“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.)
- 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?