Saturday, October 12, 2013

Quote of the Day

Johann Gottlieb Fichte previously gained mentioned on this blog for advocating that, as a prerequisite for their getting civil rights, Jewish "heads should be cut off in one night and replaced with others not containing a single Jewish idea." This quote, while equally revealing, is somewhat less revolting:
"What sort of philosophy one chooses depends, therefore, on what sort of [person] one is; for a philosophical system is not a dead piece of furniture that we accept or reject as we wish; it is rather a thing animated by the soul of the person who holds it."
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, The Science of Knowledge (Wissenschaftslehre) 16 (Heath and Lachs, trans., Appleton-Century Crofts 1970) (1797).

To some extent, our philosophies act as constraints on what sorts of behaviors we're willing to engage in, but to a much larger extent what behaviors we feel are important or valuable or worthwhile constrain the philosophies we are willing to accept. When last I made this point (with respect to our judicial interpretative philosophies), I illustrated it by a conversation in Firefly between River Tam and the bounty hunter Jubal Early:
River: You hurt people.

Early: Only when the job requires it.

River: Wrong. You're a bad liar. [...] You like to hurt folk.

Early: It's part of the job.

River: It's why you took the job.
Sometimes the fruits of our philosophical positions are just "part of the job." More often though, I suspect, they're why we adapted the philosophy in the first place.


PG said...

Good typo -- under this theory, we're really adapting philosophies, not adopting them.

EW said...

“It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.” Thomas Jefferson

“True religion is the life we lead, not the creed we profess.” Louis Nizer

What does it mean to “adopt a philosophy” – beyond just believing something? Believing seems passive. I think of my beliefs as resulting from perception and thought. (Yes, part of what I perceive, and part of my thought patterns, will reflect things I have been taught rather than things springing from my mind unbidden.) In contrast, “adopting a philosophy” seems active – as if, through sheer will, I could subdue my own critical thinking capacities and cause myself to believe things I previously hadn’t, and to disbelieve things I previously had. Even if I actually do have this capacity, why would I want to exercise it?

Thus, I struggle with the distinction between a person’s behavior and their “philosophy.” I tend to the view that a person’s behavior reflects her philosophy. Thus, I rarely conclude that a person’s behavior falls short of her philosophy; I often conclude that a person’s professed philosophy differs from the philosophy she lives.

I sense many people subscribe to a view that a person’s philosophy differs from her behavior, and may enjoy some kind of privileged status relative to her behavior. I have Catholic friends who seem quite apologetic about their church’s views on all manner of topics; I have no special problem with that. But when they grudgingly acknowledge that they act (vote, advocate) in conformance with their church’s views rather than their “own,” I balk. You are responsible for your own actions; they reflect your own views. You cannot shirk responsibility by blaming some authority figure. If you choose to conform your behavior to that authority, you bear responsibility for that choice. The philosophy you advocate and vote for IS your own.