The Gauntlet Challenge - What the World Needs Is Philosophy Awareness

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A couple of weeks ago, we threw down the gauntlet to our readers and writers.

After the editors stopped hopping around (the gauntlet was left over from Malabarista's collection of medieval armour) we sat back and waited for the submissions to roll in. And roll in they did. Apparently, we were right: You folks know how to fix the world's problems. And you can do it in a thousand words or less. We are proud of you – if occasionally alarmed by the suggestions.

Willem"s take on the world's problems is that – well, we're just not thinking enough. See if you agree. After reading this, we are prepared to dub Willem our philosophe-in-residence.

What The World Needs: Philosophy Awareness

Can you name any present-day philosopher, a person of acknowledged "great mind"? It's a sad situation. While philosophy has always played, and still is playing, a major role in shaping our world, the public is very unaware of this, and philosophers – even the best – are hardly as famous as Paris Hilton. The reason for this is twofold: firstly we have a very ill-informed public, but secondly, we don't seem to have any philosophers who are so good at what they do, so inspiring in what they say, that they rise to the general awareness of the world.

Let's start with this question: what are philosophers? To put it as simply as possible, they are people who think. The idea is that they should think about really deep, profound, important sort of things. One of the problems of the world today is that people don't seem to know any more which things are deep, profound or important. But here I state my own stand: there are such things, and people should think about them.

In my view actually, we all should think about such things – we all should be philosophers. We can't let politicians, business leaders, and advertisers do our thinking for us – and this indeed is what is happening at the moment! And these groups have their own interests at heart – not ours, not the interest of us "regular folks". Now, ideally, philosophers should be above their own personal interests and consider the most inclusive interests of all of society. Thus, philosophers ought to help us to expose the hogwash we get from the politicians, business people, advertisers, the mass media etc. They should be public servants. Remember what happened to old Socrates? The "elite" killed him because his philosophy was too subversive. Plato called him the "gadfly of the State" – someone who kept "stinging" the power elite with his criticism.

We of course still have people who "sting" with their criticism – but the problem is, many of them are not good philosophers – many of them also simply have their own narrow interests in view, and are also not thinking things through thoroughly.

Thinking things through thoroughly must be the fundamental principle of a philosopher. In this it helps to know what other people have previously thought – and so I claim that it is valuable to be aware of the tradition of philosophy. This awareness must be keenly critical – not merely accepting what others have said. One can't be slap-dash about it. The stakes are too high. We need good thinking.

Apart from the knowledge of what other philosophers throughout history have said, I contend that philosophers also should have a broad general knowledge base, including scientific knowledge, the "state of the world", culture, pressing social and other problems – also ecological problems – very pertinent in these times. How can a philosopher have wise things to say without actually knowing much? One of the biggest problems we have today is the "compartmentalisation" of knowledge. We are a society of many experts, each being expert in a small field, but knowing hardly a thing outside that field. And so, we are lacking in an awareness of how things are interdependent and interrelated, and how things that at first view don't seem to have to do much with each other, nevertheless influence and are influenced by each other. But this is in fact the way things work in the real world – we already can see that from science, but we need to think about it a lot more and try to find out how it all really works. And for that we need excellent philosophy!

Another thing for which philosophy is vital, is for ethics. Philosophy itself should be based on a certain ethical system: such as total honesty, and responsibility for answers given. There should be a sincere search for Truth. When philosophers say – as many today do – that there is no Truth, then what more can they say? It leaves the rest of us in a lurch and with no way to learn anything. How about this: there may be some absolute Truth, but maybe we fallible humans can never know it with absolute certainty. But maybe we can get close to absolute truth and know things with relative certainty. That gives us something we can use! Now we can search for solutions to our most pressing problems with at least a chance of some degree of success.

Ethics – in my view – is an excellent guide to action. Doing what is "right" means, in my view, doing what will help yourself and others in the best possible way. Something is "unethical" when it hurts others or is unfair in some way. We still desperately need ethics in our world, again in spite of what many philosophers say, that there's no absolute right or wrong. Maybe there isn't absolute right or wrong, but again, in every situation, you can look at possible actions and judge whether they will have favourable or unfavourable consequences, in terms of at least some system of values. We still need values and we all have values. But I contend that there are better and worse values, and my own standard is, the values that are "best" are the ones that are most "inclusive" – when you consider your own interests and the interests of as many other people (and beings) as possible. Is that so hard, now?

The proper role for philosophers is, therefore, to know what is going on in the world, in society, to know what is really important, and to try and come up with answers and guidelines for the rest of us. And yet – in the end, we can't leave these important things to the philosophers to do for us. We must participate. We all must also think; must strive for the same kind of awareness, knowledge and considered thought. In the end, I think it would be best if philosophers show us how to think, rather than tell us what to think.

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