International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 31 5th May 2002


I. 'My Spectacles' by Jeffrey W. Barnes

II. Pathways: the Book?

III. Philosophical Society of England AGM 25 May 2002



My World belongs to me: my view of it unique. It cannot be entered from the outside, and neither can I truly say that at any given time am I aware of all its workings and intimate functions. My world reveals itself to me in a most remarkable way and I must admit, sometimes in unexpected ways. For most of my life, I have been a prolific reader. Then it seemed my favourite pastime had lost its appeal. After a few pages, the book was put aside, and not reopened for several days or even weeks. There was no explanation, none needed, and other hobbies were pursued with vigour. Coming home from school one day, my daughter thrust a report in my face and all became clear...or not, as the case may be. I couldn't see! My eyes, the same eyes that had served me so well in the past had grown tired; they no longer revealed the World to me as it is. Now it appeared with fuzzy edges and always slightly out of focus. A true revelation: spectacles were needed and duly acquired; all was as it was before...or was it?

Reading became a pleasure once more, but with the revitalization of my old hobby, came the awareness that my World had altered and would continue to alter from my perspective, or the World was the same and I had altered. The objective value of my spectacles proved that the World alters for all of us, age, or malfunction causing it to occur at differing times, this was not the problem. Was the World as I now saw it without my spectacles the true representation of what it is, slightly fuzzy and out of synch, or was it the same World as before, but requiring a new interpretation? I was always assured that my world began with me, but not so now. It all seems rather silly to say that the world had altered, when in fact, it was only my perception of the World that had altered, but the truth is all that I once believed was now in doubt, not simply the question of deteriorating sight, but my whole subjective view of everything I thought I once knew.

I was of course reminded of Descartes, he began from a similar point and arrived at the cogito, which is (for Descartes) beyond doubt. I on the other hand had arrived at a position that made me very aware of my own finitude. Unlike Descartes, I was not prepared to question everything and isolate my soul. For me certain beliefs would remain unchanged, on the basis that alternatives did not provide proof positive. For example, my deteriorating sight did not lead me to believe that God might exist, nor did it lead me to believe that tomorrow the sun will not rise. I could question many things; but my atheism was not up for grabs. The realization of one's finitude should not be the excuse to seek answers which lie beyond experience, but it is good enough reason to try to discover what lies within experience.

Declaring one's atheism is a bold step, requiring a heroic stance. Atheism is as much a system of belief as is a theistic stance. Atheism is the result of endless packs of cigarettes and endless subjective examination. My mentor, Geoffrey Klempner, once said it was easier to prove the existence of God, than to disprove. Agreed. But, remarkable as the World is, I find no reason to believe. Once, when reading Hume I thought I had discovered proof for the existence of God! On turning the page, all hope was lost. Hume had forestalled his rejection and a mighty rejection it was. So it is with many Philosophical texts, the student poses the question before the Philosopher has time to explain.

Then I had to ask myself, Why for the moment was I so elated by the thought that I, through Hume, had discovered God? Surely if my atheism is complete, ultimately, there can be no room for God and I should be more elated by the rejection, than the discovery? Perhaps, secretly I was seeking proof all along, if so, this was a secret of which I was unaware and sadly almost ashamed. My heroic stance must not be flawed. Is this an example of a contemporary Meme? By which I am simply expressing a non-religious stance. Are memes simply a new spin on much older existential theories? It seems to me, that anyone who is familiar with Heidegger or Wittgenstein for that matter will automatically recognize where the meme has its beginnings. Strange how sometimes we only discover something once we are able to name it, now that truly is a meme!

I am what speaks me, but I am what speaks to me! Memes, it seems have spread through contemporary philosophy as only Memes could. Funny thing is...they were there all the time.

Do robots recognize memes; do computers...zombies might? And even if they didn't, they probably play along anyway. If you read Heidegger from a memetic viewpoint, it becomes possible to understand why he embraced National Socialism. Is National Socialism an example of a negative Meme? Could there be such a thing as a negative Meme, if it encompasses a cultural trait that is acceptable within the culture in which it inheres? Surely, the greater Good will...

What are Memes anyway? do I have them, will they harm me?

It seems my spectacles have given me new vision, perhaps the world as I once viewed it was fuzzy and slightly distorted and even a little empty. Sight and philosophy are in a strange way inextricably linked. Doubtless, the blind philosopher will see more of the World than the sighted who cannot see. Many great philosophers from the past were involved in experiments to improve our vision of the World we inhabit, Spinoza, Galileo, and Descartes. I wonder if Descartes. optical experiments were intended to discover a method of seeing the World, that could not be doubted? My spectacles have allowed me a view of the future; by reminding me of my finitude, they have shown me that, all is as it probably appears, but then, I probably knew that all along. With my now restored sight I have discovered memes, metaphysics, and I think I know what it means to have a soul.

From a ground lens, to the realization of finitude and the rejection of God, from the discovery of a meme, to existential optimism, nothing beats truly fuzzy reasoning.

As far as it is possible to ascertain no physical damage has been sustained by the wearing of Spectacles. However, it has resulted in a major subjective re-evaluation. So, what does philosophy mean to me? Well, I suppose it means that, ah...I'll probably never see things the same again. The World in the end, isn't any's just BIGGER.

(c) Jeffrey W. Barnes



Regular readers of my Glass House notebook will know that I have been looking at the possibility of writing a book based on the Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program ('Glass House Philosopher' Thursday,18th April, page 138).

As it happens, the title 'Pathways to Philosophy' is already taken ('Pathways to Philosophy: A Multidisciplinary Approach' Douglas W. Shrader and Ashok K. Malhotra, Prentice Hall 1996). Although the Pathways project was launched a year before the book by Ashok and Malhotra appeared, it seems that their choice of the same name was just pure coincidence. At least it forces me to be creative, rather than go for the easy option.

I will not be doing the Glass House Philosopher for a while. The notebook provides too easy an escape valve. (There are also personal reasons which I don't want to go into.)

Philosophers are known for excessive self-examination, but I cannot help feeling suspicious of my motives. The occasion was a letter out of the blue from a publisher asking if I would be interested in submitting a proposal for an introduction to philosophy. In response to what I wrote in the Glass House notebook, one of my colleagues responded sharply, 'You ARE an introduction to philosophy and your methods should stay within Pathways and the Society if it is to be of worth - which it is or the publishers wouldn't want you.'

Which has given me pause.

A student from the U.S. Midwest wrote, 'This town where I live is obsessed with "getting published." I think there are as many wannabe writers per capita here as there are in New York City.'

No, there is nothing I 'want to be'. My attitude could be called complacent, in the non-egregious sense. I have run out of ambitions. I am content to be as I am now.

The first chapters for 'Naive Metaphysics' were written in 1988. The first Pathways units were written in 1995. For want of a better description, one might call it a writer's 'seven year itch'. There is a sense that something is brewing. Though I vowed to myself I would never get on the rollercoaster ride again, the taste for it is coming back.

There is also a solid, practical reason. A Pathways book in local bookstores would be a great advertisement. It is sometimes difficult for someone caught up in the excitement of the internet to realize that there is a wide world out there of people who don't like to spend their spare time in front of a monitor screen.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2002



               President: Professor Brenda Almond              
                     ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING                    
                   Saturday, 25 May 3.30-5.30                  
                Broderick Room, Council Chambers              
                 Malet Street,  London WC1E 7HZ                
                   (opposite the University of                
                     London Students Union)                    
    Members and Non-members are cordially invited to attend    

On the agenda for the Annual General Meeting will the future direction of the Philosophical Society of England. What kind of Philosophical Society do you want to see? Whether you are a member of the Society, or thinking of joining, this is the opportunity to make your views known.

The Council of the Philosophical Society are looking for good people to contribute their skills and enthusiasm - and their time. If you feel that you have something you can offer, and are keen to help with the running of the Society, there is a good chance that you might find yourself voted onto the Council. So watch out!

Since the formation of the International Society for Philosophers in March, it is heartening to note that students and amateur philosophers from both inside and outside the UK who have been applying for membership of the International Society are also opting to join the Philosophical Society of England - proving that a Society formed back in 1913 is still very much a going enterprise.

Geoffrey Klempner International Society for Philosophers


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