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Sunday, September 4, 2011

On misosophy

I've never been much good at philosophy, and I tend not to like it, at least when it comes to the formal study of it. The best explanation for this is that I am probably too lazy to devote the time necessary to appreciate it. Reading philosophy can be hard, and I only do it anymore for its historic relevance. So, for example, I will read and have my students read (when I teach) parts of John Locke's treatise on civil government because of its historic importance, even though, I suppose, one cannot know its historicity without knowing its "philosophy."

But the other reason for my dislike have more to do with its seeming inscrutability. I get tired of puzzling through a treatise--actually, more like the 4 to 6 page excerpt from a treatise that is reproduced in an introduction to philosophy reader--only to find that the next treatise (do a quick "ibid" on the 4 to 6 page excerpt idea) that pokes holes in the first treatise, usually with the observation that "X philosopher's system of ethics is all well and good, unless your name is...........HITLER!"

In the introduction to philosophy course I took and the one or two other non-introduction to philosophy course(s) I took I ran into this phenomenon quite a bit. Does Kant's categorical imperative make sense? Well, not to Bentham? Does Bentham make sense? Well, not to William James.

I get that the point is to teach students to think, and to realize that there are not easy, uncomplicated answers, and to introduce them to answers that have been proffered in the past and, to identify fallacies and whatnot. But in the end, I'm just not good at it.

I freely confess that this is a failing in me. I realize that philosophy--i.e., the formal study and formal pronouncement of what is called philosophy--is important. I just don't understand it.