PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 112 21st November 2005
I. 'A Brief Outline of Radical Constructivism' by Nick Redfern
II. 'Pornography, Sex and Feminism' by Alan Soble, reviewed by Rachel Browne
III. 'Interview with Daoud Khashaba' by Joseph Smith
IV. 'Celebrating World Philosophy Day 2005 Zadar/ Nin Croatia' by Bruno Curko
November 17th was UNESCO's World Philosophy Day. In Croatia, the day was celebrated with discussion groups and papers held at the town of Zadar stretching over ten days. More details in Bruno Curko's report, below.
In this issue we are lucky to have permission from Joseph Smith, editor of The Die, to reproduce an interview with Daoud Khashaba who has contributed many fine articles to Pathways.
The Pathways e-journal is no stranger to controversy. Khashaba is known for his trenchant views about the current state of academic philosophy. In this issue, Nick Redfern takes issue with Herman Pietersen's attempt to preserve a 'dialogue' between absolutist and non-absolutist views of knowledge and truth. According to Redfern, we would be better off to abandon the debate altogether in favour of a 'radical constructivist' approach.
Pushing the boundaries one step further, Rachel Browne engages with the views of of the American philosopher Alan Soble, who in his defence of pornography has outraged feminists and conservatives alike with his debunking of what he sees is the 'illusion' of human dignity.
I. 'A BRIEF OUTLINE OF RADICAL CONSTRUCTIVISM' BY NICK REDFERN
Indeed, there has never been nor will there ever be a man,
Who knows the truth about the gods and all the matters of
which I speak. For even if one should happen to speak what
is the case especially well, Still he himself would not
know it. But belief occurs in all matters.
Xenophanes of Colophon
In his critical commentary on Richard Rorty, Pietersen (2005) identifies 'two main camps' in the history of philosophical thought, which he claims are 'indispensable' and 'complimentary,' and present us with 'the ancient, ongoing and seemingly unbridgeable divide between thinkers.' These two camps are the 'philosophies of the One,' which are understood to be broadly Platonic; and the 'philosophies of the Many,' which he associates with Sophism. For Pietersen, this divide is unavoidable:
There seems to be no escaping this dialectic. One cannot go
further, there is no Hegelian synthesis into 'Absolute
Spirit' here -- only the possible danger of disappearing
into a 'cloud of all-knowing' (dogmatism, foundationalism,
a mystical One) or a 'morass of never-knowing' (scepticism,
relativism, a mere passing parade of the Many). That is why,
[in Pietersen's view], the centre must be made to hold --
why both centrifugal and centripetal forces are needed in
It is essential, in Pietersen's view, to avoid the extremes of the determinism and the totalitarianism of the 'Rule of the One' and the anarchism of the 'Rule of the Many' by maintaining a dialogue between these two opposing philosophies.
However, there is no reason why philosophy should be confined to these opposing positions, or why we should carry on this dialogue. In this essay I outline Ernst von Glasersfeld's Radical Constructivism as a theory of knowing that does not conform to Pietersen's description of the conversation of philosophy. It is to be distinguished from both realism and solipsism, and offers the possibility of moving beyond an exhausting and exhausted debate.
2. Radical Constructivism
Searle (1999: 2079) states that, 'the biggest single obstacle to progress of a systematic theoretical kind has been the obsession with epistemology.' Radical Constructivism is an attempt to move beyond epistemology, and has been described by the school's founder, Ernst von Glasersfeld (1984, 1991, 1995), as a 'theory of knowing' rather than a 'theory of knowledge.'
Radical Constructivism was conceived as an attempt to circumvent the paradox of traditional epistemology that springs from a perennial assumption that is inextricably knitted into Western philosophy: the assumption that knowledge may be called 'true' only if it can be considered a more or less accurate representation of a world that exists 'in itself,' prior to and independent of the knower's experience of it. The paradox arises, because the works of philosophers by and large imply, if not explicitly claim, that they embody a path towards Truth and True representations of the world, yet none of them has been able to provide a feasible test for the accuracy of such representations (Glasersfeld 1991: 13).
As such an approach, Radical Constructivism has been described as 'post-epistemology' (Noddings 1990). Radical Constructivism puts forward two main claims:
knowledge is not passively received but actively built up
by the cognising subject;
the function of cognition is adaptive and serves the
organisation of the experiential world, not the discovery
of ontological reality (Glasersfeld 1989: 162).
From a Radical Constructivist perspective, the cognising subject cannot transcend his/ her experiences and all knowledge is constructed out of those experiences. However, this does not imply a denial of reality, but states that as we cannot transcend the limits of our experience it is impossible to tell (and therefore unnecessary to know) to what degree our knowledge reflects an observer-independent reality. Consider Sextus Empiricus' example of the cognising organism's experience of an apple:
Each appearance that we perceive through the senses seems
to present itself under many forms; an apple, for instance,
seems smooth, fragrant, sweet, and yellow. It is uncertain,
however, whether these are really the only qualities it
possesses, or whether it is of one quality only but appears
in different forms because the various sense-organs are of
different construction. It may also be that it has more
qualities than are apparent, and that some of them are not
perceived by us... there may subsist in the apple only
those qualities which we seem to apprehend, likewise that
there may subsist more than just these; or again that even
the ones we perceive may not subsist at all; it follows
that it will be non-evident to us what kind thing the apple
is (Sextus Empiricus 1985: 57-59).
Note that Sextus Empiricus states that our experience of an apple is neither absolutist nor relativistic, but is 'uncertain.' That is, any cognising organism that experiences an apple cannot claim to possess knowledge because there can be no way of confirming or denying to what extent its experiences represent reality. From this perspective both ontology and epistemology are redundant: Radical Constructivism is agnostic with regard to whatever may 'exist,' and it is important to note that Radical Constructivism is a theory of knowing and not a theory of being.
In the place of representing the 'real' world, Radical Constructivism identifies a different function for cognition in organising the cognising organism's experiential world. This aspect is derived from the work of Jean Piaget (1937), who stated that: 'The essential functions of the mind consist in understanding and in inventing, in other words, in building up structures by structuring reality (Piaget 1971: 27). As a biologist, Piaget described the process organising experience as a process of adaptation, in which a cognising organism seeks to assimilate its experiences into the psychological structures it already possess and where it is unable to do so attempts to accommodate the error by modifying those structures or creating new ones. Glasersfeld (2001: 39) describes the principle of adaptation in Radical Constructivist thought:
[A]daptation is not an activity but the result of the
elimination of all that is not adapted. Consequently, on
the biological level, anything that manages to survive is
'adapted' to the environment in which it happens to find
itself living... Taken out of the biological context and
applied to cognition, this means that 'to know' is not to
possess true representations of reality, but rather to
possess ways and means of acting and thinking that will
allow one to attain the goals one happens to have chosen.
The key to evaluating competing knowledge claims, therefore, is not to seek to compare them to a mind-independent reality that cannot be known, but to assess their cognitive viability. There is more at stake here than the 'conversation of philosophy:' our very survival is dependent upon us possessing viable ways and means behaving in the world.
The principle of adaptation allows us to avoid the anarchistic relativism of the 'philosophies of the Many' by accepting that a cognising organism is constrained by its environment and its historical assembly. The environment, as it is experienced by an organism, is experienced as a set of constraints.
Riegler (2001) cites the example of a traffic network consisting of different means of transportation. If we travel by car, then only those points connected by roads are accessible; whereas if we travel by foot, those points that lie in between may be accessed but only if they are within walking distance. The different modes of transportation impose different restrictions on our ability to move about the network, and so 'free arbitrariness ' is not possible. The decision to take a particular mode of transport will act as a constraint on our subsequent decisions about where we are going and how quickly we get there.
Similarly, the construction network is the mind is necessarily non-arbitrary, and Riegler describes constructions as historical assemblies. This historical aspect imposes a hierarchical organisation in which more recent additions build on older ones, creating mutual interdependencies between an organism's experiences and severely restricting the degrees of freedom of the way subsequent constructions can be accomplished. Furthermore, the action of cognising organisms is goal-directed, and successful actions will be repeated because such organisms are inductive and function in a conservative manner in so far as they repeat only that which works (Maturana 1970). Note that Radical Constructivism does not deny that a cognising organism interacts with its environment but does deny that such an organism can know reality in the traditional, ontological sense: the environment that we experience is always our construction (Foerster 1973). Radical Constructivism does not limit us to the absolutism of the 'philosophies of the One,' but equally it does not permit that 'anything-goes.'
Pietersen's division of philosophy into categories of 'the One' and 'the Many' only maintains its relevance within a traditional approach to knowledge. It is an antiquated debate, but unfortunately one that shows no signs of flagging. Since Xenophanes stated that all man could have is belief, the arguments of the sceptics have been rejected by those who claim knowledge of the world, but in 2500 years of Western philosophy it has never been demonstrated how it is possible for a cognising organism to know the world. Yet the dogmatic belief in realism persists.
The argument that it is a virtue to keep the conversation between these differing philosophies is noble, but ignores the fact that these positions increasingly become polarised over time. Philosophers on both sides of this ancient divide do not engage in constructive discourse; rather, they talk past one another. Dr. Johnson's refutation of Bishop Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge could hardly be described as sincere or useful debate. Radical Constructivism is an approach that affords the philosopher an escape from Pietersen's unending dialectic, and offers a non-traditional approach to philosophy that allows us to be free of an ancient philosophical debate that ultimately cannot be resolved, and to develop new ways of understanding how and why we make sense of the world in the way we do. As La Moigne (1995) has pointed out, constructivism is a theory that requires philosophers to make a radical break from the generally accepted view that our knowledge of the world must lie somewhere between materialism and idealism.
Foerster, H. von, On constructing a reality, in F.E. Preiser (ed.) Environmental Research Design, Volume 2. Stroudsburg: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, 1973: 35-46.
Glasersfeld, E. von (1984) An introduction to radical constructivism, in P. Watzlawick (ed.) The Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? New York: Norton: 17-40.
Glasersfeld, E. von (1989) Constructivism in education, in T. Husen and T. Neville Postlethwaite (eds.) The International Encyclopaedia of Education Research and Studies: Supplementary Volume 1. Oxford: Pergamon Press: 162-163.
Glasersfeld, E. von (1991) Knowing without metaphysics: aspects of the radical constructivist position, in F. Steier (ed.) Research and Reflexivity. London: Sage: 12-29.
Glasersfeld, E. von (1995) Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: Falmer Press.
Glasersfeld, E. von (2001) The radical constructivist view of science, Foundations of Science 6 (1-3): 31-43.
La Moigne, J-L. (1995) Les epistemologies constructivistes. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Maturana, H. (1970) Biology of Cognition: Biological Computer Laboratory Research Report BCL 9.0. Urbana: University of Illinois.
Noddings, N. (1990) Constructivism in mathematics education, in R. B. Davis, C. A. Maher, and N. Noddings (eds.) Monographs of the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 4. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: 7-17.
Piaget, J. (1937) La construction du reel chez l'enfant. Neuchatel: Delachaux et Niestle.
Piaget, J. (1971) Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child. New York: Viking Press.
Pietersen, H.J. (2005) Critical commentary on Richard Rorty's thought, Philosophy Pathways 111.
Riegler, A. (2001) Towards a radical constructivist understanding of science, Foundations of Science 6 (1-3): 1-30.
Searle, J.R. (1999) The future of philosophy, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 354 (1392): 2069-2080.
Sextus Empiricus (1985) Selections from the Major Writings on Scepticism, Man, and God, edited by P.P. Hallie and translated by S.G. Etheridge. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
(c) Nick Redfern 2005
II. 'PORNOGRAPHY, SEX AND FEMINISM' BY ALAN SOBLE, REVIEWED BY RACHEL BROWNE
Pornography, Sex and Feminism
By Alan Soble
Although this book was published in 2002, I have just discovered it and am driven to write a review because this is funniest philosophy book I've ever read. It has been suggested that a philosopher is not likely to respond well to the remark that a philosophy book they have written is funny, but it is difficult to believe that this could be true of this author.
Alan Soble is Professor of philosophy at the University of New Orleans and has published widely on sex and love. Not all his writing is as amusing as this book: It has a tone of sarcasm, an attitude of cynicism and a necessary crudity which can make you laugh out loud.
Although this is a pro-pornography book, and shows a vast acquaintance with pornography available on the internet, a great deal of argument is directed against feminist and conservative positions on pornography and sex.
While arguing for the innocuousness of pornography Soble describes the human body as both 'beautiful and disgusting' (p.51) although he seems to hold the personal opinion that it is rather more disgusting than beautiful. That Soble holds the view that humans are more disgusting than beautiful becomes clear towards the end of the book when he claims that if it is the case that long-term monogamous relationships seldom last it is because humans are revolting. This is a startling claim since it is simply not the case that everyone shares Soble's view on human beings. It is a view which is difficult to adopt, but that is not to say that it might not be true. If it is the reification of the human being as that which is far superior to other animals, worthy of respect, in possession of dignity and having the right to freedom from harm becomes suspect.
The feminist and conservative view of sex, which is under attack is that, in sexual relations, respect for the other should be shown and we should not treat people as sexual objects. The sexual act is expected to include mutual consideration and shared decision-making otherwise it is degrading and akin to pornography (in the eyes of some feminists) which treats the body as something to be 'used' for sexual purposes. This view of sex which Soble finds compatible with Kantian ethics is accused of being 'metaphysical' and ignoring the reality that, 'Most people in the real world are dirty, fat, ugly, dumb, ignorant, selfish, thoughtless, unreliable, shifty, unrespectable mackerel' (p.54). 'Shitting', claims Soble, 'makes us realize that we are mere animals' (p.113). Yet, stripped of our illusions 'sharing excrement' could be 'infinitely intimate'. This is an even more startling claim and it is difficult to believe that anyone would find this other than totally revolting. I would say that we need a measure of dignity, psychological rather than metaphysical, in order not to engage in such intimacy.
While Soble might go too far in his portrayal of the human as merely an animal, his arguments against what he calls 'vanilla' sex are extremely persuasive. 'What', he asks 'does yearning desire know of showing consideration, except as a means of fulfilling itself? What does the orgasmic peak know of mutual respect?' (p.65). Not only does does Soble's view of sexual relations reflect more truth than the 'vanilla' idea that sex should involve mutual respect, Soble is amazingly able to sound both reasonable and unreasonable at the same time on this: 'I hope I'd be the last person to encourage unrelentless selfishness in bed, and I don't deny that it is inconsiderate although not a mortal sin to interrupt your mate's orgasm with a tickle or derisive laughter' (p.65). While not a mortal sin, I'd think it would go against sexual etiquette.
Soble saves his own derision for feminists, such as Martha Nussbaum, who argues that objectification of women in pornography is not to treat them as autonomous beings. Making women into objects for sexual enjoyment is something she finds morally unacceptable. But Nussbaum, Soble argues 'is big on women, just because they are women, giving them credit where no credit is due' (p.166). In a discussion on a picture of the tennis player Nicollette Sheridan who appeared in Playboy showing her knickers Soble rejects the idea that Sheridan degrades herself and claims that any pleasure or appreciation by a man for this picture can be seen as 'flattery'. It seems true to me that a man wouldn't be ignoring Sheridan's autonomy, free will or subjectivity in that she chose to appear in Playboy in this particular pose and that it is not the man who degrades her. If there IS degradation going on here she has degraded herself. It isn't clear what is degrading. But I think the feminist view of pornography actually denies women worthiness of respect if they choose to appear in pornography by claiming that pornography is morally wrong.
There is much to agree with and much to disagree with in this stimulating, thought provoking and controversial book.
Being a woman myself, and never having looked at pornography, I would tend to agree with the claim that there is a 'gap between male and female sexuality' if it is truly the case that, 'Men, perverts one and all, have found their home on the internet' looking at pornography sites (p.24). But the claim sounds extremely implausible. It is possible that my husband and brother are perverts who look at pornography but I find it extremely doubtful and have certainly come across no evidence to suggest that they are. If my husband DOES look at pornography, I wouldn't think he was 'perverted' and, in any case, if ALL men are perverts it is difficult to find any meaning to perversion.
Further, the claim that, 'Male or men's sexuality is more variable, taking delight not only in heterosexual coitus but in the whole range of sexual possibilities' seems exceptionally naive especially coming from someone who has been thinking about and writing on philosophy of sex for ten years and unexpected given the tone of cynicism and sarcasm which runs through this book.
Apart from the tone of this book some of arguments are funny in themselves. Given the view that a human is no better than an animal, Soble says 'I find the claim dubious, that sex between a human and a different sort of animal is per se objectionable' (p.69). You cannot but laugh at the following: 'Bestiality, as far as I can tell, need not be abusive, violating, or dehumanizing to the human participant... in the minds of its critics, the human really does become nothing but a deranged animal, or descends to that vulgar level. But if humans are already and only animals, no 'descent' to that level is possible... this reason for objecting to bestiality disappears, leaving only animal liberation reasons for not screwing around with dogs.' However, that we cannot be sure that an animal has consented to penetration -- a requirement some feminists demand if sex is to be moral -- does suggest that bestiality is equivalent to rape.
Most people think that we DO differ from animals, not for reasons of metaphysical dignity, but because of our rational capacity and linguistic ability. But we don't know how far this distinguishes us from animals. In fact, looked at in terms of consciousness, man can even be found to have a similarity to birds. Research on birds has found that they are able to follow simple rules, store information/form concepts, maintain and manipulate mental representations and become confused when their expectations are not met. Soble doesn't put forward any views on sex with birds because he concentrates on the fact that man is animal. And I'm not sure what he would say.
There must be a middle road between Soble and the feminists he disagrees with. Soble doesn't point out that Kantian feminists are mis-using the concept of dignity. In my view, we have quite a large amount of ordinary psychological dignity: There are things that most of us rule out as things we just won't do, such as rape and defecating with someone else. But we don't have to judge them as morally wrong and get on a high horse with feminists and conservatives. The vast majority of people simply recognise that some acts are only performed by psychologically extraordinary people. We don't have to adopt a metaphysical stance of unconditional respect for the subjectivity of the other or demand equality in sexual relations in order to treat others reasonably.
Most people don't hold to an ethical 'theory' and Kantian ethics is only objectionable within the field of philosophy. That academic feminists attacked by Soble have adopted the Kantian idea of respect suggests that they are both over-educated, and unrealistic and misguided in bringing a concept into sexual relations that is inappropriate.
This is currently my favourite book, and it is strange that one other book that I have been greatly attached to is Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.
 Evolution of the neural basis of consciousness: a bird-mammal comparison by Ann B Butler, Paul R Manger, B I B Lindahl and Peter Arnhem in BioEssays 27:923-936
(c) Rachel Browne 2005
III. 'INTERVIEW WITH DAOUD KHASHABA' BY JOSEPH SMITH
[The following interview appeared in Issue 9 of The Die, and is reproduced here with kind permission of the Editor. The Die is published by Red Roach Press, http:---]
In the spring of 2004, I sent a copy of The Die to Geoffrey Klempner. Shortly thereafter, Klempner sent me an email in which he thanked me for The Die and said he'd mention my publication the next issue of Pathways. True to his word, when his next issue came out, there at the bottom was a small blurb about The Die, along with information about how readers could get a copy. One of the people who read that blurb and took me up on my offer of a free issue was none other than independent philosopher Daoud R. Khashaba of Cairo, Egypt. Being true to my word, I responded to Khashaba's e-mail and sent him a copy of The Die. He must have liked it, for we have been in frequent contact ever since.
Now, Khashaba and I have never actually met, so I won't go so far as to say I know him. Nevertheless, based on our correspondence clear that he and I share the belief that philosophy is vital to not only our understanding of the world but also to how we understand ourselves and our place in it. Philosophy, as Khashaba writes in Let Us Philosophize, 'does not give us knowledge about things. It gives us an understanding of our own minds,' that is, how and why we think (or don't think) about the 'things' that surround us. This rather simple conception of what philosophy can (and cannot) do goes straight to the heart of why I believe philosophy is important to us each and every day of our lives. I know Khashaba does, too, and that is precisely why I decided to interview him for this issue of The Die.
Note: In addition to Let Us Philosophize (LUP), Khashaba runs the website http:--- (where you can the find the complete text of Let Us Philosophize) and also is the author of the recently published Plato: An Interpretation.
The Die When did you become interested in philosophy, and why has it captivated your interest for so many years?
Khashaba As far back as I can remember, as a young boy, I felt that all human beings needed to live in peace and harmony and that happiness was understanding. I don't know how I would have defined understanding then; I suppose it meant for me something like intuitive sympathy, like the understanding between bosom friends, between mother and child, but I think there was also in it the element of a true estimate of what really mattered in life.
That was during the troubled years that led to the outbreak of World War II, and I recall that I felt completely at a loss to understand how grown up people could fail to understand that, with goodwill and generosity, they could all have enough of the goods they were killing each other for. At that time also I remember I wanted to write Aesop-like fables, each with an explicit moral 'moral,' so to speak. So I suppose that I can say I thought philosophically before I had ever heard of philosophy. When I came to read Plato's dialogues, I found in Socrates that simple foolish faith in the power of understanding, and it was inevitable that I should identify with him. I still believe that the cure for all human ills is to be found in understanding but, sadly, I am no longer as naively optimistic as I was in my boyhood or as Socrates was to the end of his life.
The Die Why did you write Let Us Philosophize? Was it to provide readers with a basic understanding of philosophy or to justify its study in a world where the importance of philosophy is in question?
Khashaba I had long been developing a philosophical outlook that I believed could contribute to human understanding. But until my early 60s my life was not easy, and it was not possible for me to do any sustained writing, or any reading to speak of for that matter. When my circumstances eased, believing that I could not expect to live much longer, I exerted myself to get my scattered notes -- sometimes in tiny pieces or slips of paper -- into some shape. The result was Let Us Philosophize, with its patchy, not always well-knit paragraphs.
My objective? I strongly felt that contemporary philosophy had lost its way. Your phrase 'to justify its study in a world where the importance of philosophy is in question' hits the nail on the head.
The Die Throughout LUP there is an undercurrent of praise for Plato and Socrates. What is it about these two that you find so appealing? What can we learn from them?
Khashaba I find in Socrates and Plato -- the thought of these two is a true continuum -- the conception of philosophy as a ceaseless quest for understanding ourselves and the conception of the good life as grounded in the realization of the worth of our inner reality. I think these are the insights that should inform all philosophy. This is the gist of my newly published Plato: An Interpretation (2005).
The Die In LUP you write that, 'Humanity is in dire need of rejuvenating and absorbing the SocratesÐPlatoÐAristotle contribution to the constitution of humanity -- for it is truly that, nothing less.' Why do we need this rejuvenation?
Khashaba I think I have already said why we need this rejuvenation. But let me explain here what I mean by the odd-sounding phrase 'contribution to the constitution of humanity.' This relates to the view that human beings live, strictly speaking, in a world of ideas of their own creation. Our ideals, our values, our beliefs, our superstitions, our illusions are all children of our thought. And philosophy, as a creative exercise of intelligence, is a major contributor of original ideas through which we see and experience the world and ourselves in a particular manner and so live, strictly speaking, in a world constituted by those ideas. Original thinkers give us spiritual eyes that shape the world we live and move and have our being in. This is only metaphor insofar as all linguistic expression is inescapably metaphorical.
The Die When discussing religion, you wrote that, 'Religion is a stage in the development of human culture. With the spread of enlightenment, mankind should discard religion, replacing it with philosophy.' In the most advanced of human societies, man has neglected religion without becoming philosophical.' Is this what Nietzsche was getting at when he wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that (and I'm paraphrasing here) 'even though man has succeeded in killing God, he has yet to find anything with which to replace him'?
Khashaba Yes, I suppose what I had in mind was very much like what Nietzsche had in mind. Only the other day, among notes I am preparing for a book I hope to write on religion, I wrote something that I would have liked to quote in full, if it were not too long, so let me just pluck the following sentences: The French philosophies of the 18th century meant to render a much-needed service to humanity when they sought to demolish all dogma and all superstition and establish in their place the reign of reason. In their enthusiasm they achieved an overkill. Their followers, equating reason with science, believed that a scientific attitude and a scientific orientation were all that was needed to give direction and meaning to human life. In place of the old established religions of divine revelation we were given the new established religion of scientific dictation. Thus, while the denudement of religious experience of its theological trappings should have left us with the kernel of pure philosophical insight, scientifically modeled thinking left us with an objectively given world that cannot host value or meaning.
When Nietzsche preached the death of God he was dreaming of the abolition of bondage to handed-down values. The Uebermensch would be ruled only from within. If Nietzsche were to return today, he would be dismayed to find us moving toward a situation where humans will be indistinguishable from the robots they will produce to run their lives for them.
The Die In LUP, you wrote that, 'The answers we give to those questions [posed by Plato] are not what matters. What matters is that in learning to ask those questions, to reflect on those problems, the human mind extends its reach and finds itself breathing and moving in heavens that were not before.' Is this what we can gain by studying philosophy, the inspiration to ask and think about questions like 'what is good' or 'what is justice,' which (hopefully) lead to greater wisdom?
Khashaba Yes, except that I prefer to speak of philosophizing or thinking philosophically rather than of studying philosophy. Studying philosophy is worse than having nothing to do with philosophy if it is not active, creative engagement in philosophical thinking. Thinking philosophically means simply questioning everything, refusing to exclude anything from subjection to the jurisdiction of reason. A good philosopher is not who leads readers to accept or adopt her/ his views but one who incites them to puzzle for themselves over the questions that originally gave rise to those views. That was the great secret of the Socratic elenchus. It led Socrates' interlocutors to look within and examine themselves. Plato is the best of philosophers because he continues the work of Socrates. He does not pretend to give us any truths or ready-made conclusions but gives us burning questions that must be kept burning.
The Die Later in LUP you wrote that, 'philosophy has been turned into so many special sciences, useful and interesting, but which cannot fulfill the primary and essential function of philosophical thinking, which is to give intelligibility, unity, and value to our life.' When I read that I immediately thought of how many institutions of higher learning encourage the study of philosophy because it can be of use in business and politics. Based on your assessment of how philosophy is taught today, what do you think is being done right and what is being done wrong?
Khashaba One of my main objectives in writing Let Us Philosophize was to draw a sharp and clear line between science and philosophy. Psychology, neuroscience, the methodology of science, the experimental study of the processes of learning, sociology, anthropology, economics, political science -- all of these may be good and useful sciences. But the questions of philosophy have nothing to do with all of that. Philosophy has nothing to do with objective observation or verification or the discovery or ascertainment of fact. The soul, as our scientists and our scientifically oriented philosophers have not tired of telling us, is nothing. It is a fiction. But it is by adopting that fiction that I have a spiritual life. I am a human being in virtue of the ideas I create for myself and that cannot be found anywhere outside my mind. That is how I understand the SocraticÐPlatonic distinction between the perceptible and the intelligible. And, if I may once more be permitted to refer to my new book, that is the central theme I develop in Plato: An Interpretation.
That is why I think the way philosophy is taught today does grave harm by perpetrating the confusion of philosophy and science and trying to subject philosophy to the methods and criteria of science. In doing this I think our academic institutions are turning their back not only to the profound insight of Socrates and Plato but also to that of Kant.
The Die You also wrote that, 'The primary function of philosophy is to provide us with a system of concepts by means of which we can define our place in the world. Our concepts and our symbols are as real as the function they perform: They constitute our reality, but that reality is relative and fugitive.' If that is correct, what about the people who aren't interested in philosophy (or don't philosophize). Who's creating their world?
Khashaba They live in worlds created for them by others -- by traditions, by religious institutions, by the science of the day, by the thought-systems embedded in the competitivism, commercialism, and consumerism of modern 'advanced' societies, even by the 'culture' or peculiar groups or cliques. So long as and insofar as they do not subject the presuppositions and values that govern their lives to critical examination, they are deprived of the integrity and autonomy of a truly human being.
The Die Later you wrote that, 'Only if all human individuals became philosophers would philosophy redeem humanity. In a good society we would have the philosopherÐadministrator, the philosopherÐ artist, the philosopherÐscientist, etc.' In saying this, do you mean that philosophy can't change the world, but it can change the individual by teaching him/ her to think through life's situations -- to ask questions about right and wrong, and thereby bring about a better world by improving those who live in it one by one?
Khashaba Exactly. The practical problems of life are the province of science and empirical know-how. The philosopher as philosopher has nothing to contribute to the economy or industry or even the political organization of society. When I said that, 'in a good society we would have the philosopherÐadministrator, the philosopherÐartist, the philosopherÐscientist,' etc., I simply meant that in a good society the administrator, the artist, the scientist, in addition to their special areas of knowledge or talent, would also be each of them a philosopher. The prosperity of society would come from their expertise, not from their philosophy. The goodness of society would come from its citizens, all of them, being philosophers.
(c) Joseph Smith 2005
IV. 'CELEBRATING WORLD PHILOSOPHY DAY 2005 ZADAR/ NIN CROATIA' BY BRUNO CURKO
UNESCO World Philosophy Day November 17
This is our most ambitious project and we are proud that we pulled it without single donation -- all our guests agreed to perform without any fee. Great news is that Zadar Public Library agreed to publish last year's CD depicting 2003 and 2004 events. All lectures were held at Zadar Public Library Facilities, except the discussion group, which was held at Zadar Grammar School.
Schedule of Events
Monday, Nov. 7th Mirko JAKIC, Ph. D. (Philosophy Dept, Zadar University) 'What is left from classical understanding of space? On 100 anniversary of Einstein's relativity theory'
Tuesday, Nov. 8th Anita VULIC-PRTORIC, Ph. D. (Psychology Dept, Zadar University) and Josip CIRIC (Philosophy Dept, Zadar University) 'Reducing the pain: psychological and philosophical counseling'
Thursday, Nov. 10th Slobodan CACE, Ph. D. (History Dept, Zadar University) 'Plato and political action'
Friday, Nov. 11th 'Frane Petric - Francescus Patrcius' thematic bloc
Estella ÊPETRIC-BAJLO, M.A. (English language and literature Dept, Zadar, University) 'Frane Petric's reception in English language domain'
Bruno CURKO, B.A. (Zadar grammar school) 'Petric's education paradigm and its application possibility today'
Saturday, Nov. 12th Discussion group; subject: democracy -- held at Zadar grammar school moderators: Bruno CURKO, M. FILIPPI-SIMICEV, Josip CIRIC participants: pupils of Zadar grammar school and students of Philosophy Dept. az Zadar University
Monday, Nov. 14th Sime LJUBICIC 'History of Nin district until 1920'
Wednesday, Nov. 16th Josip CIRIC, M.A. (Philosophy Dept, Zadar University) 'The lights of marketing and the light of the truth'
Thursday, Nov. 17th Mirko JAKIC, Bruno CURKO, Josip CIRIC 'Bertrand Russell'
(c) Bruno Curko and Josip Ciric 2005