E-Philosophy: A Brief Manifesto

The word philosophy comes to us from two Greek words meaning the love of wisdom. What is wisdom? Knowledge, both theoretical and practical, used in ways both defining and helping to bring about what is good and beneficial in life (i.e., in our lives as persons), based on respect for all life and its unique instantiations. Wisdom surely includes awareness of the limitations on our knowledge and the risks involved in action. It may seek to minimize them where possible, accommodating risk where minimizing it is neither possible nor necessarily desirable.

The Internet, moreover, has become an arena of mixed blessings. Its possibilities give its users a level of reach never before seen. When one uploads a post, one never knows who is reading, or where they are, or how (or if) they will respond. One of the problems is that the Internet has now become so large and cluttered that getting one’s posts noticed is now almost as difficult as it was in the days when we outsiders were printing and distributing leaflets through snail mail. But because of the potential reach leaflets did not have, we would be crazy not to make the attempt. Hence E-Philosophy, which moves philosophy from the physical classroom and publication to cyberspace.

We stand at a unique juncture in time. In the near future, a decision will be made: continued elite domination over the nations of peoples of the world, or an end to such domination however accomplished and the beginning of a world based on principles of responsible freedom, peace (including peaceful and voluntary interactions at all levels), decentralization, and technology that creates abundance instead perpetuating artificial scarcity. Whether we look at the current political unrest reflected in the rejection of elitism in its various manifestations by peoples around the world, the economic uncertainty motivating much restlessness, or just at the fact that technology is changing every facet of the world around us and taking our lives in directions our ancestors could never have begun to imagine, one thing becomes abundantly clear: either we rise to this occasion, or we pass into history as another failed civilization, as did Rome, the Ottomans, the British Empire, and many others. For continued elitism only presages global unrest, destabilization caused by resistance to corruption and perceived injustice, financial irrationality, and inevitable long-term collapse (which probably began in 2008).

Can E-Philosophy, the love of wisdom, contribute to this rising to the occasion? It can surely do not worse than its academic antecedent!

Academic philosophy, in its environment, has become (with rare exceptions) almost completely irrelevant. Even some of its more thoughtful practitioners such as Harry G. Frankfurt of Princeton (author of the celebrated On Bullshit) admit that academic philosophy is “in the doldrums”:

I believe that there is, at least in this country, a more or less general agreement among philosophers and other scholars that our subject is currently in the doldrums. Until not very long ago, there were powerful creative impulses moving energetically through the field. There was the work in England of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell and of Gilbert Ryle, Paul Grice, and Herbert Hart, as well as the work of various logical positivists. In the United States, even after interest in William James and John Dewey had receded, there was lively attention to contributions by Willard Quine and Donald Davidson, John Rawls and Saul Kripke. In addition, some philosophers were powerfully moved by the gigantic speculative edifice of Whitehead. Heidegger was having a massive impact on European philosophy, as well as on other disciplines – and not only in Europe, but here as well. And, of course, there was everywhere a vigorously appreciative and productive response to the work of Wittgenstein.

The lively impact of these impressive figures has faded. We are no longer busily preoccupied with responding to them. Except for a few contributors of somewhat less general scope, such as Habermas, no one has replaced the imposingly great figures of the recent past in providing us with contagiously inspiring direction. Nowadays, there are really no conspicuously fresh, bold, and intellectually exciting new challenges or innovations. For the most part, the field is quiet. We seem, more or less, to be marking time. (In Steven Cahn, ed., Portraits of American Philosophy [2013], pp. 125-126; italics mine).

Frankfurt probably exaggerates the contributions of the analysts if we understand philosophy as the love of wisdom as defined above, since the major analysts (1) had embraced an essentially positivist view of the discipline and its place in academia, one which was insular, self-contained, and seeing this as an advance over all past philosophy; and (2) which meant only rarely addressing the “big questions” in ways challenging to the institutional authority structures it was absorbed comfortably into.

Despite the powerful logical-linguistic techniques analytic philosophers developed, readily available to anyone who studies them, they are rarely employed in any effective way outside a rarefied and impotent philosophical literature gathering dust on the shelves of university libraries. Not used to their full potential, their influence was bound to fade in the face of the various rebellions we have seen since the 1960s, postmodernity being the most formidable. George Orwell was far more effective at showing the relevance of the analysis of language to the problems of civilization!

E-Philosophy proposes to revitalize philosophy as a discipline by finding not just the new arena in cyberspace but new ways to apply philosophy to today’s situation, present-day institutions, and to life in the world as it is. What will E-Philosophy be? As already explained, online, rather than in a university office cubicle or classroom. Independent, rather than affiliated with an institution (although individuals in institutions may participate as they chooses). Mobile and dynamic, rather than fixed and static. Pluralistic, rather than monistic, monolithic, and absolutist. Simultaneously global and local — having global reach as noted above, but local because it respects locality: local autonomy, local traditions / customs, local knowledge. Why localism? Because most people conduct their lives within a sense of place defining them; genuine “citizens of the world” are few and far between, and (interestingly!) usually limited to those steeped in Western Enlightenment thought and scientism. I don’t know that this need be the case, as a “remnant” might exist that recognizes the limitations of this, can see beyond locality to what we all have in common as human beings (or, indeed, in all conscious beings), but will nevertheless respect the fact of their status as an extreme minority. The transition that has probably already begun may allow this “remnant” to act, although this remains to be seen.

Be all this as it may, E-Philosophy will seek contact across cultural divides, community amidst diversity, and dialogue amidst disagreement and controversy. It will be future-oriented under the assumption that the future will come whether we plan for it or not, and it might be better if we tried to build a better future for ourselves and our posterity rather than leaving the matter to chance.

E-Philosophy’s “heroes” will be reflected in this kind of agenda. They range from Aristotle and logical systematicity to Stoics such as Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, and their view of “living in accordance with nature,” reflected further in Bacon’s “nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” Other E-Philosophical heroes and sources of inspiration will be drawn from a broad list of rebels, prophets, observers, critics, provocateurs, innovators, creators: Jesus Christ, Michel de Montaigne, Bishop George Berkeley, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Sanders Peirce, Charles Fort, Nikola Tesla, Albert Jay Nock, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Leopold Kohr, E.F. Schumacher, Ervin Laszlo, Robert Anton Wilson, Thomas S. Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Brian Eno; and fictional characters such as Dr. Ian Malcolm on Jurassic Park, Ambassador Delenn on Babylon 5 (the television series), Morpheus (The Matrix), and others. E-Philosophy will draw on the sciences where they are relevant, on technology where it is helpful, on popular culture where it can be illuminating, and on all those experiences — sometimes unique — that confront us with problems to solve as well as opportunities and resources for solving them, or which sometimes upset comforting and privileged dogmas.

E-Philosophy’s purpose is not to “found a new philosophical tradition”; its purpose is to challenge said dogmas, and urge new conversations on the problems our civilization confronts. Rather than defend a privileged metaphysics (be it materialist or Christian) it calls for interfaith dialogue and a search for a consensus among those articulating answers to common problems, with those affected by proposed answers having a say in whatever policies are embraced. Rather than defend a specific range of methods held as absolute and above critical examination, E-Philosophy proposes that all methods have limits — even seemingly obvious ones. Rather than outline a specific philosophy of life it goes on to insist is “the good life” for all human beings, it suggests there is much to be gained by encouraging a plurality of approaches to living, and that in the last analysis each person who chooses to do so should be allowed to walk his/her own path in life instead of being compelled to walk down paths laid down by others.

 

Key texts:

“The Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5 – 7)

Epictetus, “Enchiridion.”

Berkeley, George. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.

Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments.

Frederic Bastiat, The Law.

Charles Sanders Peirce, “Some Consequences of the Four Incapacities.”

Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned.

Albert Jay Nock, “Isaiah’s Job.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

Ervin Laszlo, The Systems View of the World.

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Paul Feyerabend, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.

Brian Eno, “The Long Now.”

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World.

 

Key films / television series / etc.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Babylon 5 (1993 – 1998)

The Matrix (1999)

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About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
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One Response to E-Philosophy: A Brief Manifesto

  1. lecox says:

    Great to see you writing again!
    For better or worse, and from where I have reached in life, I cannot fully participate in your new “movement.” Several of those writers and thinkers you mentioned are unknown to me, and I don’t think I’ve read anything written by any of them, not even “1984.” OK – I did watch the Matrix movies!
    Plato: one book. Edward Bellamy, a “Christian Socialist,” and Henry George a turn-of-the-century…”progressive?” These are my “influences,” not counting Hubbard, another self-styled philosopher.
    After an extensive (though not exhaustive) study of Hubbard’s work, attempts to contact others who might be – or should be – interested in his work led me to journeys into the New Age, UFO/ET research, and Secret Space Program exposés.
    I have built from these contacts my own opinion of what I think is going on on Earth, the basics for understanding life, where we have been and where I think we should go. And in my experience, very few people care even a tiny bit that I did this and feel I have accomplished something.
    In a Democracy, policy makers are supposed to represent the majority opinion. But what if the majority doesn’t care? And if we are bombarded every day be technical jargon we don’t understand, world events we can’t control, and accusations we can’t determine the truth of, that’s where most of us will end up; pummeled by “the media” into an apathy about almost everything except maybe our own little life. And that – usually – is not the subject of philosophy!
    I too think we are at a unique place in our history. But I have a different perspective on this, because I have become aware of just how much we have forgotten.
    Every inhabited planet that gets bombed into near-oblivion then left to recover more-or-less on its own goes through the stages we have gone through in our recorded history and prehistory. And now we have reached the point – not quite maybe, but VERY close – to where we can venture out to perhaps bomb some hapless inhabited planet into near-oblivion, as was once (at least once) done to ours.
    But we have forgotten that’s why there were “cave men” here in the distant past. We’ve explained that era away as a “stage in human evolution!” Human evolution be damned! Our kind have basically been devolving for millions of years! We’ve totally forgotten all the technologies we once knew, forced to painfully reinvent them over a period of thousands of years. And we call that evolution?
    Is it time to challenge old dogmas? That time has long since passed. Now, if old dogmas don’t get sufficiently challenged, with enough well-directed force, we could go through a whole new cycle of becoming an “invader” society, taking over other weaker or more peaceful societies in our neighborhood to rob them of their resources so as to feed our insatiable appetite for — invasion. This is one of the oldest stories in this universe. And yes, there are other groups, other planets that are rightfully quite tired of it.
    So we do have a lot of decisions to make.
    The “powers that be” expect us to make the same old decisions we’ve always made. But Earth is kind of a unique place. A lot of us are here (if only we could remember how we got here!) because we wanted a different way. And a different way has been suggested. I wouldn’t be writing this if it hadn’t been! Will enough of us be willing to change course and give it a try?

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