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Philosophy: its influence or influences

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Posted (edited)

Does philosophy influence our society (or meme) or is it the other way 'round? Or is a society's characterisitc simply reflected in its philosophy at any given time?

I'm sure there are examples from both sides of this question, but I ask it because, as I get older, I tend to beleive more and more that philosphy is pretty much a crock of shit so to speak -- that people move along, motivated by whatever external force acts upon them, and then they write a bunch of stuff to justify or add value to thier own (or collective) ego and call it philosophy.

Edited by chad3006
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... I tend to beleive more and more that philosphy is pretty much a crock of shit so to speak -- that people move along, motivated by whatever external force acts upon them, and then they write a bunch of stuff to justify or add value to thier own (or collective) ego and call it philosophy.

If that's the case, one might wonder how philosophy ever got a reputation for being anything more than a crock of shit. Maybe it's good shit that smells even shittier than all the other bad shit. Or maybe philosophers are the people who, when they talk shit, REALLY talk shit.

And then there's trolling. Surely we have to recognise that Socrates was one of the greatest forum trollers of all time. 2500 years later, the threads are still running and Socrates himself is long, long gone.

How the gods must be laughing at us.

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Posted (edited)

There are some philosophers who have the same view. Brian Leiter (a limited sort of example, since he sees value in a lot of philosophy) believes that moral philosophy, at least normative ethics (not sure about metaethics), is basically a crock of shit that doesn't change anyone's behavior. I'm not sure how true this is. I doubt that the average person has the necessary sort of exposure to philosophical modes of thinking to be substantially impacted by them, though it seems that virtually everyone is at least affected by more primitive philosophical notions that filter down to them from the larger culture. It is quite possible, though, that most people's lives are indirectly shaped by philosophy via policy. I imagine that Rawls and others have substantively influenced policy development in a number of countries. Evidence of this wide reach is found in the fact that Lee Kuan Yew, a politician in Singapore, apparently subscribes to "luck egalitarianism", a view that I think originated in Ronald Dworkin's response to Rawls' ToJ.

On a personal note, I have for the longest time struggled to find analytic (not sure if continental is any better) metaphysics useful or interesting in any way. I think this sense of analytic metaphysics' uselessness is one shared by Leiter.

We'd have to make certain specifications and so on to really tackle the problem, but in at least a few respects, I think it's an open question whether philosophy is an inefficacious shit-crock :) .

Edited by PeculiarPhilosopher
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As I grow older, I pretty much begin to feel that everything is a crock of shit, so philosophy is nothing especially unspecial in that respect.

I've begun compiling links to your great stories in the Chad's Stories, thread, :chad: I just reread A Story of Wisconsin and :rofl: We have to get this stuff published.

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To defend philosophy by analogy for a moment, there's a scene in The Devil Wears Prada that seems to apply here. One of the characters is laughing at fashion being taken so seriously and the 'devil' says this:

'This... stuff'? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

This is essentially the answer that some philosophers will give when a physicist, for example, declares that science doesn't need philosophy. Another response is the one that PP gives, which is to note the influence that some philosophers have had: take Locke's impact on the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, say.

However, I don't think these instances defeat your 'crock of shit' concern. Indeed, empirical work in ethics seems to demonstrate that no one uses normative theories to make decisions; instead, just as you say, they decide first and, if asked, use norms to justify their choices afterwards, reversing the assumed chain of events. The actual heuristics we use to confront ethical dilemmas are probably very simple and it's as well to ask what the point of normative ethics is in light of this. Of course, if you're a fairly pragmatic character then maybe you agree with Rorty:

It just doesn't matter whether God ordains, or the "mass of productive forces dialectically unfolds," or difference plays, beyond the control of any of us. All that matters is what we can do to persuade people to act differently than in the past. The question of what ultimately, deep down, determines whether they will or will not change their ways is the sort of metaphysical topic [we] can safely neglect.
.
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I've blogged on this subject, Philosophy Can [Not] Change You, where I take on Schopenhauer's argument of the futility of philosophy.

:cheers:

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