Some time ago now I tried an interactive approach to a presentation I gave for the Unitarian fellowship. It took a bit of prodding, but soon the responses started coming and we had a good discussion. I hope we can discuss these ideas here too.
Here are the notes for the presentation:
What is Philosophy good for?
Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one’s ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one’s sense of the meaning and varieties of human experience.
Philosophy is the systematic study of ideas and issues, a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for a comprehensive understanding of the world, a study of principles of conduct, and much more. Every domain of human existence raises questions to which its techniques and theories apply, and its methods may be used in the study of any subject or the pursuit of any vocation. Indeed, philosophy is in a sense inescapable: life confronts every thoughtful person with some philosophical questions, and nearly everyone is often guided by philosophical assumptions, even if unconsciously. One need not be unprepared. To a large extent one can choose how reflective one will be in clarifying and developing one’s philosophical assumptions, and how well prepared one is for the philosophical questions life presents. Philosophical training enhances our problem-solving capacities, our abilities to understand and express ideas, and our persuasive powers. It also develops understanding and enjoyment of things whose absence impoverishes many lives: such things as aesthetic experience, communication with many different kinds of people, lively discussion of current issues, the discerning observation of human behavior, and intellectual zest. In these and other ways the study of philosophy contributes immeasurably in both academic and other pursuits.
Today I would like to engage you in a conversation, a sort of interactive sermon. I’ll begin by asking you to respond to a few quotations. Something like this read from a printed book:
Assertion: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
Answer: The Lord thy God is a jealous God.
No, not like that. That comes from my childhood memories of the Lutheran Church. (I remember asking the pastor what God could possibly be jealous of, and he responded “Just read the response; don’t ask questions!”) The catechism had all the answers in a scripted text where even the questions were closed. So, today, unlike the old fashioned readings where the congregation’s responses are written down to be recited in unison, I’ll ask for individual responses, extemporaneous responses. I have every reason to believe that this approach will prove fruitful with a thoughtful group of Unitarians.
Need or want to listen to some philosophy? Excellent series from King’s College London. Click on image above!
Don’t have time right now?
by Stephen Cave
Nathalie was hemorrhaging badly. She felt weak, cold, and the pain in her abdomen was excruciating. A nurse ran out to fetch the doctor, but by the time they arrived she knew she was slipping away. The doctor was shouting instructions when quite suddenly the pain stopped. She felt free—and found herself floating above the drama, looking down at the bustle of activity around her now still body.
“We’ve lost her,” she heard the doctor say, but Nathalie was already moving on and upwards, into a tunnel of light. She first felt a pang of anxiety at leaving her husband and children, but it was soon overwhelmed by a feeling of profound peace; a feeling that it would all be okay. At the end of the tunnel, a figure of pure radiance was waiting with arms wide open.
This, or something like it, is how millions imagine what it will be like to die. In 2009, over 70 percent of Americans said they believe that they, like Nathalie, have a soul that will survive the end of their body.1 That figure may well now be higher after the phenomenal success of two recent books describing vivid near death experiences: one from an innocent—the four year old Todd Burpo—the other from the opposite: a Harvard scientist and former skeptic, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander.2 Both argue that when their brains stopped working, their souls floated off to experience a better place.
The Fifth Online Consciousness Conference will begin on Friday, February 15th and will run through Friday March 1st. Most of the papers are now available to read ahead of the conference to facilitate discussion and can be found by going to the program page: http://consciousnessonline.com/program-2013/
Please help me spread the word by forwarding this to anyone who may be interested or any lists you may be on. Thanks and hope to see you online!
The Online Consciousness Conference