A Philosophy of Philosophy
By: Barry Belmont

Philosophy is but a useful shorthand logic for complex things. For instance, when we libertarians talk about “liberty” it’s not that we think there is an actual “thing” that exists in the real world that is “liberty.” By liberty we simply mean a collection of behaviors and actions that follow this, this, and this premise and have these 1, 2, and 3 properties. To constantly have to refer to these premises and properties over and over would become tiresome so we nail down a few key things and we bundle them up in a little package and call it liberty.

It is the role of philosophy to take these complexities and reduce them to manageable bits that can be easily manipulated, derived, modified, and understood. When we refer to a philosophy of liberty what we are saying is that liberty (with these given properties and what not) can be best gotten by X, Y, and Z means and these means are justifiable under the premises originally espoused. In essence, philosophy is a fancy form of logical bookkeeping.

But we would be remiss to actual confuse the concept of ‘liberty’or the ‘philosophy’ of liberty as anything that actually exists within the real world. To clarify, consider the concept of “happiness.” Happiness corresponds to a certain set of brain states with neurochemical realities. But, as with liberty, to constantly refer back to action potentials when discussing how happiness is best achieved or understood would cripplingly limit the conversation. So instead we refer to these physical, real brain states as “happiness” and add a useful — if ultimately fictitious — framework around them to help move the discussion along. However, this does not mean that there actually is now such a “thing” as happiness, it’s just shorthand for actual things.

To clarify even further, imagine I defined the pattern across the globe created by people eating tangerines at this moment as a Flapperdoodle. Flapperdoodle’s don’t suddenly develop a nature outside of the complex global action of eating tangerines. At base there really is no such thing as a Flapperdoodle. Just as there is no such thing as happiness or liberty or philosophy that corresponds to anything beyond a useful framework by which to interpret that complex actions of a complex world.

All of this is not to suggest that philosophy is worthless or doesn’t contribute anything to our understanding of the world, but rather to highlight the fact that all philosophies and all derivations from all philosophies must necessary be accountable to reality. We can look at the real world and test our philosophies to see if they are correct or not. Not only can we subject philosophy to the scrutiny of the real world, but we must.

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View Comments Posted in Political Philosophy
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=813259644 facebook-813259644

    I enjoyed this.

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