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We Need More Philosophers
Do you live by a moral code?
Not enough people today think in terms of what’s right. What ought to be. What’s just.
Many of us have lost our principles if we even had them in the first place. Instead, we’re often obsessed with status or positioning in life.
Power. Money. Fame.
Few consider, for example, Aristotle’s conception of the good life. He described it as Eudaimonia, often translated to mean “happiness” or “human flourishing.”
We need more people to think philosophically in these terms.
We need more people to have a conception of the good life, or at the very least, a moral code.
We need more philosophers.
Politics: Where philosophers are needed the most
This past week I was struck by MAGA Republicans turning a blind eye to the allegations against Ken Paxton, the currently suspended Texas Attorney General. Despite thousands of pages of evidence suggesting otherwise, MAGA Republicans supported Paxton in arguing that there is a broad Democrat and RINO (“Republican In Name Only”) conspiracy against him.
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As I explained in this article, anyone who blindly supports Ken Paxton has lost their soul. MAGA’s seemingly blind support also sets a dangerous precedent that MAGA loyalists can act with impunity so long as their party has power. It will only get worse if people like Paxton are not held accountable.
Many of the same arguments can be made against Donald Trump. To be clear, I’m skeptical that all four indictments currently pending against him are necessary (the Stormy Daniels case, for example, seems very politically motivated). However, to dismiss all of them, especially the January 6 related indictments, is extreme willful blindness.
Anyone that willfully blind lacks principles.
Instead of placing the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution above all else, Republicans of the MAGA variety continue to place party, loyalty, and power above everything. Their consistent threats and warnings of Civil War and violence are direct flirtations with fascism.
There are many problems on the American left politically (just look at San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle), but the right consistently has far more threats and acts of violence.
“[I]t is vital to recognize that in recent years violence linked to white supremacist, anti-government, and other causes lumped under the label “right-wing” have proven far more lethal and more politically consequential.” - Daniel Byman, Brookings
Perhaps more philosophically-minded people in U.S. politics would mitigate these problems. We need people who place principles and the basics of right and wrong above cravings for power and prestige.
The good news is that each of us can play a role in achieving this type of society. One that has a common set of principles. A common reality. A common goal and purpose.
Our biggest problem, not only in America but in other regions of the world, is that we don’t even agree on these first principles. We have allowed too many demagogues to gain power, which in turn, has inspired many imitators to seek it as well (see Vivek Ramaswamy).
A citizenry with more philosophers who are thoughtful about principles and morality, not simply what their preferred political party says, can make this ideal reality happen. They would in turn elect leaders who reflect their common principles and morality.
The good thing about politics, at least in the United States is that these principles are already provided. The U.S. Constitution has worked reasonably well for nearly 250 years. The problem is that many religious and partisan forces have been allowed to take control.
We need a reset to our first principles.
In other parts of society, we need to define these principles, making philosophers more important than ever.
Artificial intelligence and the desperate need for philosophers
A few months ago - while the world was buzzing about artificial intelligence (AI) - I said that we need philosophers in the development of AI just as much as we need software developers.
“Most argue AI involves engineering problems. I argue its biggest problems are philosophical. Current forms of generative AI are being designed with creativity in mind. From Midjourney to Stable Diffusion, ChatGPT to Bard, people are prompting AI tools to create art. Whether that’s images, poetry, novels, song lyrics, you name it. But are these tools truly creative in the human sense? Could they ever be? Not under the current approach. If we truly want AI to be intelligent, its thinking cannot be contained by predetermined constraints. Content moderation. Trust and safety. Whatever buzzwords you want to use, all of these AI tools have some form of oversight. And they arguably need more. This is precisely why we need to be clear from the onset how we view these systems. Do we view them as just tools? Or something more, like a research assistant, editor, or friend you don’t have? By programming predetermined constraints, we’re engineering away the most basic human attribute: unbounded creativity.
So philosophically we need to first ask ourselves: do we want AI tools or machines that can completely think like people with no check on their creativity or expression, or are we concerned with the content those tools or machines might produce if left unchecked? For practical reasons, I’m squarely in the latter group. But I also acknowledge that removing predetermined constraints could lead to exponential growth and innovation that may have net benefits to humanity. Think of the ideas, art, and other forms of expression generative AI could create if allowed to operate completely unleashed.”
Individually we could all use more philosophy in our lives
Do you struggle to find happiness or fulfillment in your own life?
Instead of reading cheap self-help articles online or in books by some 21st-century guru, return to the classics. Apply those lessons to your 21st-century life.
Start with Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. It’s one of the greatest accounts of happiness and ethics the world has ever seen. Still to this day!
If more of us study and live philosophy, we’ll not only be more inquisitive and judicious in daily life, but we’ll be more principled and arguably moral too.
As a result, we’ll demand our politicians and software engineers act the same.
In a world that’s increasingly dismissive of liberal arts like philosophy, maybe it’s the perfect antidote to humanity’s current ailments.