Six Studies in The Decline and Fall of Professional Academic Philosophy, And A Real and Relevant Alternative, #8–The Alternative: Life-Shaping Philosophy.
By Robert Hanna
There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates…. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. (Thoreau, 1957: p. 9)
Contemporary professional academic philosophy is careerist, conformist, coercive-&-authoritarian within its own social-institutional sphere, dogmatic, esoteric, hyper-specialized, and above all, irrelevant to the true needs of the rest of humanity outside the professional academy, even to the point of being fundamentally at odds with those needs. Although, as Kant, Schopenhauer, Thoreau, and Dewey all pointed out, these problems have been perennial since the emergence of professional academic philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries–“there are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers” (Thoreau)–they have currently reached their final crisis stage. To demonstrate this, I present six short studies in the decline and fall of 20th and 21st century professional academic philosophy, describing the going-down of post-classical Analytic philosophy–together with its social-institutional Other, so-called “Continental philosophy”–into the ash-heap of history, with social justice theorists and identitarian multiculturalists coercively-&-moralistically presiding over its cognitive collapse and suicide. But all is not lost. I also present an alternative model of philosophy–which I call “life-shaping philosophy”–that’s (i) real, i.e., authentic and serious, pursuing and practicing philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling, as sharply opposed to its being job-oriented, half-hearted, and Scholastically superficial, (ii) fully relevant-to-humanity by virtue of its being intellectually, morally, and politically autonomous, critical, collaborative, and creative, and that (iii) not only can but should be pursued and practiced outside the professional academy.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VIII. A Real and Relevant Alternative: Life-Shaping Philosophy
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VIII. A Real and Relevant Alternative: Life-Shaping Philosophy
As I noted in section I, and in view of the six short critical studies I’ve just presented, it’s an accurate and serious criticism of 21st century professional academic philosophy — and indeed also a perennial problem for professional academic philosophy since the 18th century — that it’s essentially irrelevant to humanity, in the strong sense that it’s alienated and insulated from the basic beliefs, concerns, needs, and activities of the rest of humanity outside the professional academy, even to the point, nowadays, of being fundamentally theoretically, emotionally, morally, and/or sociopolitically at odds with the rest of humanity.
Now, a standard response to the essential-irrelevance-to-humanity problem that’s been proposed by recent and contemporary professional academic philosophers, is to wheel out what they call “public philosophy” and “popular philosophy”:
Philosophical practice is a public good and should therefore be practiced in and with various publics. Public philosophy is philosophy that has the explicit aim of benefiting public life. Public philosophy should be liberatory, i.e., it should assist and empower those who are most vulnerable and suffer injustice, particularly through a critical analysis of power structures. (Meagher and Feder, 2010: p. 9)
A civilized society has popular philosophy just as it has popular physics, popular psychology, popular history… So, one might expect the relation between popular and academic philosophy to resemble the corresponding relations for other disciplines. Thus, popular philosophy would communicate recent research in academic philosophy to a wider audience. (Williamson, 2020)
I’ve critically examined public philosophy and popular philosophy elsewhere (Hanna, 2018e, 2020c), so I won’t repeat that critical examination here. Instead, I want to present an alternative to public philosophy and popular philosophy alike, life-shaping philosophy, in the concrete format of a collaborative philosophical project called The Shape of Lives to Come, that’s not only specifically designed to be essentially-relevant-to-humanity, but also doesn’t presuppose that philosophy must be or even ought to be conducted and pursued in a way that’s dependent upon or inside either the ivory bunker of contemporary professional academic philosophy in particular or the social institution of professional academic philosophy more generally. On the contrary, life-shaping philosophy in the concrete format of The Shape of Lives to Come project is specifically designed to be conducted and pursued independently and outside of professional academic philosophy.
The name of the project is a play on the title of H.G. Wells’s 1933 classic futurological science-fiction novel, The Shape of Things to Come, shortly thereafter made into a spectacular movie produced by Alexander Korda, Things to Come, in 1936. The Shape of Lives to Come project has four parts.
The first part of the project is a comprehensive fusion of philosophy of mind-&-cognition and sociopolitical theory, called the mind-body politic (Maiese and Hanna, 2019), which has seven basic theses.
1. Human minds are necessarily and completely embodied, and identical to the complex dynamic intentional-action-guiding structures of suitably complex living organisms, i.e., human animals (the essential embodiment thesis) (Hanna and Maiese, 2009).
2. As essentially embodied and inherently dynamic, human minds are also inherently enactive and environmentally embedded (the enactivity-and-embeddedness thesis) (Hanna and Maiese, 2009).
3. Human animals are, necessarily, social animals (the human sociality thesis) (Maiese and Hanna, 2019; Hanna, 2021f).
4. Social institutions partially determine and form our essentially embodied minds, and thereby substantially affect and guide our human lives (the mind-shaping thesis) (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: ch. 2).
5. There is a fundamental distinction between (5.1) destructive, deforming social institutions that frustrate and warp true human needs, and (5.2) constructive, enabling social institutions that satisfy and sustain true human needs (the two-kinds-of-social-institutions thesis) (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: chs. 2–3 and 6–8).
6. Enacting salient changes in the structure and complex dynamics of a social institution produces corresponding salient changes in the structure and complex dynamics of the essentially embodied minds of the participants, for better or worse (the enactive-transformative thesis) (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: chs. 2–3 and 6–8).
7. Although destructive, deforming social institutions shape human minds and human lives in an inherently bad/oppressive, unhealthy, and enslaving/heteronomous way, nevertheless it is also possible to devolve such institutions and also simultaneously to create constructive, enabling social institutions that are inherently good/non-oppressive, healthy, and emancipatory/autonomous (the social devolution-social creation thesis) (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: chs. 2–3 and 6–8; Hanna, 2018d: esp. parts 2–3).
The second part of The Shape of Lives to Come project is a synoptic philosophy of human civilization since 1900, that presents and defends a categorical distinction between the mechanistic worldview and the neo-organicist worldview (Torday, Miller Jr, and Hanna, 2020; Hanna and Paans, 2020, 2021, 2022; Hanna, 2022a, 2022b).
In order to understand this categorical distinction, here’s a fairly precise definition we’ll need as we go forward:
Anything Xis a natural automaton, or natural machine, if and only if (i) X is constituted by an ordered set of causally-efficacious behaviors, functions, and operations (aka “causal powers”), (ii) the causal powers of X are necessarily determined by all the settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially including The Big Bang, together with all the general deterministic or indeterministic causal laws of nature, especially including the Conservation Laws and The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and (iii) X’s causal powers and their quantitative properties are all inherently effectively decidable, recursive, or Turing-computable, given two further plausible assumptions to the effect that (iiia) the causal powers of any real-world Turing machine are held fixed under our general causal laws of nature, and (iiib) the “digits” over which the real-world Turing machine computes constitute a complete set of mathematically denumerable (that is, non-real-number, non-complex-number, non-transfinite) quantities, that is, spatiotemporally discrete, physical objects.
Otherwise put, anything is a natural automaton or natural machine if and only if it’s necessarily determined by the Conservation Laws and The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, together with all the settled quantity-of-energy facts about the past, and its quantitative properties are all entropic and Turing-computable from those laws and facts. So anything is a natural automaton or natural machine if and only if it is inherently governed by the Conservation Laws, entropy, and Turing-computable algorithms. Correspondingly, the mechanistic worldview says that everything whatsoever in the world, including all human activity, is fully and ultimately explicable by mechanical principles alone, including principles of computability and/or mathematical physics, including chemistry, and biology insofar as it is reducible to physics and chemistry. In turn, and more specifically, the mechanistic worldview consists in the conjunction of three somewhat distinct but logically nested theses: (i) formal mechanism, applied to mathematics, logic, truth, and knowledge more generally, namely the theory of computability and recursive functions, including decidability (Turing, 1936/1937; Boolos and Jeffrey, 1989) (ii) natural mechanism, which applies the notion of a natural automaton or natural machine, as per the description immediately above, to everything in the material or physical world (see also Hanna, 2018b: esp. ch. 2), and (iii) scientific naturalism, applied to everything in the world, including all human activity, which includes formal and natural mechanism, scientism (i.e., the valorization of the formal and/or natural sciences and their methods), empiricism, and materialist/ physicalist metaphysics (i.e., everything in the world is either identical to or necessarily dependent on fundamentally physical contingent facts) (Sellars, 1963b. 1963c).
By a diametric oppositional contrast to a natural automaton or natural machine, anything is organic if and only if it’s not a natural mechanism, and has an inherently processual, purposive, and self-organizing dynamics that dissipates entropy (i.e., creates negentropy by spontaneously restructuring matter and energy), running from The Big Bang Singularity forward, via temporally asymmetric or unidirectional energy flows, to organismic life, and then on to conscious mind in general and to rational human conscious mind in particular. The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines “organism” as follows:
1 a living individual consisting of a single cell or of a group of interdependent parts sharing the life processes. 2a an individual live plant or animal. 2b the material structure of this. 3 a whole with interdependent parts compared to a living being. (Hawkins and Allen, 1991: p. 1024)
Correspondingly, and consistently with that, by an organism, I mean an inherently processual, purposive, and self-organizing entity with any of the basic features listed in the three-part OEED definition. Then, according to the neo-organicist worldview, everything whatsoever in the manifestly real world, including ourselves, is either (i) a simple or complex organism, or (ii) a society of organisms, or (iii) a proper part of an organism or a society of organisms, or (iv) an immanent or intrinsic structural property of an organism or society of organisms, or (v) a causal product or byproduct of an organism or society of organisms, or (vi) necessarily dependent on an organism or a society of organisms, or (vii) ecosystemic or proto-organismic in that it belongs to the set of actual conditions under which an organism or society of organisms emerges or operates, or (viii) inherently analogous or homologous to an organism or society of organisms. More generally, the neo-organicist worldview says that there’s a single, unbroken metaphysical continuity between The Big Bang Singularity, temporally asymmetric/unidirectional energy flows, organismic life, conscious mind in general, and rational human conscious mind in particular, and also that anything inherently belonging to this continuity is organic in its nature and structure.
The third part of The Shape of Lives to Come project is a dual application of the mind-body politic together with the mechanistic worldview vs. neo-organicist worldview distinction, to the philosophy and psychology of human thinking, the theory of thought-shapers (TTS), as per section V above (Hanna and Paans, 2021, 2022). TTS applies the categorical distinction between (i) mechanical (i.e., computable/ recursive, entropic, and deterministic or indeterministic) systems, and (ii) organic (i.e., uncomputable/processual, negentropic, purposive, and self-organizing) systems, to fundamental issues in the philosophy of mind and cognition, with comprehensive application to the nature of human thinking in the formal and natural sciences, the applied arts and fine arts, morality, and sociopolitics, as well as in philosophy. As we’ll recall, correspondingly, TTS says that all human thinking is really possible only insofar as it’s partially causally determined, formed, and normatively guided by either (i) mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers in a bad, false, and wrong way, or (ii) organic, generative thought-shapers in a good, true, and right way. This is the strong version of the thought-shaper thesis.
In addition to the strong version of the thought-shaper thesis, however, and for the specific purposes of the fourth part of The Shape of Lives to Come project, what’s of direct and principal relevance is the truth or falsity of a weak version of the thought-shaper thesis, which says that at least some human thinking in contemporary formal or natural sciences, applied or fine arts, morality, sociopolitics, or philosophy, is actually partially causally determined, formed, and normatively guided by at least some mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers or organic, generative thought-shapers, for better or worse. The real-world importance of the weak version of the thought-shaper thesis is twofold: (i) that it is empirically testable by means of scientific psychological studies, and (ii) that at least in principle, it could be implemented in contemporary human moral life, philosophy, science, art/aesthetics, society, and politics in such a way as to bring about some genuine improvement and progress in human thinking, that could be applied to contemporary moral, philosophical, scientific, or artistic/aesthetic problems, or to contemporary sociopolitical problems, by helping or priming people to substitute organic, generative thought-shapers for mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers in their own actual thinking processes. Indeed, it’s precisely the possibility of such genuine improvement and progress in human thinking that directly connects The Shape of Lives to Come project with the themes of Wells’s futurological novel — even though, ironically enough, Wells himself was committed to a version of the mechanistic worldview.
Now, the strong and/or weak versions of the thought-shaper thesis, together with the empirical tests and in-principle implementations of the weak version of the thesis, is the same as TTS. Moreover, since language is a human social institution and since all human thinking proceeds by means of language, then TTS falls directly under the mind-body politic; and if the mind-body politic is true, then both mind-shaping inside social institutions and also thought-shaping in individuals and groups, alike, are forms of human life-shaping. So, against the larger backdrop of the mind-body politic and the categorical distinction between the mechanistic worldview and the neo-organicist worldview, the specific question addressed by the fourth part of The Shape of Lives to Come project is: Is TTS cogent and true, or not?
Correspondingly, one way of experimentally testing TTS would be to isolate and track the differences between mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers and organic, generative thought-shapers in people’s thinking in the larger context of the social institutions to which they belong, by starting out with two sets of people, (i) those who belong to some (by hypothesis) destructive, deforming social institution and (ii) those who belong to some (by hypothesis) constructive, enabling social institution, and then (iii) asking the members of each group to respond by telling the experimenters — either verbally, by free-hand sketches, by selecting from an array of diagrams presented to them, or by mentioning the titles of books, movies, TV programs, etc. — what spontaneously and unreflectively pops into their minds as mental representations of allegories, analogies, blueprints, catechisms, diagrams, displays, icons, images, lay-outs, metaphors, mnemonics, models, outlines, parables, pictures, scenarios, schemata, sketches, spreadsheets, stereotypes, symbols, tableaux, and templates, and so-on, when they hear or read words or phrases like “life,” “death,” “good,” “evil,” “right,” “wrong,” “true,” “false,“ “reality,” “appearance,” “consistent,” “inconsistent,” “follows from,” “does not follow from,” “fallacious,” “paradoxical,” “evidence,” “counter-evidence,” “meaningful,” “meaningless,” “authentic,” “inauthentic,” “virtuous,” “vicious,” “dignity,” “justice,” “identity,” “equality,” “inequality,” “oppression,” “authoritarianism,” “coercion,” “beautiful,” “ugly,” “free will,“ “nature,” “organism,” “machine,” “health,” “illness,” “sanity,” “insanity,” “mind,” “body,” “consciousness,” “rationality,” “desire,” “emotion,” “happiness,” “unhappiness,” “pleasure,” “pain,” “enjoyment,” “suffering,” “work,” “play,” “leisure,” “person,” “people,” “humanity,” “poverty,” “wealth,” “capitalism,” “democracy,” “tyranny,“ “socialism,” “anarchism,” “law,” “political liberty,” “society,” “government,” and so-on. Other possible experiments could test for the cognitive impacts of thought-shapers on the roles of these and similar concept-terms in thoughts expressed by inner speech, outer speech, and beliefs. At least in principle, these responses and cognitive impacts could also be paired with simultaneous neuroimaging (Amit, Hoeflin, Hamzah, and Federenko, 2017). The response-data, impact-data, and neuroimaging data could then be collected, organized, and critically analyzed, with an eye to (i) determining the truth or falsity of TTS, and (ii) if TTS is true, then making some specific, useful proposals or suggestions to make about (iia) how people can start to think critically and also creatively about their own shaped thinking in moral life, philosophy, science, art/aesthetics, society, or politics, as a form of self-education, self-help, or self-transformation, and also (iib) at the same time how people can start to think critically and also creatively about devolving-&-exiting existing destructive, deforming social institutions, together with designing-&-implementing new constructive, enabling social institutions.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 655
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 11 April 2022
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