I believe in intuition and inspiration. … At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason. When the eclipse of 1919 confirmed my intuition, I was not in the least surprised. In fact I would have been astonished had it turned out otherwise. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research. --Albert Einstein
A Philosophy for Everyone
I don't know about you, but I've never had much use for a formal study of Philosophy, mostly because all of the things discussed and terms bandied about seem so remote from my everyday experience. So, here I'm trying to build my own version, which hopefully everyone else will also enjoy and from which they may get some real use. This material may have to be reorganized on occasion, but I believe it will build nicely.
First, there's nothing wrong with drawing on material you actually do find useful. Philosophers around the world and throughout history have made great contributions to our understanding of ourselves and the Universe around us. It just seems that we need to take what they've said and break it down into smaller and more manageable parts. The real point of Philosophy is given above -- understanding. If you can take what you've learned and tell it to someone else without turning them off, or putting them to sleep, or can at the very least make use of it yourself in your daily life, without a book open in front of you the whole day, you have something that I and everyone else might find vastly more interesting.
The Tools and Products of Philosophy Are Philosophy
One of the (many) problems with Philosophy is that it has never been properly defined, or rather that it has been properly defined, a thousand times over, with each definition varying significantly from all the others. This is our top-down friend again, just wearing yet another mask. Defining your own pursuit of Philosophy (Pp) in a top-down way is perfectly innocuous, but others may not see your top-down organization of your own pursuit particularly valuable. They may have an entirely different set of circumstances to deal with, with a resultant different set of values and priorities. This brings us to the next point...
Philosophy as Verb First, and Noun Second
What I've tried to outline above is the difference between Philosophy as a top-down organization of findings (Philosophy the noun, Pn), and Philosophy as a bottom-up organization of tools and processes (Philosophy the verb, Pv), Philosophy of the more personal variety, (Pp), and Philosophy the formal study of historic or published Philosophy (Pf). In light of these distinctions, the struggle for a singular definition of "Philosophy" becomes entirely understandable -- and entirely wrong-headed and irrelevant. Philosophy the noun (Pn) can be all that it needs to be as defined by one and only one person. Similarly, there seems to be no need for any real conflict over Philosophy the verb (Pv), as it is a more or less complete and comprehensive catalog of tools at any individuals disposal.
A complete description of my version of Philosophy, both noun and verb together (Pp), then becomes something which can be shared (becoming then, Pf), but not taught or proven. (This explains why formally taught Philosophy (Pf) never draws a final set of conclusions or general recommendations -- it simply can't.) That means that your own Philosophy is roughly as good as anyone else's, with a few cautions...
Your Philosophy Speaks for Itself
Your Philosophy (Pp) can be held up to the light and examined in its own right. Who you are, what your station in life is, and your personal shortcomings do not really enter into the picture. (Though if you constantly violate values within your Philosophy, and then suffer for it, it becomes a sort of ironic proof!) If your Philosophy is wide-ranging in its observations, makes use of a powerful set of tools, makes use of a minimum of assumptions, and has a maximum of persuasive and convincing explanatory power (that is, it is widely considered elegant), then yes, your Philosophy is as good as anyone else's. (And would seem to be much better if it does that well!)
Playing with Fire
On the other hand, coming to some vague and theoretical conclusion within your Philosophy (Pp) and then putting it into practice may expose you and others to consequences you hadn't thought out in advance. You might have to think about it a little bit, but I'm sure there are good examples out there of people who have done just that. I hope to come up with some of my own examples if I can. It might help to pretend that you were considering publishing your philosophy, to examine real (perhaps even historic) or imaginable counter-arguments that others might present to your own arguments. One of the reasons I am publishing my arguments here is that I would like to test them in the fires of others' criticism. (As if anyone were actually reading these things; I have yet to encounter any real feedback. 0_o )
Formal Philosophy Revisited
So now that we have a definition (or five) of Philosophy (Pv, Pn, Pp, and Pf, taken together as Pc), we can start to appreciate the formal study of Philosophy in a new light. Your own formal study of previous philosophers, your predecessors as it were, now becomes a study of persons whom you can admire (or hate!), and they once started out just like you, making an effort (Pp) in Philosophy. We only really study the philosophers who succeeded, at least in that their writings survived to be studied. Pity all the philosophers whose works were burned or otherwise destroyed at one point in history or another, and their works have not survived, except perhaps in others' rebuttal to their arguments!
Note that many of the philosophers that are typically studied, especially those closer to us in history, commonly "cleared the decks" in preparation for laying out their own vision. The best were not ignorant of their predecessors work, and in fact they offer up rather pointed critiques, as a justification of, and introduction to, their own works. Thus, Nietzsche criticizes all of Philosophy, but especially moral philosophy, Heidegger and Sartre both create their own forms of Existentialism, and Derrida's criticisms of Structuralism all point to the value of an informed but independent opinion in Philosophy -- which could include your own opinion!
Some very smart thinkers throughout history have asked a whole truckload of important questions, and produced the answers that have shaped our world today, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Their strategies and tactics of tackling others' arguments is an education in itself, but the forms of analysis and synthesis they use, and some of the conclusions they reach, are equally valuable. Formal Philosophy should be seen as a rich storehouse of knowledge (Pv and Pn), and an intense training ground for those interested in formulating a sophisticated philosophy (Pf or Pp) through their own efforts.
A completely didactic teaching of Philosophy is considered by some to be a good description of the torments of Hell. If there is a list of reasons that Philosophy is widely thought to be a complete waste of time, this one is probably at the top of that list. Pf is taught, and taught, and taught, until each and every student in the class swears off Philosophy for the rest of their lives, or rather more perversely, goes all the way on to a teaching degree, to inflict the same torments on hundreds of other victims, er... students. Aiming at Pp and hitting Pf almost as an afterthought is not currently on anyone's agenda here, and yet (IMHO) that should be the singular goal, as this is how all this great material came to be to begin with. Certainly students would more often be served well in being encouraged to formulate their own Pp to a certain extent, as this is essentially what is required of them as they make decisions within a rapidly changing world.
Do historic Philosophers have anything to say about our own modern condition? Yes, but less and less as those opinions age more and more. Most of our historic Philosophers were speaking to the needs and weaknesses of their own age, and as noted above, to the perceived weaknesses of their predecessors. Philosophy is in constant need of reformulation by those who begin to see systemic changes, and gaps in the knowledge we have already accumulated.
Gramsci's idea of "Hegemony" certainly may have something to say about college, and about the formal study of Philosophy in particular. Note that a hegemony can be a spontaneous state of simply being uncritical, at least in the rational, philosophical sense, but Gramsci might point out that you have to crawl on your hands and knees through Pf in order to have a real voice and a broader audience for your own Philosophy.
A hybrid of Gramsci's and Derrida's thought (cultural hegemony and suppression of complementary concepts) starts to reveal a causal basis of conspiracy theories -- that a conspiracy theory is the informed or uninformed rebuttal of the suppression of concepts for the purpose of political and civil control of the population and the social discourse, respectively.
See Also:Dominate the Scene
Original Works and Historic Positions
As I am fleshing out my own personal Philosophy, and being rather cavalier about it, I find myself deathly afraid of one thing: accurate criticism. I have not paid the least attention to how Philosophy seems to be organized, nor have I given the least thought to the opinions of various philosophers in areas where I make rather broad and bombastic statements. There may come a day when all those nitpickers out there decide to band together as one to banish TheLastWordSword back to the infernal regions from which he came! But so far, they've been rather cowardly, as there has been nary a peep. Will Philosophy, the Queen of the Sciences, go undefended against my nefarious depredations??? Or maybe my "nail it to the door" approach has them truly dumbstruck? Could it be I'm doing exactly what is needed and desired? That is scary!!!
So if you decide to pursue your own personal philosophy, and make it public as I have, you don't need to be too afraid that anything horrific will happen. It seems that you will have a clear field. Knowing what came before is nice, and may indeed help, but doesn't seem essential as yet. I've got something of a head start here, so you're likely to see me get my clock cleaned long before it comes your turn, and you'll be able to take your cue from what happens to me. P:D
(It would seem that the cold shoulder of financial neglect is the preferred methodology, as it sends a clear and loud message to its victims, while leaving most if not all of the public unaware of any conspiratorial and cowardly skulduggery.)
It seems to me that this approach might actually be the more valuable one, as Philosophy seems to have become mired in using the same terms for such a very long time, with the introduction of new terms becoming extremely rare. This "fresh breeze" approach might breathe some new life in Philosophy, and as I've pointed out above, it seems to many that it's badly in need of it. Knock 'em dead, kid!
Applied Philosophy means that you have taken your understanding, gained in a more general study, and boiled it down to some elements which can guide you in certain decisions, or get things done better -- more quickly, with less aggravation, with fewer resources, or whatever you see as being best or most necessary at the time. A helpful concept here is techne, which means the union of both art and science in the pursuit of building or crafting something of use or value. If techne is the actual set of performances, then Applied Philosophy is the body of knowledge, understanding, and even wisdom that is built in a continuing pursuit of either expertise (the ability to do one thing exceedingly well) or mastery (the ability to do many things well enough to achieve your goals in each domain).
Choice, Decision, and Discovery
One of the first things I've found is that there is a great deal of confusion between the concepts of "fact" and "opinion". My best guess on the subject is that if you can decide a position on a subject, it would seem to be a matter of opinion, and that if the answer to a question can only be discovered, then it would seem to be a fact, but that also implies the reverse.
For example, "What is the meaning of life?" IMHO seems to most often be approached as a question for which an answer can exclusively be discovered (what this process would look like, I don't know), but if we view it as a question for which the answer must be decided, then we would seem to have a process of both discovery and decision all but jump out at us -- make decisions as to how you will conduct yourself, and then see if you find the results agreeable, or at least educational. The answer then, is another question, "What meaning do you (or would you like to) bring to it?".
The Economics of Philosophy
Now, as to the question of whether the general population has the proper leisure and resources to pursue Philosophy seriously, collaboratively, and constructively, the answer is: not yet. However, when robots and AIs finally put us out of the business of exploiting each other, we probably could make a good go of it. P:D Perhaps we should prepare ourselves for that day by producing a more robust understanding of Economics? The math is not easy, but the experiments are both far more imaginable, and immediately productive!
Dan Price, Gravity Payments