April 8, 2009

"As much as [David Brooks] might like to draw a clear line between his view of morality vs. what 'philosophers' do by using 'reason'..."

"... he himself is doing philosophy and relying on reason."

Jac dissects the oddly popular David Brooks column "The End of Philosophy."

And: The cartoon. ("No more abstract reasoning for me. Yay!!!!)

10 comments:

peter hoh said...

Serves the NYT right for not having cartoons.

Buford Gooch said...

Well, philosophically speaking, that's unreasonable.

Jack Wayne said...

Regardless of Brooks' stupidity, what's interesting here is that he's talking about discrimination. And how we all do it all the time. And it's a good thing.

How long until the NYT realizes how far off the lefty reservation this column is? Not that Brooks meant it that way.

rhhardin said...

The Brooks article is unreadable.

It's aimed at making upper west side readers feel comfortable, was my impression before clicking away.

I'm surprised anybody can stay with it long enough to criticize it.

rhhardin said...

Thurber had an essay, ``What Are the Leftists Talking About?'' that centered on the unfortunate confusion of Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis making them hard to follow exactly, but these are nevertheless the important thinkers.

rhhardin said...

Coleridge relied on the phrase ``moral discoveries'' as being enough to ridicule the notion of a moral expert.

Richard Dolan said...

Interesting. Brooks is writing about a subject with which he seems to have only a passing familiarity. But at least he's writing about something worth thinking about.

I'm not sure what Brooks imagines "moral philosophy" is all about. It's not the same as religion; and its object is not to deduce some secular version of the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount from the ether. And moral philosophers aren't often interested in trying to tell others how to live their lives. Instead, its object has long been a close analysis of what people do and say, to arrive at an understanding of the moral concepts that people use to guide, explain and justify their actions. Thus leading texts today are titled things like "the logic of moral discourse" (as it happens, the name of a well-known book on the subject).

That description of what moral philosophers do obviously applies to analytical philosophers in the Anglo-American tradition, but it hardly began with them. For example, Aristotle looked to military traditions, literary works, and similar sources in writing his Ethics. Plato's dialogues are all about close analysis of words and concepts in concrete settings.

Brooks's dichotomy between emotion and reason is a particularly bad place to start when the subject is what people do in various situations and how they explain their actions. It is certainly true, as Brooks says, that a person's response to any given situation may be instinctive in the sense that it happens quickly and without a lot of forethought. But the instinct is informed by a lifetime's experiences. Where those experiences don't point immediately to the right course of action, people often pause to figure out what they should do. It's hard to believe that Brooks lives in a world where something different is going on, but that's waht his little essay suggests.

Brooks dichotomy between reason/emotion is reflected in how he writes about instinctive vs. considered actions. Brooks writes as if an instinctive response arises in a vacuum, that it's unconsidered and essentially irrational. That picture of human action is, frankly, preposterous.

Even Brooks' rhetoric is strange. Why begin so grandly predicting the "end of philosophy," given how badly predictions about the "end of history" turned out?

All in all, not his best effort, even if the topic is worth considering.

rhhardin said...

Cavell commented that Wittgenstein was a philosopher whose moral philosophizing was not separate from his analytic philosophizing.

I would add Derrida.

Richard Dolan said...

What you say about Wittgenstein is true of most analytical philosophers. JL Austin raised it to an art form, to the point where a reader coming to his elegant essays without any background would never see the philosophical tradition that Austin was trying to clarify.

But why would you add Derrida? I've never thought of him as a philosopher and from the little of his stuff that I've read, his main interests seem to lie elsewhere.

blake said...

I guess this explains why they took the abstract reasoning puzzle out of the Sunday Times.

(Used to be just above the Sudoku.)