Consolations of philosophy? What a joke!

Bleak street

A while ago I reshared a link on Twitter to an excellent article about free will.

The article stated what I have often felt, "...the free will problem is really depressing if you take it seriously. It hasn't made me happy..."

I have been reading philosophy part-time for about a decade now (see my post about great web resources for starting philosophy). The truth is that many of the most important questions have very bleak answers.

Ummm, nope...

Consider the following topics, where many very smart thinkers have converged on similar answers (with of course, many dissenters and counter-arguments).

  • Free Will: You don't have it. All your actions have "causally sufficient predetermined conditions" as they say in the trade.
  • Consciousness: What is it? Why does it exist? Totally unanswerable as yet.
  • The Self: Sadly, there is no 'you'. 'You' are concatenated experience. Take experience away and—poof!—you're gone.
  • Moral Luck: You're locked in. People do as they do because they do as they do.
  • The External World: Utterly unknowable. (I am a particular fan of Hilary Lawson on this.)

And on it goes...

Philosophical about philosophy?

I reflected on this again yesterday, watching an interview with Maria Balaska on the brilliant Institute of Art and Ideas (IAI) YouTube channel

She described philosophy as both a domain of knowledge and a method of analysis—similar in structure to science.

In philosophy, the starting point of analysis is to abandon what you take for granted. Instead, ask why is it that you think-you-know what you think-you-know, and then keep digging.

Knowledge should follow (hopefully)—though, much of it is unsettling.

Some point to Boethius' "Consolations" as a philosophical salve to suffering in the world. That may be true, but do his consolations apply to the practice and knowledge of philosophy itself!?

The only true consolation is that, like David Hume, we are masters at finding ways to ignore ourselves and simply enjoy the sunshine. At least, that's how I do it!

Children are a reminder of this. In general, I find my nephews are somewhat skeptical when I try to tell them the external world is an illusion! :)

Some interesting observations on children's philosophy in yesterday's video too.

(Image credit: 'Bleak' by Tim Green from Flickr. Image cropped. Creative Commons.)

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