Philosophy

Philosophy is a broad subject, and I do not intend to do address all of its branches. Instead, I will focus fairly narrowly on Philosophy of Life. This is not necessarily a Monte Python bit: in universities it is offered as Moral and Ethical Philosophy, tracing its recorded roots back to Ancient Greece in the West, and even earlier in the Orient. Through the work of Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes and others, it has been the basis for many of our liberalizing movements.

Perhaps driven too hard to emulate the practice of the sciences, recently philosophy has become more concerned with truth than with facilitation. This work takes the opposite tack. As discussed under paradigms and psychology, our perceptions of the world control our possibilities.

The great challenge of our times is integration. In America, this has been a primary political focus for the last 50 years. It reflects the dynamic of internal diversity, fed historically by immigration, which continues to broaden America's culture. The reality, however, is that the means that has allowed people to move across borders extends into the realm of commerce, including the flow of ideas and technology. America's openness makes it the trailblazer for globalization, but the reality is that integration and diversity are the drivers of world history.

Social Darwinism supports a dialectic of imposition and assimilation: one or another social system is presumed to be "better" than the others, and the expectation is that others will eventually submit to its example. History shows that the process is not so neat. Societies lose their liberalizing force when the populace is no longer able to negotiate transparently with the government. The leaders and the led take up existence in different realities, and eventually are unable to sustain the effort required to maintain, much less improve, the social condition.

The witticism "England and America are two great nations divided by a common language" cautions us that words, even when sensibly interpreted by the hearer, can be subjected to misinterpretation. We can all appreciate how much more difficult it is to negotiate successfully with people who speak another language.

In the midst of all of this embedded complexity, it behooves us to simplify the terms of discussion. Moral and Ethical Philosophy, in its finest application, helps us to clarify meaning, the more successfully to negotiate our futures together. In doing this, though, we face the quandary of meaning: if we restrict the terms of debate, we restrict the types of economic, social and governmental systems we can describe. If so, how can we successfully explain our motivations and aspirations to those living in different systems? Conversely, the more we expand the scope of discussion, the less certain can we be that the words we use will mean the same thing to all of the stakeholders in the debate. How can we negotiate if the discussion itself is guaranteed to cause confusion?