Monday, December 26, 2016

3.  Real Practicality

Theory and practice are commonly treated as opposed, with the pragmatist derided as dispensing with long term goals and abstract moral principles in favor of short term, dubious advantages.  Or more favorably, practical matters may be described as applications of important general principles to specific cases, where principles still govern the needs for action and the practical details are minor factors.  Both these positions omit what is proposed as new here, and more realistic, the complexity of practical matters being subject to many principles and special principles of complexity not treated much in philosophy  (though not as obscure as found in advanced mathematics).  What treatment there is can be very obscure.

Philosophers have claimed wisdom superior to traditional ideas and common sense from the beginning, using more abstract concepts.  The appeal is enhanced by the example of science, discarding primitive ideas of the flat earth or geocentric astronomy in favor of more advanced theories.  Yet science adds empirically proven detail to knowledge, while philosophy, especially in the modern skeptical age, is purely negative, proving various ideas false, while adding nothing much to replace them.  In ancient times such arguments were offered by Sophists known for posing puzzles for sheer curiosity.  Sophistry came to be seen as useless skepticism, even trickery (easily observed today in political punditry).

When a complex situation is addressed with common sense and empirical experience, all the principles involved may not be expressed explicitly and simpler general concepts such as cause and effect or freedom can be used as labels to identify phenomena known intuitively, but not fully described.  The well understood principles involded serve as handy labels for the more complex substance not yet made explicit (what philosophy is supposedly for).  Science is hardly devoid of principles but develops a lot of concepts, elemental constituents of existence, with some intricacy.  Yes, there are elemental forms of matter, but over a hundred chemical elements compared to the poetic ancient four, earth, air, fire and water.   Personal responsibility for choices is treated in philosophy most often with reference to moral values, very abstract ideals, moral responsibility instead of cognitive responsibility, while the personal role in affairs is encountered eveywhere in all the mundane, practical matters of life.  Those practical matters include all the intellectual work done advancing science and technology central to human life today, in the industrial economy far removed from days of agriculture's dominance.  In all such practical affairs choices are made just as much as over moral issues, and there is no reason not to examine the mental actions involved in such choice to understand responsibiity in a personal sense.  Moral choices are then just more instances of the same kind of activity, just in this realm of high minded ideals and important social issues.

The most popular advocate of Compatibilism does not even emphasize that term and discusses more specific mental abilities in a famous work by philosopher of science Daniel Dennett, "Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting".   Here the indeterminism side of the paradox is heavily exposed as a loss of control, not worth wanting, compared to some magically enhanced type.  Yet exactly why personal responsibility is an important value seems left to intuition.  Dennett does introduce a potentially useful consideration, that free will and responsibility serve a purpose, in practical matters  -- are worth wanting.  How purposes are pursued in practice, the actual means available with intelligence, is the focus of the present work here.

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