Why (I) Do Philosophy | Who Shaves the Barber? #21

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Philosophy’s an odd practice. It can be abstract, technical, and complicated to the point of appearing incomprehensible; and the generality of the subject matter can make it seem like it isn’t really about anything at all. It certainly doesn’t seem to make a great deal of progress over time. So why the hell does anyone do it?

Here I propose three main reasons I think people do philosophy: competitive craftsmanship, scientific inquiry, and spirituality. The first breaks down into two subcategories – craftsmanship and competition – as does the second – curiosity and improving the world. Just how does philosophy satisfy each of these needs? Do people really pursue philosophy in order to satisfy them? And can they actually be satisfied by philosophy? I conclude with some words about how these apply to why I’m pursuing philosophy (eg, doing this podcast), and specifically why I’m not pursuing academic philosophy.



Next week: Michael Zigismund: Philosophy of Law
Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.

Topics discussed

0:20 – Intro: why do I do philosophy?
3:44 – What is philosophy?
9:03 – What sort of question is “why do philosophy?”?
14:04 – Three reasons: competitive craftsmanship, scientific inquiry, spirituality
14:26 – Competitive craftsmanship: philosophy as art or game
15:51 – Arguments
18:30 – Virtues of competition
25:08 – Carry-over benefits
26:46 – The rules of the game applied to the rules of the game: self-reference, regress, form become content, grounding
34:12 – Creation v.…

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Objection to the Psychedelics Challenge

A friend replied to my post challenging philosophers to try psychedelics. Here’s the proposed counterargument:

There are plenty of good reasons to not do drugs. For me, my lack of interest is chief among them. As an autistic person I already experience the world in different ways than most people. In fact, most people in general interact and experience the world differently than other people.

So I don’t see the need for everyone to converge around certain experiences because they’ve been enlightening for others or helped with their mental health issues. There are many ways to get perspective on the world and feel better about your mental health without taking drugs.

What is enlightening for some may seem dull for others. I could just as easily see people who have gone to space arguing a similar argument: If you haven’t gone to space then you’re not serious about philosophical inquiry because seeing the world from the outside is a great moment in perspectives.

But you could easily counter that we can view the world from the outside via satellite feed or pictures or get a taste of it from people’s experiences. There’s no need to subject everyone to space travel just for the *chance* that maybe they’ll gain some new and profound perspective.

Similarly with drugs we can see how these affect people via studies, people’s stories, audio files, video files, second-hand experience of our friends doing drugs, etc. There’s also no need here to subject everyone to drugs or pressuring them to try them because we can already find out what chemically and mentally is happening, at least to an extent.

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A Challenge to All Philosophers: Try Psychedelics

If you’re a philosopher, you have no excuse for not trying psychedelics.

You might be a great philosopher and make incredible contributions to the field. If you’ve never tried a hallucinogenic drug, there’s always something that you’re missing. I can have a conversation about metaphysics with you and be amazed by your arguments. Nonetheless, at the back of my mind will be the fact that you don’t have the psychedelic insight. As someone who has it, that’s something I can’t ignore. It’s relevant to all metaphysical and epistemological questions, and to all issues that depend on metaphysical and epistemological assumptions – in other words, to all philosophy.

The psychedelic experience is something like sight. It’s not one experience, but a medium for a specific kind of experience. Close your eyes for a moment. Can you remember what vision is like? Sort of. You can conjure images in the mind’s eye. But now open your eyes again. Is vision exactly what you pictured when you closed your eyes? Not even close. The psychedelic experience is like that – you can sort of remember what it’s like. But you don’t understand it unless you’re currently in it. For this reason, the psychedelic experience is impossible to explain. If you’ve never had it but have heard stories, you understand it as well as a blind man understands color from descriptions.

A quick glance through user testimonials will show you that everyone who trips gets something different from it. Even so, there’s something distinctive about the psychedelic experience.…

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