in a brief blog post?

Of course, Vital Philosophy is philosophy that, among other things, draws from the life-sciences.  A great Vital Philosophy reading list would include the historic classics and modern leading-edge works of biology, zoology, and (so forth) as well as many of the historic classics and modern works of what is presently considered to be modern philosophy.

Some of its historic and present-day leading thinkers include Darwin, of course, and also Franz de Waal, for example.  In crucial and of course impressive ways, Socrates was a Vital Philosopher.  Among many of his arguments and approaches, consider his discussion of the lessons he learned from Diotima; consider the fact that he wanted those who caught glimpses of the light to return to the Cave to help others find it; consider his brief but prophetic warning, and clear description, regarding the lack of sustainability that results from insatiable material appetites; consider his persistent activism in the public forum; and consider that he refused to go away and disengage from the public, even at pain of death (all of which we receive by way of Plato, of course).

Vital Philosophy is not yet-another distinct, separate thing, divorced from other specific “philosophies”.  Instead, it is, among other things, a re-bringing-together—a bringing back together—of “philosophy” and the sciences, especially the life-sciences but also the others.  And it’s an appreciation that life is at the center of the matter, so to speak.  (See again the description that includes the three senses of ‘Vital’, above.)  Too, among other things, Vital Philosophy recognizes that the Earth is a finite planet, that this matters, and that this idea—this reality—has very real implications for what it means to be wise and live wisely.  Also among other things, Vital Philosophy recognizes that we, humans, are part of the broader kingdom of life and interdependent with other life.  And, it recognizes that this matters and that this has very important implications for what it means to be wise and live wisely.

Vital Philosophy recognizes that, if you genuinely love something, you want it to achieve its own ends—to realize (in the fullest sense) what it wants, so to speak—and you want to help it do so; you actually act accordingly.  I mention this in relation to philosophy’s love of wisdom, of course.

Of course, labels can only go so far and say so much—not very far, and not very much, really.  So, we should all keep in mind the substance of the matter.  My next post will have much more to do with that.

Cheers and Be Well,

Jeff Huggins

P.S. — This is my first post on this, a new blog.  So, if it ends up garbled or ugly because of formatting or for other technical reasons, I apologize and will work with the blog experts to try to fix it and do better next time.  Thanks for your consideration.

 

 

 

Questions Queue

I propose this as a place Global Circle members pose questions they believe are vitally important, will serve to provide insight, and are within the scope of the Global Circle. Members are encouraged to contribute answers, pointers to existing resources that provide partial answers, refinements of the questions, and related questions. Links to answers being developed are included. Members are also encouraged to indicate the urgency and importance they attribute to the question. Please offer your comments via reply to this post. I’ll update this list as comments are received.

Here is the current list of questions:

    1. What is the aim and purpose of the Global Circle? How is the Global Circle differentiated from other groups of philosophers, other discussion groups, and other organizations working on global problems? In a paragraph or two, how do you describe the aim and purpose you would ideally like to see?
    2. Imagine the world as you would like it to be; as you believe it ultimately can be. Please describe this world. What makes that world good? What makes that world better than other concepts of desirable future worlds? What is of value in life, and how is it to be realized? What stages do you foresee the world transforming through to attain that wise world.
    3. What is the most pervasive obstacle slowing progress toward that wise world?
    4. What matters most?
    5. What educational curriculum best prepares people to live wisely?
    6. What is the most important action that can be taken to increase progress toward the wise world we envision?
    7. What are the grand challenges the world now faces?
    8. How can government effectiveness best be assessed? How can government effectiveness best be improved?
    9. How can bureaucracies learn to make wiser decisions?
    10. How can the general populace become wiser?
    11. How can we best assess the level of wisdom of an individual, a group, an organization, an institution, a nation or the world? Where is wisdom coming to life?
    12. What unfounded assumptions do we allow to go unchallenged? Which ones are most consequential?
    13. What forces, if any, work to align legal justice with moral justice?

 

 

Introductions?

Having now got this simple blog up and running, I’m conscious that the mantra emerging from the mailing list so far is let’s maximise action and minimise the mail box. It’s a common frustration with on-line communities, that whether email, forum or blog based, that all we ever seem to do is talk (in or about written text). Sooner rather than later, the on-line communications should concern actions we’re taking individually and as a group. However, it will be exceptional, that many of us do actually get together to act in any physically co-located activity, so in general we are only going to get to know each other through our conversations, mainly conversations via electronic media.

One of the things I like about the way this group has come together so far, is that despite the common aims, we are nevertheless from many overlapping groups and initiatives with their own principal activities and goals, each with our own pet-projects and pet-subjects. In some sense, since “wise action” to tackle global problems is our common aim, we all must be to some extent “pragmatic” yet we’ve got this far without nailing our common colours to the mast of any particular methodology or “ism”. I think that’s healthy.

One suggestion I have, is that in order to fast-track “getting to know” each other, and respect each other’s existing projects and activities, we should probably each pen an “introduction” for a members page, with links to our existing activities and pet resources. One reason to do this (from experience) is that we will often feel the relevance to “plug” something we’re already doing, yet feel guilty about too many personal plugs hijacking other members posts. The links and resources, should all find their way into the wiki and or other web-pages as appropriate, but a personal statement of interests, publications and aspirations of each member should stand in their own right?