Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Idea That Ideas Don't Matter

Michael Caution has some interesting thoughts on people who give up believing that ideas matter. You meet these people all the time. Philosophy is just an ivory tower matter to them; it has nothing to do with day to day living.

Modern philosophy, especially the analytic school with its technical jargon and focus on individual words, encourages the idea that ideas do not matter. Of course, the idea is much older than modern philosophy. The purest expression of the mind-body dichotomy is still Plato. But I think the single most important contributor is the split between morality and practicality in altruist ethics. People are taught to equate morality with sacrifice, but then they go about their lives earning money and pursuing happiness. They learn to compartmentalize: ideas are one thing and day to day life is another. Philosophy is at best a Platonic ideal that has nothing to do with life on this earth; in the meantime we are stuck in this reality with our hormones and our hungers, our human frailties that make us incapable of living up to ideals.

Shakespeare, of whom I wrote a recent post, does not believe ideas matter. When a character such as Brutus or Ulysses espouses philosophy, he is then shown to be a hypocrite or tragically misguided by his ideas.

1 comment:

Galileo Blogs said...

I agree that altruism is the chief reason for the widespread belief that ideas don't matter, although there are others. Side effects of altruism are also cynicism and, sometimes, hypocritical immorality.

Cynicism arises because an altruist necessarily has to believe that all men are immoral since men must violate the altruist morality in order to live.

Hypocritical immorality stems from the combination of altruism and cynicism. If most men are immoral -- in fact, if immorality is required to live -- why not just be immoral? This explains the phenomenon of the hypocritical preacher who preaches Christianity by day and sleeps with prostitutes at night. It also explains the holier-than-thou Christian businessman who loudly gives big donations to his church, but then "screws" his fellow Christians in dishonest business deals.

Of course, for any Christian who claims ideas don't matter, he only needs to think through the premises of his religion and examples such as these. By doing so, he would have to conclude that ideas *do* matter. Of course, by then he would no longer be a Christian.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely he would be able to do such thinking. Why? Because he already automatized his deadly premise that ideas don't matter!

ADDENDUM: I use Christianity here because it is a convenient and widespread example. Any firmly held religious belief will typically lead to the conclusion that ideas don't matter.

Even an atheist can develop this view. I have met more than one former resident of the old Soviet Union who believes that ideas don't matter. That erroneous conclusion stems from being immersed in Communism which, although nominally a secular system of belief, is very similar to Christianity in its altruism and impossible, unreal ethics.