Sunday, 26 March 2017

John Rawls - Philosopher of Justice (1935 - 2007)

John Rawls had a passion for justice that we cannot comprehend. Born in Ohio in 1935, he grew up pondering how to improve humanity. As a boy of eight, he helped his grandmother and parents to resolve some of their disputes.

What, then, was this philosophy of his, which we continue to discuss to this day? John Rawls created nothing less than a new theory of justice. In early articles he wrote about fairness and how to reach equilibrium with the people around you. Everyone liked this work, and encouraged him to do procure more. They were not disappointed - Except RM Hare was unimpressed and famously created a scathing review about him; Rawls produced a 600 page magnum opus called A Theory of Justice. While long and difficult, many people agree that this work is a landmark in social and political philosophy. Will it make us more just? I do not know the answer to this question. Only time will tell.

Here's to you, Rawls.

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Friday, 17 February 2017

Pilos Profiles "Back to School" Edition #1: The Existentialists

Previous Pilos profiles:
WVO Quine
Betrand Russell - Founding Giant of Analytic Philosophy
David K Lewis
William James: Father of Pragmatism


Welcome to another fantastic philosophical profile! Hat tip to Noah G for provoking me on this one and providing the new idea to characterize schools rather than just individual greats. The great school we will look at today is an intriguing European phenomenon which crossed the pond and then the entire world. That's right, I'm talking about existentialism. Many people find it esoteric or old fashioned, but in times like these we all come flooding back to this sort of philosophy in droves, so let's see how we might understand it, beginning with this profile!

The history is a complicated phenomenon. Around the turn of the century, many philosophers were reading Nietzsche and saying to themselves 'What is it all about?'. For a long time people found this a difficult problem, indeed ever since Nietzsche said the God is dead. But only later did it fully creep up how difficult, indeed, possible unsoluble, this question was. Cut to a new era. It is the 20's and 30;s, inflation is high and there are problems in the economy. A world war has ravaged the population. This time set the scene for one of the most interesting philosophies I have ever seen: existentialism.


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(Existentialists at the turn of the century. An interesting bunch of guys - and let's face it, it was mostly guys.)



The brain child of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Karl Jaspers, existentialism was an exciting hybrid of modernism, a reaction to German idealism, and mystical ideas from earlier days. How do you make meaning in a world where there is no purpose or no God? You have to do it yourself, or no one will do it at all. There is a kind of special feeling you get when you think about the world in this way. Things aren't here for this or for that, they just are, and by God - or rather by ourselves! - we're going to learn to live with it, indeed love it! This is existentialism in a nutshell. It is an interesting misconception you hear over the years, that existentialism is all doom and gloom. But actually it has the power to be a very happy, liberating idea, if you can just have an open mind and embrace it carefully.

The movement was now in full swing. Thinkers everywhere were talking about how we just exist, and we can only make our own meanings (if at all). It was a very interesting moment in the history of thought but now we had to live with it. This could prove difficult, like when Jean-Paul Sartre made a visit to america in 1940. People flocked to see him and ask him questions and they wanted him to have a good time. He refused, smoking a cigarrette. We had so much to learn.

I think it's safe to say the "heyday" of existentialism was over soon after that. But as I said, the movement is showing signs of returning now that we have modern technology and a whole new raft of problems. Maybe this exotic, forbidding old European philosophy has a bit of life left in it yes!

Is Existenialism true? Is it here to stay? Let us know in the comments.

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Sunday, 5 February 2017

How We Can Help With Philosophy in this Climate

What can we do with philosophy at such a terrible time? I can't imagine that anyone wants to hear about it now. We've got real strife on our hands. Here are some tips for how to get your students to improve:

- Be nice. No one likes a know it all,
- If they say bad things, politely explain why this is incorrect.
- If you have trouble facing them and facing another long day of teaching, take a break. No one will mind a day off and then when you come back you will be able to make a difference.
- Activism is something we all need to be a part of.
- Philosophy - and this is a big one - is not some lofty, disconnected thing from the real world with all its messiness. And guess what, that's actually a good thing! Why would we care about it if it didn't have these connexions, however hard they may be to trace, to our lives and the way the world is going these days. Chin up and realize the importance of what we all do!

I'm sure I've forgotten some doozies. Let me know in the comments!






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Saturday, 21 January 2017

A beautiful example of performative philosophy

Ever since Justin Weinberg of the beautiful Daily Nous posted his thoughts on performative philosophy I have been thinking about what it really means to me. Without further adieu, I present my own perspective....

I step up to the stage, rub chalk on my hands. Everyone is looking with their mouths awry. I look to the back of the hall and then back to where I am. Everyone is waiting for me to begin. I open up my music case and open up my mouth and out it comes: 'Hellooooooo'. I dance, and perform a beautiful saga of thought. A raga of insight. It makes me so happy that I begin to burst out of my skin, and everyone is swept up into the dance. We go on all night and by the time we are finished light has dawned everywhere. This truly was a wonderful instinct of performative philosophy.

What are your stories of this dynamic idea? Truth-seeking can be performance.
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