Dave's Mental Meanderings
Philosophy and Politics
from my journal
11 March 2003
In a book I’m reading for my Global Ethics class, the
author discusses a brilliant philosopher named Gottlob
Grege who was also an anti-semite. Obviously, he kept his
thinking compartmentalized. In other words, he disregarded
his political views when thinking about hypothetical
philosophical questions, and ignored his work as a
philosopher when dealing with his political advocacy. The
author states that, although philosophers have every right
to do this, it would be a tragedy if all of them did.
Philosophers, he argues, are obliged to deal with the
things going in their present day world.
I realized that I, too, am sometimes guilty of
keeping separate my philosophical and political thinking,
elementary as they may be. Philosophically, I am a staunch
consequentialist. I strongly agree with Johnathan Mill’s
interpretation of utilitarianism. However, when applied to
the political climate of today, this method of thinking
does not always match my own political viewpoint. As a
moderate republican, I can’t help but think that my
political system of choice does not always maximize the
benefit and minimize the suffering of the greatest number
of people, to say the least. On a broader scale, however,
a democracy as opposed to a militaristic dictatorship is
indeed compatible with Mill’s utilitarianism. However,
enough about my opinions, I have digressed from my intended
topic. Let me just say that I am not quite sure whether my
philosophical or political opinions are more important to
me, or which are more influential on my character.
The topic I intended to write about is the
following: the one method of thinking that I consider more
disastrous than complete separation of hypothetical
(philosophical) and practical (political) though is to
possess the latter but completely lack the former. A
person with strong social and/or political opinions who
chooses not to think at all about absolute principles is
utterly foolish and without basis for arguing his case.
Even a person whose mind is completely compartmentalized
has some notion of a system of morals and ethics that
operates above and beyond a simple case-by-case basis.
This in turn will lead him at least to be consistent in his
practical decisions, even if they are not guided by his
philosophical thinking. A person who chooses not to deal
with the hypothetical may whimsically choose his stance on
an issue independently of the implied system of thought
based on his stances on other similar issues.
One might argue that a person who thinks
philosophically but not practically is equally foolish
because he has no practical basis for his hypothetical
ideas. Perhaps this person is foolish; he is not, however,
dangerous. Somebody with no practical ideas is inherently
incapable of orchestrating a genocide project, starting a
suicide cult, or becoming a communist dictator.
This leads me to wonder about most people who claim
to have strong political opinions. On what higher system
of beliefs do these people base their views? Not that one
specific philosophy, religion, or moral code is the right
one, but that is where one must start in order to have
valid, consistent practical views. How can so many people
get by without occupying their minds with something beyond
their practical opinions? How can people do anything but
endlessly question their own beliefs in order to strengthen
or reform their convictions?