Patrons at the local dive bar understand more than professors.
That’s not my attempt to craft a great lede or grab clicks.
I mean it.
Philosophy: All Shipwrecks; No Safe Voyages
Philosophy has repeatedly crashed on the shoals of common sense. Ancient Greeks concluded that there is no movement. Descartes concluded that we couldn’t move our arms. Berkeley concluded matter doesn’t exist. Derrida concluded that not a single word means anything.
All of their conclusions were impressive. All were irrefutable.
All were wrong.
The Other Areas Haven’t Done Much Better
My criticism isn’t limited to philosophy.
Take a stroll through theology over the past 200 years. The Jesus Seminar and its five gospels make a longneck bottle of beer preferable to the Bible every day of the week, even Sundays (especially Sundays; how else would you brace for the week?). The folks at the Jesus Seminar are brilliant, some of the brightest asses of all time.
Similar criticism can be leveled at historians, economists, political philosophers, and sociologists. Proof: Karl Marx, who was all those things and also one of the world’s great asses.
“Ah,” you say, “but the STEMs. That’s where it’s at it. Science, technology, engineering, and math.”
You can say that after science’s expert guidance on COVID? I’d rather read the Jesus Seminar’s Gospel of Thomas than another health department circular. At least the Gospel of Thomas doesn’t change every week and then ends with, “Nevermind.”
Technology? Watch Netflix’s The Social Dilemma.
Engineering and math? Maybe those areas are alright, but have you ever met a humble engineer? They’re rarer than humble politicians. And for math: Descartes built all of modern philosophy on mathematical principles. I’m guessing Dante used geometry (circles) to construct hell for a reason.
The Patron Knows He Knows He Doesn’t Know
Iain McGilchrist recounted a discussion with academics that arrived at two contradictory statements that were both true. One of the academics lit up and said, “Ah, a paradox! Now we’re getting someplace.”
The academic realized he doesn’t know.
Likewise, the patron knows he doesn’t know.
And he leaves it there. If you attempt to engage him in an academic discussion, he’ll look away, sneer, or mumble “mental masturbation.” If you persist, he’ll refer you to a reflexive verb (one too vulgar for the finery of this newsletter).
Of Course, the Dive Bar Patron Falls Short Too
So is there nothing to know? Nothing to wonder about? Nothing to pursue?
Naw. That’s where the dive bar patron gets it wrong.
There is more, much more, and it’s worth wondering about and pursuing.
But as soon as you think you’re capable of catching it, you become an ass.