A Philosophy Manifesto
From time to time I like to engage in longer essays. This is a response to a recent article concerning the Berggruen Institute which hopes to use Philosophy to solve some difficult problems of modern civilization.
What is Philosophy
- · Philosophy is the consideration of everything known and unknown as related to individual human consciousness. Instead of a cute new nomenclature such as “Scientific Philosophy,” anything previous to the current century will simply be labeled “Classic Philosophy.”
- · Classic Philosophy was greatly concerned with the meaning and truth of reality. Philosophy must accept that we may have reached the limits of human understanding concerning the structure of the universe. Within that structure, almost everything that is knowable is known. Philosophy allows that all this may be wrong and we may live, for example, in a butterfly’s dream, but also accepts such speculation as irrelevant to daily human consciousness. On the other hand, Philosophy accepts that the irrational and chaotic must be integrated into its framework as much as logic.
- · A fundamental change in outlook has occurred. We now understand that our universe, and life itself, are not static nor precisely fitted components, but rather a series of everything in dynamic tension often leading to temporary equilibrium. Examples are centrifugal force and gravity, or lipids in a cell, or paired leptons. Time is an arrow.
Who are Philosophers
- · Unlike Plato, Philosophy should not define Philosophers as the best, brightest, or wisest. Philosophers are all those in the great middle of humanity, adequately educated in their society, commonly recognized as sane most of the time. Philosophers define meaning and purpose, as well as the way in which to achieve such goals. In doing so, they recognize that contradictions and irrationality are necessarily part of any temporary dynamic solution.
- · Philosophers, unlike Classic Philosophers, must accept common scientific conventions of reality. In the physical universe, what cannot be observed, proved, and demonstrated is not real. In the consciousness, what cannot be communicated with others is likewise irrelevant. Anyone who does not meet those criteria cannot be considered a Philosopher.
- · Each person contains a multitude of outlooks which nearly make them multiple consciousnesses. Each person changes dramatically over time _ the child is not the adult, the adult of one year is not identical to the adult of the next. All Philosophers must recognize that fact before reducing individuals to a bland axiom such as “everyone needs a purpose.” They must most importantly recognize such in themselves.
- · Logic is not sufficient for human experience. This is why Philosophers recognize that artificial intelligence has no place in Philosophy. Philosophers must be willing to utilize the frightening paths of intuition and common sense as much as they do axiomatic reasoning.
- · Contradictions are integral components of tensions of reality. Each of us is simultaneously important and unimportant. My freedom conflicts with yours. In differing situations, the same question has different answers. Philosophers recognize that contradictions can only be contained, not controlled.
Common Objective Reality
- · Anyone who uses electricity accepts our current understanding of common objective reality. This is an integrated structure composed of scientific experimentation, technological application, mathematical modeling. Two Philosophers can agree on the objective reality of a given tree _ how it is made, its internal system, its history _ without difficulty.
- · Our experience of reality can only be communicated. Two Philosophers may never agree on whether a given tree is beautiful. One may consider it potential firewood, the other may revere it as a sacred example of nature.
- · Common objective reality is aware of time, history, interrelations, and basic cause and effect. It contains repeatable useful patterns such as making a fire. It finds that yesterday is a useful predictor of today and a probable guide to tomorrow.
- · Using common objective reality, Philosophers would agree that humans are social animals. There is a clear context whereby humans fit into the universe, related to other animals by time. There are vast studies of the way in which social interactions among humans have existed in the past and exist in the present.
- · Common objective reality has discarded the notion of eternally static and balanced systems. Everything, from the subatomic to the galaxy level, is in a state of impermanence maintained by inertia and conflicting forces and events. Importantly, these tensions permeate life itself, which is delicate dynamic between various extremes of destruction. An uncontrolled cell or hormone can kill.
- · Although statistical probability is a useful tool, no local particular events can be predicted accurately. We can never tell when a particle will decay, or if I will be alive tomorrow. Chaos assures that any given event could result in any of vastly different consequences. Speculations beyond the level of what we can observe _ such as the existence of other universes _ are irrelevant to Philosophy.
- · Classic Philosophy was concerned with defining a common objective reality as much as it was with the experience of consciousness. It was even necessary to define the tools for exploration. What is the sun, for example. Philosophy can consider most of this branch of inquiry satisfied for all practical purposes.
- · The big remaining questions may not have answers. They are somewhat like defining the requirements for a beautiful tree. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is to achieve clear communication on goals and tradeoffs.
- · (1) What is a good and just society? What tensions must it utilize? How can it balance its basic requirements for continuity and stability with the pressures of people seeking to change and optimize their own lives? Must it have some purpose? Just as important, how can Philosophy frame and discuss the issues involved?
- · (2) What is a good life? Here the experience of any Philosopher is as good as that of any other. People have argued this for a long time, studied others, thought deeply. Knowing we are social animals may help discard some unproductive approaches. Some major concerns loop back to existing in what the individual considers a good and just society. Others touch on how an individual feels meaningful and happy throughout a range of consciousnesses and years of aging.
- · Philosophy cannot design perfect societies nor perfect lives. Certainties approaching perfection only occur in the external universe. No society will please everyone equally, and even a wonderfully adapted society in one time and place will fail in another. A life worthy of emulation in some ways may be terrible in others. This area of Philosophy seems nearly hopeless.
- · Bromides melt upon examination. “Greatest good for greatest number” ignores time and external competition. “Do not kill” is obviously contingent on situation. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” consistently fails in communal settings. No letter of the law is always just, and the spirit of the law is largely subjective fog.
- · Classic Philosophy must be discarded. We know infinitely more than the ancients. We have the technologic powers of gods. We thrive in inconceivable numbers. The globe is interconnected. Millennia of history are available for examination. It is true that people are still people, but even the common bounds of social intercourse (women, slaves, barbarians) which bound Classic Philosophers have been shattered.
- · Philosophy is not impossible. Current societies exist, continue, and some do quite well. Individuals generally are happy enough to survive to another day and reproduce. The social areas of Philosophy, like those of the external world, should always start at what actually exists and why. Just as medieval philosophers wasted time attempting to turn lead into gold, modern philosophers attempting to describe utopia are foolish.
- · Classic Philosophy and much that has followed have a tendency to examine the individual, then the relation to society. Philosophy recognizes that human relations are not so homogenous. The implications of humans being social animals are that the individual is strongly affected by innate biology, and that social interaction is loosely related to that of other primates. Although it is true that humans are infinitely socially adaptable, most ethnographic and historic studies show a lumpy pattern of interaction, rather than a smooth relation between one individual and another.
- · Before adulthood humans are helpless and require social learning. After adulthood their interrelations tend to resemble the valence shells of electrons _ individual, family, tribe, society, civilization. All of these quanta interrelate in variable tensions. The study and understanding of these tensions is of immense importance.
- · The individual, in some ways, is no better known than to Classic Philosophy, which primarily understood from introspection. However, acceptance of common objective reality focuses on biologic drives such as instinct and hormones rather than supernatural causes of emotions, moods, and outlooks. We can change an individual’s perception by, for example, adjusting body chemistry with drugs. It remains an open question whether one person in a happy, sad, or murderous mood is actually the same person. It surely remains unknown to what extent a sixty year old is identical to the earlier five year old. Philosophy must take account of the individual consciousness, for that is the only reason to try to understand.
- · Generally, individuals clump into family units. Family units of various types are usually composed of people joined by blood, law, and convention, recognized as special by other social units. Families often provide the primary interface for wealth, property, children, shelter, and so on. Individuals within a family often have totally different interactions than they do with those outside this unit.
- · Individuals then extend into a more tenuous relationship with tribes, often multiple, consisting of other individuals sharing some common purpose. An individual may simultaneously belong to tribes such as those formed by employment, neighborhood, or social class. Each tribe tends to have its own norm and rules, although all tribes conform to the basic standards of the society in which they are formed.
- · The cultural umbrella under which similar tribes operate is a common society. Societies share rituals, enforce boundaries, agree on permissible behaviors. A common cultural outlook fosters a strong “us versus them” division between those within one society, and those who are part of another.
- · Finally, more important as the world became more connected and crowded, is the concept of a civilization. Basically, a civilization arbitrates which people are human and which are not. Shared general outlooks and values allow for vast differences in encompassed societies, but require destruction or suppression of alternative civilizations. There could be, for example, no reconciliation between Timor with his piles of human skulls and the trading cities of the Silk Road.
- · Philosophy must always center on the study of the individual consciousness. Without that consciousness there is no reason to do anything. The purpose of Philosophy is to provide useful patterns to our human pattern-association thinking so that we can be fulfilled internally, and exist adequately with other people. This must remain the core rationale of any observations or conclusions.
- · From an external perspective, societies resemble any other groupings in nature from ants and termites to elephant herds. What social or internal tensions formulate their behavior? Although it is tempting to consider any given human statistically as just another termite, that is a false path that should be resisted. From the standpoint of Philosophy, that one human is more valuable than whatever construct it is part of. This implies that the study of individuals and society is so radically different from the study of common objective reality as to be nearly incomprehensible.
- · Study of internal consciousness often begins with Socratic method _ querying oneself or another to solicit a useful consensus or discovery. A fatal flaw is our multiple consciousnesses _ what we answer on a vacation beach in the morning will differ greatly from what we answer after a hard day at grimy work or after a few drinks relaxing with friends. Socratic method relies on logic, and logic is a poor guide to consciousness over time, not least because consciousness is largely irrationally subjective and not part of common objective reality.
- · Common Objective Reality must, of course, be considered, particularly as to what parts of social interaction are in this “reality” and what are not. A person deprived of liberty because of a crime or dying from terminal disease is constrained situationally far beyond whatever their conscious desires and states. Yet even here, the Philosophic consideration begins with the individual affected, less so with the social or physical events.
- · Obviously the most important external tool is observation of individuals and the matrix in which they associate. Observations must include historic and ethnographic studies, since no given slice of social behavior can possibly present the full range of viable possibilities.
- · A vast literature consisting of fiction, mythology, religion, and internal observation exists to immensely aid in study of individuals and their response to various situations in the world. Unfortunately, technology has rendered some of these almost valueless in the context of current culture. Marcus Aurelius is deep a
nd interesting, but bound by the limitations of knowledge in his time and responding to various pressures that no longer exist in the same form. Philosophy must be as careful to winnow out irrelevant information as it is to accumulate that which is useful.
- · Matrix relations are an immense challenge. Any change to _ for example _ the status of an individual within a tribe will also cause large and small perturbations in relations to self, family, society, and civilization, none of which can be ignored and all of which become simultaneously active. Mapping dynamic tensions within all these groupings, let alone putting them into predictive formulations, is clearly a massive undertaking. But it does mean that no studies can restrict themselves to tiny bits of the larger problem, as is commonly done in science.
- · To complicate Philosophy further, all knowledge in the social area must be regarded as chaotic and fractal _ there is no ultimate smallest bit of axiomatic knowledge, and there is no possible way of predicting the outcome of any given event. Statistical tension analysis with probability is the best that can be accomplished, but the limitations of that should always be recognized.
- · Finally, Philosophy must accept that it no longer exists in the world of Classic Philosophy, no matter how comforting that may seem. Knowledge and technology have totally reworked the paradigms, not only of society, but also of the consciousnesses of those who make up a society. It is impossible for me to think as Aristotle did, although I may have some similarities. The components of consciousness may be the same _ “I”, “you”, “them”, “it”_ but the manner in which it has been shaped is unrecognizable.
- · Just as Classic Philosophy required the development of logic and formal mathematical statements, and as the discovery of common objective reality required the development of scientific method and its technology, so Philosophy directed at human consciousness and social interaction will require the use of new and more powerful tools. These may be provided by computers, data mining, and artificial intelligence. Some of the workable results may be all but incomprehensible to humans. But even now, games with relatively limited core representations and strategies provide surprisingly realistic outcomes for warfare, economic development, and evolving social patterns.
- · Philosophy realizes limitations. No system, however perfect, can predict the future enveloped in chaos, let alone the results of black swan events such as plague, famine, or nuclear war. The immediate goal should be to develop tools that can work in any situation, however chaotic, and objectively observe, analyze, predict probabilities, and hopefully provide a blueprint for something better. Ideally, in relatively stable situations, it would allow for modeling of proposed adjustments to social interactions.
- · Since Philosophy in the social arena ultimately anchors on individual human consciousness, the incredible lack of any reasonable way to depict this state makes most other analysis highly suspect, if not impossible. We require a way to examine anyone, including ourselves, and map it into a matrix including mood, outlook, possibility, volatility, variability, and so on. Furthermore, this mapping should work across cultures and time, so that anyone, anywhere, could be similarly mapped.
- · We are in the medieval stage of describing individuals as social entities. There is a hodgepodge of tests and scales relating to IQ, emotional status, interrelationships. But there must be some consistent way of charting “a good honest hardworking middle-class woman.” Ideally, this would be predictive of changes as a person grows older. Obviously, this is dependent on also nailing down cultural-dependent descriptions such as “good” _ a good Nazi is not identical to a good Buddhist monk. However, if even the basics of this measurement can be standardized, it should also be possible to discover and use multiple generic types to model social interactions.
Once a way of representing an individual social entity is formulated, a relatively trivial but complicated task will be to depict and utilize the various tensions that maintain a role in society. These include internal self-to-self desires and controls, as well as those from the individual involving other random individuals, family, tribe, society, and civilization. This is obviously a formidably massive undertaking, but with the help of technology should be able to reduce to a known and finite number of inputs in any situation.
- · Philosophers themselves struggle with internal desires which vary and conflict with one another. Desires change from moment to moment, affected by mood, chemicals, peers, and situation. Yet it is also true that whatever the internal desires, their external manifestations most of the time are muted and made acceptable to social interaction. Maslow’s hierarchy, Freud’s subconscious, are crude attempts to bring order, but they tend to be pathetically useless in actually describing what I want, and how I pursue or repress that desire. Yet without some way to chart desires and their results in a common and agreed way it will be nearly hopeless to advance Philosophy in the social arena.
- · Social boundaries provide the tensions to control desires. These may be set internally, for example by role models, or externally by family and other people. Often these boundaries, although clearly understood and utilized, are nearly invisible to observation or even introspection. Yet the most important of these _ for example that I generally would not kill someone if I were angry with them _ are commonly utilized in all phases of social interaction and law and should not be impossible to put into a standard model of behavior.
- · When discussing boundaries, which actually provide the glue of a society, the first consideration is who or what defines them. Boundaries are set internally, by other individuals, by the family and so forth. Identifying the actual people or processes which set these boundaries is the normal starting point of much ethology, as it studies a culture. Who or what controls the commonly accepted behaviors of a community? But here, also, a standard notational method has not been provided.
- · After boundaries (and aspirations) have been defined and accepted, sometimes an individual overcomes the tension restraining his desire. In such case the society provides enforcers, whether police or peers, who restrain or punish deviant behavior. Feedback of a sane person knowing enforcement exists acts to strengthen the tension holding his internal desires in place.
- · A hidden role is that of mediators, who act like enzymes to facilitate interactions or reduce conflicts before enforcers take drastic actions. Like definers and enforcers, the various mediating influences in a society should be discovered and mapped. For example, a family member may be able to prevent an individual from acting against boundaries provided by his employment tribe.
- · With this structure in place, in a commonly accepted notational framework, further Philosophic work is possible. Otherwise, there is little hope for achieving any more ambitious goals.
- · Decisions on intermediate goals of Philosophy resemble those of Classic Philosophy, but with definite technological and scientific breaks. Can ancient societies _ with slave labor instead of machines, and viewpoints based on supernatural visions rather than scientific knowledge and global interconnections and personal power _ offer any reasonable guidance for present and future societies? Or must some entirely new ideas become fundamental to the inquiry?
- · Introspection usually reveals that most people would like to be happy, and being happy usually means being allowed to do what
they want. The actual desire may depend entirely on situation _ from getting enough food for the next meal to demanding reservations at the most exclusive restaurant in a city _ but there will be anger directed similarly at any institution or person who obstructs fulfillment. People, of course, learn to generally handle desires within the contextual boundaries of the civilization, even as they may resent those borders.
- · So a key question is how can a person feel free. Can thoughts be shaped from childhood, can language be limited as in 1984, can drugs or entertainment or learning cause a complete internalization of cultural norms so that no angry conflict is ever experienced? Or is freedom best instituted by allowing people to travel between societies, change tribes, abandon families, or even somehow exit civilization entirely? The historic answer has been, of course, freedom lies in escape _ to another place, to a frontier, to some society or tribe more congenial to innate desires.
- · So Philosophy must consider how truly different cultural societies can be maintained in an interconnected civilization. It can never assume that one pattern will make all people happy _ even the actual Philosopher will discover that at various times, ages, and situations desires vary immensely. But if multiple cultures are encouraged, how are boundaries set? Two basic rules apply, enforced by the community of societies in a civilization. (1) Any society must allow the free movement of anyone in and out of itself. (2) No society may aggressively attack another civilized society, nor damage common property such as water and air. Societies which violate those agreements must be destroyed by the global community.
- · An easier task is maintaining multiple interlocking tribes within a society, because they can maintain themselves as necessary and are bound within the common culture of the society. Today, many tribes are simply social media based agglomerations, but it is still uncertain if a tribal satisfaction is fully obtained without actual physical interaction. In any case, one individual can easily belong to multiple tribes, leave or change memberships, and assume different roles in various places. This is a traditional way of life for social humans, regardless of technology. Warriors, for example, have often formed a specialized sub- tribe even within what are normally considered tribes. Tribal memberships form the easiest way for an individual to achieve personal freedom.
- · If the above structures are healthy, Philosophy need not concern itself with details such as rights and responsibilities, which are best worked out by people within any given society and tribe. Nor need it concern itself overly with how an individual is controlled within the structure. Nor is it required to define rational interactions and plans. In all cases, it is only at the level of civilization itself that Philosophy needs to worry about boundaries of everything and everyone within it.
Long Term Goals
- · Let Philosophy assume that there will never be an adequate, single way to define and ensure the happiness of an individual nor to define a perfect society for all individuals. The purpose of Philosophy then becomes how to define the minimum structure for a global civilization containing multiple societies. The modern twist is that technology is at the point where a society, tribe, family, or even individual could strongly affect and even destroy the biosphere. So, somehow, a global civilization must be assured that it is aware of, and can deal with, such existential threats. How to do so while still allowing necessary variances in culture and behaviors will occupy Philosophers for some time to come.
- · As noted, the strongest guarantor of freedom for the individual is the right to leave one society for another. That freedom is only curtailed when a person or group becomes outlaws, literally outside the pale of civilization. Outlaws must be dealt with mercilessly, so defining who is an outlaw becomes a difficult test of assigning boundaries on behavior and goals where global civilization draws the line of what can be allowed.
- · It may be easier to define and pursue outlaw tendencies as social pathologies, amenable to early treatment as a mental illness. This is dangerous ground, but necessary. Philosophy has a tough nut to crack here, particularly between thoughts, talk, and deeds. Yet hardly any time has been spent in a Philosophic manner considering this necessity.
- · Within the context of what Philosophers should be considering, several issues stand out as most important, regardless of how neatly other concepts can be resolved. These problems are already a global issue, and will only become more so as long a global civilization exists. They form a kind of basic structure over whatever foundation Philosophy may discover for modern humans.
- · Perhaps the most contentious issue must be that of global identification of each person. The tools, of course, are already possible via DNA and embedded computer chips. Without instant reliable tracking of anyone, anywhere, it is hard to see how a global civilization could continue to exist. There are too many possibilities for unknown, untracked people to use technology to destroy great chunks or all of the delicate webs of culture. The identification, like ancient tribal tattoos, is what brands anyone as a member of civilization, and makes possible the rights and obligations that entails. By contrast, those without identification are automatically outlaws.
- · The next most difficult problem is that of child-rearing. For the most part a group of consenting adults should probably be free to do whatever they want within the confines of their society _ for example not seeking medical care, starving if they do not work, or constantly fighting with neighbors. But children can never be considered consenting. There must be some basic socialization and training before they become consenting adults that guarantees that every human born on the planet is raised with the core values and tools of civilization, whatever they may later do with that. Children, in other words, can never be allowed to be educated and socialized as outlaws. This will involve all sorts of nasty interventions, since family structure is another basic unit of human society.
- · Making sure that adults, on the other hand, truly consent to their society is relatively simple. Any ubiquitous device can provide a kind of emergency signal. And the right to freely move then guarantees that a person unhappy in one situation may migrate to another. With such a simple mechanism in place, strongly enforced, almost any permutation of adult interactions can be permissible, again given that such interaction does not threaten civilization itself.
- · So what human rights does civilization itself guarantee? Given the wide range of adaptable needs, desires, and requirements of any individual, perhaps Philosophy would be wisest to simply let this issue be decided within societies and other groups. If we ignore children and perhaps the mentally disabled, the bulk of populations should probably be considered freely consenting adults in whatever situation they find themselves. The only human right would then be that of being able to freely move somewhere else, with the aid of external civilization if necessary.
- · So Philosophers must consider this mysterious “civilization” that somehow coordinates and oversees all its component societies. Is it an association of “black helicopters” and mightily armed super troopers? Does it poke cameras everywhere? How exactly can it and should it monitor everywhere to assure that threats to civilization do not develop. And, of course, if it were to have such awesome powers, how could it be kept under control?
- · Along with that, the other side of the “human right” question, is what actions are absolutely prohibited and who decides what they are. It could be imagined that building hydrogen bombs, for example, might be on such a list, or modifying disease viruses to be more virulent. But where to draw the line, and who can be trusted to do so?
- · Even if monitoring and prohibitions are clearly defined, what type of intervention is to be done. If an entire society metastasizes, for example as in Nazi Germany, must that entire population be destroyed? Are they simply dissolved and stripped of social standing? What power is invoked to accomplish this, and how can anyone guarantee that such power is not abused? Can such problems even be solved?
- · Now, given the current developments in deep data and artificial intelligence, it may be tempting to imagine a true deus ex machina. Let computers take care of civilization, and let humans otherwise be humans living out their interesting and peaceful lives. In spite of science fiction, it will probably be fairly easy to assure machines do not become ambitious. But, again, we know of the perversity of the universe, and it is obviously easy to imagine machine domination going horribly wrong. Nevertheless, is such a setup, modified as it may become, necessary for planetary survival?
- · In all these discussions, some words have connotations that may not be accurate. For example, when most people speak of a “society” they tend to imagine a geographically constrained entity like a nation. But there have always been non-geographic societies, such as religions and their monasteries. Today immortal international corporations have far more power over lives than all but the strongest national governments. Such a society intertwines everywhere. Will human future _ should human future _ become based more on abstract associations involving global employment, or for that matter abstract associations of any kind based on internet affinities. What does that do to any rational models of freedom, rights, consent, monitoring, and prohibition? Even now, civilization has a hard time keeping corporations under control.
- · And, finally, as indicated fitfully above, how does any model of human organization avoid the possibility of tyranny. Philosophers have always known that technology tends to enhance tyranny _ it was far easier to escape a Native American tribe or a Greek city-state than the Roman or Chinese Empires. If a true oversight civilization were put in place, and somehow turned tyrannical, could it ever be overthrown? These, too, are eternal Philosophical problems. Perhaps some genius can solve them as others did calculus.
- · Philosophy can mean thinking about everything or nothing. “Pragmatists” claim that only ideas which would make some actual difference in our lives are worth thinking about. Since Philosophy is rooted in our individual subjective consciousness, almost any idea _ no matter how strange to others _ can make a difference to our inward landscapes and outlook. However, Philosophy can also claim _ more legitimately than science or mathematical models _ to be the correct tool for assessing not only an individual human life, but also those lives interrelating to form social groups. The need for that study has not changed from the times of the Tao Te Ching or Plato’s Republic.
- · Internal consciousness and useful social interactions form the hardest problems any person faces. Each life is unique and different, even though it may superficially resemble others. Each society at each moment is an infinite blend of shifting situations, opportunities, tensions, and demands. There is no easy, clear, nor simple way to “solve” these with logical declarations. Philosophers should nevertheless attempt to formally describe and analyze what, after all, has been a few hundred thousand years of increasingly complex social unities, many of which have been astoundingly successful, even though also astonishingly varied.
- · Our massive
population numbers with immense impact on the planet biosphere itself as well as the awesome potentially apocalyptic technology available to any individual or cult makes this a task which must be undertaken with commitment and force. Useful answers _ even useful questions _ are required immediately.