Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Drew Huff: One of Three Philosophers that I Would Like to Meet

Albert Camus was an Algerian man born during the French rule of his home country. He had a childhood without many material possessions and was educated in philosophy after his university football career was ended by tuberculosis. Camus began as a communist but when he was rejected from the party for disagreeing he became an anarchist and sided with them on many issues after. He had two failed marriages, one with several children, due to his lack of apparent ability to maintain a monogamous relationship. Camus was staunchly anti-German in World War II, having seen what resulted from the occupation in France at the time. He also spoke out against totalitarianism. Camus died in 1960 at the age of 46 in a car crash, which also killed his publisher. The crash was briefly suspected by some to be a soviet plot, but many since have dismissed the idea as implausible.
            My interest in Camus began when I first heard ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, one of Camus few nonfiction philosophical writings, read over music. The writing style, in combination with the ideas, interested me immensely. Since then I have done much more research and read more of Albert Camus’ writing, and I have not lost my interest at all. Though I may not agree with much of what Camus says about the practical world, his ideas fascinate me and I would love the opportunity to discuss the m with him if that were at all possible.
             Camus is, though he didn’t like to admit it, an absurdist. This means that Camus believe that we are all trying to find a meaning in the universe as human beings, but there is no meaning that we can possibly ever understand or attain, so we are put in a struggle against the universe that is absurd. The word absurd here does not mean silly or ridiculous as it can in everyday speech, but having no rational relationship. Therefore, according to Camus, we are fighting against the universe in a struggle for information about our own existence that we cannot possibly ever win. But Camus, unlike some of his absurdist counterparts, does not believe that we should go looking for meaning in religion, or that we can simply give up our search. He says in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’:

"Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death, and I refuse suicide."

Camus is saying that he believes we should continue our struggle. Despite the absurdity of our futile attempt to force information from the universe, we should continue this attempt. According to Camus, we should continue our search because we can find happiness in the journey and maybe even meaning in the midst of our struggle.

'All Sisyphus silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. ... The rock is still rolling.'


  1. Since I am unable to post on my own, I will drop my report here.

    Metaphilosophy explained:

    Some of the most important questions philosophy seeks to answer are also some of the simplest. For example: what and why. Philosophers for centuries have been asking these two questions of everything, and this long list does not exclude philosophy itself. Which has led to many a head scratched and beard stroked, and ultimately has left many stumped. So much so in fact, that even one of the most outspoken and bold philosophers of the twentieth century, Nigel Warburton, referred to the issue as, “notoriously difficult”. Thus, a new field of study was founded. This field became known as “Metaphilosophy”, and sought to understand the true nature of what philosophy is and why we should study it in the first place. However, there are still a few, fairly popular, philosophers which think the entire field is bogus. They argue that because a view or idea about metaphilosophy would indeed be labeled a philosophy itself, metaphilosophy must inherently be a part of philosophy just like any other belief. Moreover, some even argue that time spent thinking about what philosophy is, is time wasted which could be spent on discovering truths about the world instead. Even more radically, famous twentieth century philosopher, Gilbert Ryle, said in his work The Concept of Mind, “preoccupation with questions about methods tends to distract us from prosecuting the methods themselves. We run as a rule, worse, not better, if we think a lot about our feet. So let us... not speak of it all but just do it.” Yet, there are still thinkers who argue that it is essential to understand why we philosophize in order to deem it a task worth pursuing. Pragmatists believe that its value comes from its use to help better our lives. Among them, Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian logician, said that paradoxes and logical flaws originated from mistakes in philosophical understanding. He argued that if one simply understood the correct philosophical method, then none of these puzzles would be unsolvable. Therefore, he promoted the idea that there must be a common understanding of a metatheory of philosophy, or a grand idea of how to go about philosophizing. However, even that presupposes an inherent value in the practice of thinking, a value which metaphilosophy seeks to discover whether or not has been misplaced. I would argue that this is the discussion that should be had today. We currently live in a society which promotes science and mathematics far more than any liberal arts fields, and I would argue we live in one which supports the idea that science and mathematics are the fields one needs to study in order to succeed. So it would seem that our current society values philosophy less than it has in the past, which creates a golden opportunity for the people of our time. We can either decide that philosophy is worth pursuing and turn the focus of our society around, or we can declare philosophy as an entirely meaningless pursuit and choose to walk down a path completely devoid of its study.

    1. Philosophers can help make themselves more relevant, too. (My old mentor John Lachs is one who's tried, writing books like "The Relevance of Philosophy for Life.")

      See if you can get a groupmate to post your next installments, Daniel, so you can include links, images, etc.

  2. (Camus was not a native Algerian, of course.)

    If you're interested in Camus, and if you like contemporary literary fiction, read Richard Powers' "Generosity: An Enhancement."

  3. My second installment ( I apologize for it being in comment format again I will make sure to have a groupmate post my next one)

    As mentioned previously, the first half of the metaphilosophical idea is the question “what is philosophy”. The word “philosophy” can be broken into two parts, “philo” and “sophy”, which in Greek means “love of wisdom”. Therefore, at first glance, the question seems simple. But the average person does not think of it as such. No, the common man thinks of philosophy as something else entirely. Philosophy to most appears to be a pedantic questioning of practically everything only practiced by people who don’t bathe regularly and probably have the inability to carry on an average conversation, and indeed 16th century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, did say, “Leisure is the mother of philosophy”. However, upon taking a closer look, it is easy to see that this does not fully encompass the vast reach of philosophy. Philosophy has a much more macro connotation. If one was to refer to an idea related to economics, one would call it a philosophy; if one was to refer to a conjecture about how a government should be run, one would call it a philosophy; if one was to even refer to a religion, another label for it would be a philosophy. Thus, philosophy must be more than just a useless stream of unimportant questions. Philosophy is innate in mankind and is everywhere man is. 18th century philosopher, David Hume, said, “Be a philosopher but, amid all your philosophy be still a man”. Our philosophies are in every action we take and every decision we make. They are the standard by which we judge others, and the rubric by which we conclude what we know. In fact, by recognizing that a people’s governmental, economic, moral, and religious ideas are indeed their philosophies, one might even be so bold as to make the claim that a people’s philosophies are what make up their culture. Nevertheless, ideas do not simply appear. They must be brought into existence through a process of thought, a process which is commonly known as philosophizing. Moreover, if the process of forming ideas is called philosophizing and the ideas which are had are known as philosophies, then it is reasonable to conclude that philosophy is thought itself. The famous 19th century philosopher, William James, summed up this principle with, “Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits”.

  4. I apologize for these being in comments, but I am dumb. And also not an author.

    Rene Descartes

    The second philosopher I would like to mean is Rene Descartes. Descartes was born in France where his mother died shortly after his birth. He was raised by more distant family members until he was sent to a Jesuit college where he learned math and physics. He studied law successfully, according to his fathers wishes, but he quickly abandoned it. Descartes attempted to pursue a military career, studying tactics in the Dutch Army. It was through this that he met several key people and began to study the link between mathematics and physics. He believed strongly that it was necessary to link these two fields. Descartes soon had several visions that he believed to be divine in origin, which led him to create analytical geometry, and applying mathematics to philosophy.
    Descartes applied a logical mathematical way of thinking to his philosophical beliefs. This system lead to his methodological skepticism. Through skeptical view, things are only true if they can be logically be proven to be absolute. Descartes knew that he was thinking beyond any doubt, so the fact that thought existed was the base fact that his conclusions branched from. He then concluded that if he was thinking, he must exist to be able to think. This logic led to his famous statement ‘I think, therefor I am’. According to Descartes the act of doubting ones existence was enough to prove that one does actually exist, for if one does not exist how could one think to doubt ones existence. Though Descartes had confirmed that he did exist, he did not trust his senses to tell him the form that he existed in. Though later, after logically proving to himself that God does exist and is benevolent, Descartes believed that senses could be trusted because they were gifts from a benevolent God who would not deceive his creations. Descartes was a dualist, believing that the mind was a separate entity from the mechanical body, not bound to the laws of the world. He believed, unlike many other dualists before him, that the two parts of human existence could influence each other, not simply one influencing the other. Morally, Descartes believed that we should seek to be virtuous, especially in a mental and spiritual aspect, because the affairs of the mind are much more easily controlled than those of the material world in his opinion. That is to say, you cannot always control what happens to or around you, but you can always control the way you think or feel about it. He sounds like a mother here, telling a child ‘mind over matter’ and that ‘you cant control what other people do but you can control if it upsets you or not’. At least that is what my mother would say.
    The reason that I would like to meet Descartes is to discuss his metaphysical beliefs. I find it to be a stark contrast that a man who believes in only things that can be logically proven and does not even trust his own senses can believe wholly in God. It is perhaps because of this that there is some speculation that Descartes may have faked his Christian beliefs to allow himself an easier life in a time when Christians would have had much more ability and been able to operate with much more ease. Either way, I think exploring the apparent transition in beliefs with the man himself would be quite fascinating,

    That’s all folks, for this part.

  5. Once again, apologies for the comment status of this post.

    In my last installment I would like to discuss the thought of C.S. Lewis on space travel. He held a very interesting view that I would much like to discuss with him, or anyone who holds it. But more on that later.

    C. S. Lewis is best known for his fictional works as an author, but he is also a well know, and in my opinion one of the best, Christian apologists. It is my opinion that if anyone were to hold the ability to convince me whole-heartedly of Christianity (putting aside whatever issues may come with that action) it would be a talk with Lewis (were he alive of course. Or in some form of afterlife, though the chance to have the conversation may be enough. But I digress) It is said that the flip of a coin decided which of the friends, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, would take on the subject of space travel and which would tackle time travel in their works. Obviously, since it is the subject of this post, Lewis was dealt space travel. As a devout Christian he has an interesting view on travel into space and our quest to find life, he supports it.

    Lewis, unlike many other people who hold similar beliefs, believes that we should endeavor to explore space, at least that is what he appears to believe from his writings. But when asked about it he places some conditions on his support. Lewis thinks that we, as humans, are the chosen people of God, and that we are placed above animals to keep them. We all know the story of Adam naming the animals. But, should we encounter extraterrestrial animal life, specifically intelligent life (plant life is of no concern because as far as Christianity is concerned plants don’t have souls and therefor have nothing to save and/or corrupt) Lewis believes that we would do nothing but harm to that life. After all, who can disagree? With all the destruction and evil that is in our own world currently, how can we expect to interact with another with no negative consequences? Lewis offers instead that once the world ‘gets right with the Lord’ to use the southern way that I always heard it, that we would be right to reach out to other life because we might convert that life to Christianity, thus saving it.

    I have gotten far too distracted in reading about Lewis and others like him (or against him). But The reason that I chose Lewis as my final person I would like to meet, is that in my experience he is much more logical and open in his defense of Christianity, something that I find refreshing in a land too often comprised of stereotypically self proving and circular arguments.

    So, go read all of the philosophers I have posted about, Camus, Descartes, and Lewis. I may not agree with them very often, but they are all interesting and thought provoking in my opinion. But then again who am I? Or, after this class, Am I?

    Thanks for reading, Drew

    1. "the southern way that I always heard it, that we would be right to reach out to other life because we might convert that life to Christianity" - this patronizing "way" is unfair to all the modest and pluralistic southerners I've met who would consider this form of "reaching out" an aggression and an insult both to other cultures & traditions and to individual autonomy. "Live & let live" is much better than "live and proselytize."

  6. The second fundamental question of metaphilosophy is “why”. Arguably, it is the more important question of the two. After all, if philosophizing truly has no value then why even waste time identifying its parameters. Moreover, a splendid bassoonist, from a symphony I used to perform with, once told me he believed that philosophy in no way physically benefitted society, and thus philosophers were simply leeches. As the math and science fields take over the focus of the world, I think this may be a growing trend of thought. However, even the most ancient thinkers have disagreed with this view. In fact, on the opposite end, there are some thinkers who believed that one can achieve an absolute understanding of the world from the comfort of one’s own armchair. Most notably, G. W. F. Hegel said, “What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational,” arguing that the value of philosophy comes from its ability to ascertain the true nature of things simply by thinking of them. Truth, being the object of interest in both the math and the science fields as well, seems to be an inherently worthy goal for all fields. Nevertheless, for most this idea of armchair philosophy seems a bit extreme at best and absolutely insane at worst. Thus, a new, more moderate, view sprung up in the 19th century, pragmatism. Pragmatism is the idea that the value or truth of an idea comes from its practical success. It seems to be an interesting neutral state that doesn’t commit absolutely to the abstract, however still holds value in its presence. This view has also been broken up between fields. For fields such as ethics, value is deduced from the application of said ethic. For epistemology, value is deduced by observing the world to see if it supports the model suggested. A famous 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, once said, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence,” to support this claim. Yet, as I mentioned in a previous post, since philosophy is synonymous with thought I feel like pragmatism isn’t quite all encompassing. If one values thinking as a game to bring them joy, such as with riddles or puzzles, then that seems to hold as much value as a sport, music, or any other form of entertainment, its practical worth notwithstanding. Therefore, I believe that philosophy in all its forms holds value to the thinker. From economics, to ethics, to entertainment, philosophizing is a task worth anyone’s time, and is certainly worth making a hobby or job out of.

    Thank you for your time, Daniel

  7. "a splendid bassoonist, from a symphony I used to perform with, once told me he believed that philosophy in no way physically benefitted society, and thus philosophers were simply leeches." - With due respect to all splendid bassoonists, I'm not aware that any of them has ever "physically benefited" me more tangibly than I've ever benefited a bassoonist. But I'm glad there are bassoonists in the world, and consider it richer for them. I've probably at some point in my lifetime enjoyed symphonic music that would have suffered, in ways beyond articulation, from the bassoonists' absence. Perhaps your friend might allow that philosophers have similarly contributed to the world's total richness, in ways he or she cannot articulate. If in fact your friend is a reader and thinker, he or she must also allow that philosophers' contributions are quite palpable - not only as represented on library shelves, but more importantly in the physical lives of other readers and thinkers. Off the top of my head, I can't name the bassoonists' equivalents of Aristotle, Montaigne, Hume, Mill, or James. But I wouldn't presume to suppose that your friend, merely by association with a relatively-anonymous community of musicians, was therefore a leech.

    (Skipping other provocations...)

    "philosophy is synonymous with thought" - no, philosophy is synonymous with the love of wisdom. For some of us, at least, that's a wider field than "thought"...

    "philosophy in all its forms holds value to the thinker" - Any actual thinker will discriminate between the forms of philosophy that "hold value" for him or her, and those that don't. Reasonable thinkers will differ on this.

    I may be misunderstanding your intent, but it sounds like you wish to lump philosophy with games, puzzles, sports, and music. I do not wish to denigrate any of those activities, all of which I personally indulge and enjoy, but I can tell you that for me philosophy is much more than any of those categories alone seems to imply. It is an "encompassing" way of life, and (again) it involves a great deal more than merely "thinking."

    Or so I think, at the moment.

    If I've misconstrued your (or your friend's) intentions here, please set me straight.