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Sunday, October 21, 2007

two important philosophical questions

Maybe the task of philosophy is not to answer philosophical questions as much as it is to figure out the right questions to pose. Asking the questions gets me focused on the area of thought I'm concerned with and good dialog can contribute to personal progress. With that in mind, here are the questions:
first
"What is the relationship between proximity and knowledge?"

second
"What is the relationship between risk and the meaningful life?"
I'm planning to dedicate some time to each question and ask some friends to do the same. Some thoughts (from a recent conversation) on the first question:
  • proximity can relate to time, place, causation, etc.
  • globalization seems to push us into a predicament where we're often making decisions without proximal knowledge
  • can adopting a pre-packaged worldview be a means of avoiding seeking proximal knowledge?
  • might we judge the truth/usefulness of a worldview based on the extent to which it advocates seeking proximal knowledge?
  • what are some texts which address this question in one way or another (e.g. Hume's argument against miracles, conservationists advocating "buy local")
  • do particular political points of view advocate proximal knowledge? States' rights? No child left behind?
  • the legal system takes a point of view on this topic, is it fair?
  • are there types of knowledge that have no relationship to proximity?
on the second question:
  • people have different definitions of risk and meaning
  • as humans we're fragile but it's hard to accomplish much in life without risk
  • better to live deliberately than to be driven by fear
  • to live at all is to take some risks, but a lot of these aren't perceived
  • how is our perception of risk formed by society/culture/religion?
Those are just to get ideas flowing, we're all pretty busy at the moment so this conversation may take place over a number of months. Any direction you want to go with an answer I think would be worth while.

Other thoughts?

4 comments:

Philosophy@Utah State said...

To be technical, I think proximity is neither necessary nor sufficient for knowledge. We might know lots about the chemical composition of Jupiter's atmosphere while not being at all close to it, and know nothing about the workings of our brains while being exceedingly close to them!

Still, "proximity" in some sense might be necessary. I think humans are generally really good at knowing things when we can "tinker" with them -- meaning, make guesses about them, try out different experiments, change our guesses accordingly, and so on. If "proximity" is equal to being able to tinker with them, with available technology, then I think it is required for real knowledge. This is what Kant concluded, by the way: if it ain't causally related to us in space and time, we can't know it.

Risk and meaning of life? Again, I can prettily easily imagine lots of one without any of the other, even with very broad notions of "risk." But I will say that personal growth does often come from facing various threats and challenges -- even vicarious ones, sometimes, since I think we can learn a lot through literature. (I have struggled some with the question of whether I need to experience the pain in order to truly learn from it; I think the answer is 'no,' though first-hand acquaintance with grief probably leaves a more indelible imprint.)

Mike said...

Another way to put these questions is "in what ways is proximity helpful/hurtful to the pursuit of knowledge" and "in what ways is risk helpful/hurtful to the pursuit of the meaningful life".

Even if there are cases where there is no relationship at all there are so many cases where there is a strong relationship.

So I'm thinking of those cases and how they work.

those comments definitely sent me off on a few thought experiments.

Like when I go on a walk with Sophie (the dog) we both have a strong proximity relationship to the walk but our knowledge about the walk is probably quite different. It's interesting to think about what exactly that difference is.

Vince54 said...

Proximity seems to be necessary but not sufficient for existential knowledge. Definitely, Kant tells me that my reason doesn't engage knowingly with things beyond my senses and experience.

However, the universal objectives of Kant are abstracted enough to transcend proximity (Metaphysics of Morals). Kant's categorical imperatives are not knowledge, but they give weight to other 'rational beings' without regard to proximity, i.e., the imperatives are transcendent. They can guide the rational-empiricist towards moral concerns about people (or dogs) beyond our existential proximity.

vince54 said...

Risk and meaning? I answer with 2 words.

"I-Thou"

From
Forever Buberian.

(I am not being silly).