At first glance, it seems like the term “Applied Philosophy” ought to be redundant, and I agree: it ought to be. However, much philosophical writing and teaching since the European Renaissance has grown abstract from problems that ancient philosophy used to address: how to live well. I don’t intend that all philosophy for the last 600 years has been little more than mathematics without the math, but the problems one finds discussed in philosophical journals seem a far cry from the questions analyzed in Plato’s dialogues.
Perhaps my discontent with the topics of contemporary philosophy stem from the book I’m currently reading: An Introduction to Hellenic Philosophy. It surveys source texts and commentaries about the Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics in Hellenic Greece. For the most part, these Philosophical schools sought the meaning of life as the goal of philosophy, as well as philosophy as a method for attaining that goal. These folks sought the betterment of human life as the result of a deductive argument or analogy, rather than the publication of a paper or a citation by another academic philosopher.
However, it’s true there were the equivalent of academic debates among the Hellenic philosophers. The Stoics and Skeptics went many rounds regarding the types of valid perception or conception, and the debate has spilled over into later centuries as well — although, like politics, the names of the competing parties have changed over time. Nevertheless, each school sought a better life for each student.
I’m not certain that contemporary philosophy can claim the same noble goal, but I’m making the claim anew. There is much content ripe for bricolage in the wake of centuries’ worth of philosophical writing. I intend to assemble some pieces into a heuristic system, which seeks to provide a better way of living for those inclined to hear me out.
One fault of many philosophical systems, such as those of Ancient Greece, was their attempt to be comprehensive in attempting to answer every objection laid before them. The deification of rationality is a fault, I believe. This deification of logical consistency distracts philosophers from the goal of providing a better way of life, leading them astray into academic arguments about whether colors are real or just perceptions of some underlying substratum that is more real than the perceived color. It brings philosophy too close to televised political debates, when it ought to be generating productive heuristics.
A heuristic is a rule that seeks to resolve the most common problems encountered by a system. By definition it will not provide answers to all contingencies, because doing so assumes that the heuristic’s author knows all the contingencies. This assumes too much of human beings, or perhaps, it is too generous towards our knowledge about the world and our ability to navigate through it successfully.
I’ll develop this heuristic system in upcoming posts.