Sunday, January 24, 2016


Every now and then in his lectures Susskind drops a bon mot that grinds my gears: e.g. "Philosophical questions are stupid."

You are easily tempted to think that the problems that matter for your career are the only ones that matter. If you are used to problems that have precise statements, if not always simple answers, those are obviously the only important kind. "There's nothing like leather." "If I can't measure it, I don't want to talk about it." "Do you love me?"

And it is true that there's always been a tendency among philosophers to nit-pick issues into fog or to create one-legged stools that explain all morals from a single principle. Some of their bad reputation is deserved.

But differing answers to "What does it mean for people to be equal?" partition us into social/political tribes, while only rarely does anyone try to thrash out why there's disagreement and discover where the sides overlap.

Is democracy a goal or a tool? If it's a tool, what's the goal? Some of our foreign policy priorities in the past decade have seemed a trifle naive in that regard.

Is education a tool to plug you into a good job in the work force, or something valuable in itself? If the latter, what parts are the most valuable? Once you have that, then you can ask about the best delivery system. It is obvious that the modern high school and university are how we try to deliver education; it isn't obvious that this is the only or most efficient way. Or the best.

And it is funny to hear people who get their panties in a wad over the phrase "good character" angrily ostracizing someone for what they consider a character deficiency--though they never use those words.

If you look you can find discussions, but they tend to be out of the way. It doesn't have to be that way.

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