Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dude, where's my ἔρως?

Just a thought I had the other day...

The more I try to find philosophy in small, everyday places and events, the more disappointed I become. But this disappointment is most apparent when I am browsing the internet.

It really shouldn't be this way.

Plato described a form of love which he called Eros (ἔρως). It describes something like 'intellectual beauty'; a passionate, spiritual feeling one gets when one does philosophy. I don't use the word spiritual lightly (it being a very easy word to misuse, I think), but I think there is something to this idea of Eros; of a certain beauty in the love and pursuit of wisdom.

I used to think that there was a little philosophy to be had everywhere. I suppose that I still do think this, in a way. But lately I've been finding that the one place where real philosophy should be happening, on the world wide web, is almost devoid of real philosophy. There is a lot of 'armchair philosophy', which can be very good sometimes, but very bad other times. Even worse, there is pseudophilosophy; philosophy of the angsty teenager who smokes too much pot and doesn't go to school, or philosophy of the Deepak Chopra kind.

I suppose this can't be helped. Unless you have a little formal training in philosophy, or you are an autodidact, you probably don't know much about philosophy. You might not really know what philosophy is or what it's supposed to be for. I suppose this is a consequence of the internet, which is a shame because the internet is precisely the right kind of tool society needs for spreading real science and philosophy. Instead, pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy are rampant. Note: I say that society needs such a tool because I believe strongly that a good understanding of science and philosophy can help all of us live much happier lives.

So when I read these PHP message boards and discussion topics, I'm often disappointed. Granted, these are usually not philosophy message boards, but message boards for other things which just happen to have a philosophy forum - I would think that philosophy messageboards do not have this problem. But still, should I be dissapointed? Should I expect average Joe to have a true passion for the pursuit of of wisdom and scientific truth? I hope I have not been naive in my expectation that average Joe would indeed possess something like Plato's Eros when it came to the pursuit of science or philosophy...but given the abundance of pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy on the internet, as well as what I perceive as a definite lack in this Eros, sometimes I just have to wonder...

...Although, I was once fortunate enough to moderate a philosophy forum which was part of another website, long before I was seriously studying philosophy in school. To my delight, it was an exception to this whole problem; plenty of Eros, and lots of good philosophy (and philosophers!).

I would love to see this problem (I think it is an important problem) go away. To make this so, I think we will need more popularizers of philosophy. I could illustrate this issue to a layperson thusly; "Sir or ma'am, are you able to name 10 living philosophers?" Chances are the answer will be "No."

What we need are more philosophers who make their ideas public and interesting. We need a Carl Sagan of philosophy, that is, someone both good at philosophy and good at presenting the findings of philosophers to the public in order to show their importance. There have been many philosophers like this before, Bertrand Russel and Jean Paul Sartre in the early to mid 20th Century, and others like Robert Solomon in the late 20th Century. Richard Carrier is an excellent example of a contemporary philosopher who does excellent philosophy, and who is very good at communicating it to other non-philosophers.

If we begin to see more people like these, I think we will see a sense of Plato's Eros beginning to grow once again within the public audience.

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