Those who spend their days obsessively noting every little change in blog designs will note that I have added a big red “P” at the bottom left. This links to the Philosophy Campaign – an attempt to make philosophy more relevant to modern society. So I got to thinking… what is the relevance of philosophy today?
It certainly isn’t its ability to contribute to the commodification and managerialism of modern tertiary education. Philosophy programs are being downgraded or even closed around the world. In Queensland, where I taught, only one major philosophy department was left after the entirety of Humanities was closed at other universities. Proper philosophy programs are becoming much rarer. Even moreso if you happen to threaten an authoritarian government or lobby (the latter case a pro-Israeli lobbyist politician). Why is this?
Philosophy is generally, whether it will or no, true to its main mission statement: to corrupt the minds of the youth. Well, that’s what Socrates was convicted of. He would have said it was to make young minds think critically, and for most authoritarian governments, that amounts to the same thing. Critical reasoning skills are dangerous! Students might doubt God, or the status quo or worse, the prevailing political platform. I think one of my major mistakes was to use advertising and media as examples of bad reasoning, because that is an economic challenge to the status quo, and nobody survives that.
Philosophy is relevant in ways that do not serve the interests of those in power, on either side of politics (as if there were only two sides, another comfortable truism that serves those in power). Mostly it is a threat for the third of the three questions of philosophy. These questions are:
What is there? [Metaphysics]
How do we know? [Epistemology]
What is its value? [Aesthetics, ethics and political philosophy]
All philosophy deals with one of these three questions or more. Me, being a moral vacuum and an aesthetic sink, I tend to focus on the first two. And even this can threaten elites. Suppose we took philosophy into schools, and allowed kids to ask a metaphysical question: do states exist? If they found themselves adopting something like methodological individualism, they might infer that states have no interests or rights, and therefore governments must be constrained in their infringement of actual right-bearers’ rights in pursuing faux wars on abstract evils. Imagine that. Fortunately for the elites this will never happen, of course.
Or suppose they adopted a corporatist view of nations and held that the only true reality was the entire population. They might begin to challenge the view that oligarchies can do with state instruments whatever they wish. And so on. The thing about philosophy is that it does not block ahead of time any view so long as it is coherent. And coherent views can lead to results that people who have vested interests may not want a populace to find.
So, on with corrupting the youth! While you are at it, corrupt some elders too.