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 Philosophers as rulers?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Philosophers as rulers?   Sat 07 Jan 2012, 13:00

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Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, -- nor the human race, as I believe, -- and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.


So spoke Plato in 360BCE in his "The Republic".

Had he a point which is still relevant in modern society? Should our rulers aspire to combine political greatness and philosophical wisdom? It sounds a lofty ideal, but yet couldn't any ideologist or demagogue who rises to power claim such a virtue for himself or herself? Would such diverse leaders as Margaret Thatcher, or Adolf Hitler, or John F Kennedy, or even Mahatma Gandhi have disassociated themselves from this definition of ideal rule? And if not, is it therefore of any actual meaning?
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sat 07 Jan 2012, 13:10

Whereas I suspect that all of the above, indeed almost any ruler, would claim to embody those two, I also suspect that some, and Mrs T springs to mind with her oft quoted lack of a 'hinterland', would have little or no understanding of what that implied.
To be fair, however, does the pace and complexity of modern life allow for the protracted contemplation of philosophical questions beyond those which impinge directly onto the simplest form of what purports to be their 'political philosophy' when a quick and decisive response to events (dear boy) is required?

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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sun 08 Jan 2012, 16:09

What an interesting topic - but a very difficult one. I hesitate to say anything, as I'm not sure I've fully grasped what you're asking, Nordmann, but here are a few random thoughts.

A philosopher is "a lover of wisdom" is he not? But what exactly did Plato mean by wisdom, and is *political* wisdom something quite different?

Socrates did not believe he was wise because, by his own admission, he knew only that he knew nothing. By that did he mean his disciples to understand that humility before the gods is the first step to acquiring wisdom? I suppose the biblical proverb that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" teaches a similar lesson.

But (genuine) humility before the gods - or anyone else - is not what we normally associate with a successful ruler or politician - certainly not anyone who is running a kingdom "of this world".

Did Machiavelli ever comment on Plato's words?

So much philosophy written, studied and discussed through the ages - all those politicians who have gained their firsts in Greats, more recently PPE (that was Cameron's subject, I think). But to what end? I suppose that studying philosophy doth not a philosopher make.





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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sun 08 Jan 2012, 16:50

Interesting you mention Socrates. "The Republic", as you know, was written by Plato in the form of a conversation between his own older brother (Glaucon) and Socrates. When Plato put the words quoted above into Socrates's mouth he had his brother respond almost in horror saying that a system such as that would mean instant violent anarchy and revolution.

The counter to the proposition in other words, and one which was based in the real world rather than in Socrates's hypothetical one, was that genuine philosophers are too abrasive an element in society. They sow discord, and if they fail to do so they are failing as philosophers. To imagine them as rulers would be to imagine a recipe for social uprising. By the same score a politician who claims to be a philosopher, the more successful he is at his job, the more he must be lying about his philosophical skill.

Wasn't Plato a clever man?
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sun 08 Jan 2012, 16:52

Well, one reasonably well known example, I suppose, was Marcus Aurelius. Does his example support the hypothesis?
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sun 08 Jan 2012, 16:59

He seems to have kept his pragmatic political side relatively distant from his contemplative philosophical side. There was occasion for each, and it wasn't always the same occasion. A truly wise man.

The Catholic church, on the other hand, placed huge emphasis on interpreting Plato's comment as a maxim which justified their own stance as self-appointed "philosopher kings". The above quote from The Republic was used by several Catholic apologists over centuries to encourage a belief that the church leadership of the day was acting according to ancient wisdom.

They tended of course to leave out the fact that it was a comment imagined by Plato to have been something Socrates might have said, or indeed that Plato as his brother Glaucon refutes it almost immediately in his own book.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 09 Jan 2012, 12:59

I do not pretend to know, let alone understand, much of this, but I am genuinely interested to find out more. I've been afraid of Plato since I was about seventeen.

Where does Aristotle fit into all this? He was Plato's pupil, wasn't he, and a critical one at that? Was Aristotle's political philosphy more "practical" than Plato's? Was his thinking nearer to that of Machiavelli - concerned with what actually *worked* for a ruler - and his people - in the real world? And Aristotle was much beloved of the Church men, was he not? (But Luther loathed him, I think?)

And the concept of moral virtue in a leader - did Aristotle agree with Plato on what constituted moral virtue? Machiavelli's "virtu" had more the sense of ability, skill, energy didn't it? Was it Cicero or Plato who defined virtue as "always acting honourably and morally" - a concept surely shattered by Machiavelli, but had it been shattered long before?
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 09 Jan 2012, 13:37

@Temperance wrote:
Was Aristotle's political philosophy more "practical" than Plato's?

Anyone's guess. Much of what is termed Plato's philosophy comes from his dialogues, where he rather unhelpfully puts his best sound-bites in the mouths of others. Deducing his actual meaning is fraught with difficulty. Aristotle is "easier", not least because he also placed logic very high on the agenda and it underpinned his other areas of research. This gave him a perfect platform to anaylse metaphysics, for example, compared to his tutor.



Quote :
- did Aristotle agree with Plato on what constituted moral virtue?

No, at least I don't think so. Aristotle claimed originality with his assertion that virtue is something which must be acquired as much as it was innate. Human nature only provided a dispenastion to be good but it took tuition and experience to use that in the construction of a virtuous person.



What we're missing when we study this period of philosophy is the constant argument which was the context in which they operated, and most of the arguers. We are lucky to have any of the stuff at all, but we are so unfortunate to have lost the others who contributed to the debate. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were not making stand-alone arguments but were nearly always replying to others, whether refuting them or trying to adopt suggestions from others to see if it fleshed out their own hypotheses and assumptions. It was an on-going process and the snapshot we have is of just a fraction of the full debate. By the same score what we often take as definitive declarations from these guys are often rather "launching points" for debates we now can only guess at. The church's later adoption of Aristotlean philosophy ignored, through necessity, this ambiguation, and many still do so today. But I often wonder if any of them came back and saw what we'd presumed from the snippets that remain what they'd think.

At least we know they'd think.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sat 12 May 2012, 22:36

If philosophers are a necessary irritant in society are our only remaining effective philosophers comedians?
Socrates doesn't seem to have treated what he sought to understand with much respect so I'm afraid I'd say the best philosophers I've come across are, unfortunately, recently deceased - Linda Smith and Dave Allen. I am sure all three did take things seriously but they did entertain to get their point across and make people think. Betrand Russell helped people sleep.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sat 14 Jul 2012, 12:00

Had to Google Linda Smith… crikey what a shock, I see her so often on the TV had no idea she’s left the stage.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sat 14 Jul 2012, 23:23

Aristotle believed in the superioity of the Hellenes - to the point of hegemony which filtered through to Alexander - before the parting of their ways - and, let us say, it bolstered his already puffed up ego. Well. let me say, as no one will probably agree. Nik would have had a field day with me over that.

Philosophers prefer to be the puppet masters, I think. An 'eminance gris' rarely gets to carry the can orto put their notions to the test - but history worms them out for flak eventually. Wow, what awful examples of mixed metaphors that lot is. I had better retire from this topic.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Thu 08 Aug 2013, 09:39

What a pity this interesting topic just fizzled out. Indeed, it's a pity everything seems to be fizzling out...

Is philosophy redundant, not just for our rulers, but for us all? Stephen Hawking thinks so. On a "Today" programme a couple of years ago, he came out with some worrying views:

Stephen Hawking has declared that religion and philosophy are no longer necessary to explain the universe.  

"Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in physics and biology. As a result, their discussions seem increasingly out dated and irrelevant."


You can listen to him giving his views here (Baroness Greenfield and A. C. Grayling respond).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8979000/8979047.stm

So, should our rulers simply be scientists and mathematicians rather than philosophers? Are the men/women who can do the dead hard sums really to be our new philosopher-kings/queens?

PS Perhaps in the ancient world you could study it all -  philosophy and physics and biology and mathematics in real depth, but depth back then wasn't very deep, or rather it was very deep, but not so broad. Rather a poor lido metaphor, but what I mean is that today there is simply too much to know. Who on earth - surely not even Hawking - can keep abreast of it all?

Nevertheless we should keep trying. I for one hate the thought of a brave new world ruled by the scientists and the devotees of pricks and lines. But philosophers have to start young. Science and mathematics are important subjects in State schools, but little Latin and no Greek is now taught. Religion (especially Christianity) is simply an embarrassment or, unhappily in some places, still an utterly ridiculous attempt at brain-washing. Such extremes are very ill-advised.

Sadly today we all have to rely on other people's opinions and translations. But how expert are the experts? Translations can be dangerous things. Read and decide for yourself was always my mantra - increasingly difficult to do. What a long PS.

PPS Back to my privet hedge now. Delenda est ligustra, repeated as I hack might help. But I think my Latin's faulty. I've forgotton how to make delenda (is it a gerund?) neuter, so I made privet feminine instead. No one will know - or care.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Thu 08 Aug 2013, 14:03

A scientist might tell me how I am here, but might only guess at why. This is subject on which many have opinion but no proof. Long live philosophy - I can't neuter a gerund either - but the neighbour's cat might be in for a shock.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Thu 08 Aug 2013, 15:58

Well philosophy has been revived at the site of Plato's Academy this summer, with philosophers from around the world expected to grace us with their thoughts on everything and anything.

http://greece.greekreporter.com/2013/08/07/philosophy-revived-at-platos-academy/

I think I'd rather watch the grass grow instead. Or maybe the paint dry? Sleep
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Thu 08 Aug 2013, 22:51

Temp wrote:
But I think my Latin's faulty. I've forgotton how to make delenda (is it a gerund?) neuter, so I made privet feminine instead. No one will know - or care.

I think there are still people who know and care: I am not one of them, but on another site I go to one of the contributors talks of Latin constructions quite regularly.  When I looked up ligustra it sternly said, "Do you mean ligustrum?" so google bothers. Can't you just say delendum to make it neuter?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 07:31

@Priscilla wrote:
I can't neuter a gerund either - but the neighbour's cat might be in for a shock.
Smile 

I suppose delendum est ligustrum is correct, but it hasn't got that magnificent Cato-esque ring to it somehow. Smile 

Actually, Caro, I was thinking of Leo in "The Go-Between" - do you remember the bit where he attacks the big deadly nightshade bush? "Delenda est belladonna! Delenda est belladonna!" he keeps repeating. (Odd that belladonna has been mentioned on your other thread...)

PS According to Yahoo Answers - I'd rather have Mary Beard, but there you go - delenda est is  future passive paraphrastic form of delere. I still think it's a gerundive...

PPS Shame on you, ID.Smile, going asleep like that at the mention of philosophy. Who knows, but His Eminence Grisly (Grizzly?) might be at the Philosophers' Jamboree for his hols. He could be about to present a paper there. Wake up at once, woman - the drying paint is a mere illusion!



I’m not sure a plant has ever been given so much fictional attention as deadly nightshade in The Go-Between. “Delenda est belladonna” chants Leo ominously as he uproots the deadly nightshade by the outhouses. This is a fantastic book and the deadly nightshade is utterly central to it. There is also a very tense showdown between Leo and Mrs Maudsley by the magnolia, when she catches him delivering a note that perhaps he oughtn’t...
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 08:05

We have been having a discussion in this house only minutes ago because hubby said he was going to chop down my magnolia, the upshot is that magnolia stays but I am to clean up the flowers!!!
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 08:19

What a good memory you have, Temp.  It's not that long ago since I read The Go-Between (very good book indeed), and I have some memory of the deadly nightshade bush (now that you remind me), but I certainly wouldn't have remembered the delenda est belladonna phrase.   As for words like paraphrastic!  I don't recall such a thing from either Latin or English grammar.

 Chop down a magnolia!  What sacrilege.  This reminds me of me saying at our garden club meeting that the cabbage tree was my favourite native, and everyone groaned about cleaning up their large hard leaves, or whatever those frondy things are.  I said to my husband later that I never find this a big problem, and he said, "Of course you don't. You never do it." I don't really understand why people spend all autumn tidying up leaves which I find quite attractive and also good as a ground cover and mulch.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 08:25

Hurrah - it is a gerundive! How exciting! But it is also the future passive thingy:


The passive periphrastic construction in Latin expresses the idea of obligation -- of "must" or "ought." A very familiar passive periphrastic is a phrase attributed to Cato, who was bent on destroying the Phoenicians. Cato is said to have ended his speeches with the phrase "Carthago delenda est" or "Carthage must be destroyed."

There are two parts to this passive periphrastic, one adjectival and one a form of the verb to be. The adjectival form is the gerundive - note the "nd" before the ending. The ending is, in this case, feminine, nominative singular, to agree with the noun Carthago, which, like many place names, is feminine.

The agent, or in Cato's case, the person who would be doing the destroying, is expressed by a dative of agent.
Carthago____________Romae__________________ delenda est
Carthage (nom. sg. fem.) [by] Rome (dative case) destroyed (gerundive nom. sg. fem.) 'to be' (3rd sg. present)

Eventually, Cato got his way.



Now we have clarification on that tricky bit of Latin grammar, we can all go back to sleep...Smile


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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 08:57

this latin lesson reminds me so much of 'the life of brian'... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIAdHEwiAy8
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 09:39

Oh, how these last posts have transported me back. I've been toying with trying to resurrect my Latin, scraping away the concretions of 50 years of neglect, and not maybe being able again to produce a reasonable translation of a great chunk of English prose into Latin but at least read a simple inscription again. Maybe this winter....


And *The Go Between*. I have surprisingly vivid recollections of writing an essay on its symbolic content and wittering on about the Belladonna incident as being written in terms of a sexual encounter. 


As far as science and philosophy interact, to my little mind one would need to be a philosopher
to address some of the concepts at the extremes of physics. Cosmology and quantum theory seem to me to be so raise such fundamental issues of existence and the nature of reality that they could threaten the researcher's sanity. I recently read Peter Ackroyd's book *First Light* and was generally disappointed in it, so many of the characters were grotesques, but I empathised with one, the astronomer who commits suicide. Depressed by his career path, by the way he had been overtaken by less able but more charismatic and socially adept academics, he becomes increasingly overwhelmed by the scale of the time and space in which he is immersed,and goes spectacularly nuts. I think I might as well, in fact I find thinking about those things deeply unsettling.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 09:41

How things have changed in forty years. I found myself quite shocked in a way by this Monty Python sketch - the meeting of the Philosophy Department at the University of Hullabaloo in Australia. The joke is on the idiot-philosophers, of course, but I suspect it would probably be taken the wrong way these days...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJkO-EKRVd0

PS But I must admit  I did like Bruce 3 combining teaching logical positivism with being in charge of the sheep dip...Smile


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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Fri 09 Aug 2013, 09:47

Crossed posts, ferval.

Yes, poor Leo, all that passion going on around him, and he was still quite innocent...

I remember the superb descriptions of the sweltering heat too. I thought the book was set in the summer of 1913, but no, it was 1900. I wonder if there really was a terrible heat wave that year? Will have to check.

Haven't read "First Light" - and I like Ackroyd very much. Will have to get it...

EDIT: Got the year wrong.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sun 11 Aug 2013, 15:15

The notion that science and philosophy are divergent disciplines is a relatively recent one. Two hundred years ago all scientific endeavour was considered a philosophical exercise in essence since it involved the extrapolation of deduced logic from observation of the physical world. Hawking's claim that one has now effectively killed off the other would, to the enlightened mind of the period, have seemed a patently ridiculous statement.

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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Sun 11 Aug 2013, 16:30

Indeed, many long years ago it was Nat. Phil. I read, not physics.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 09:24

Quote :
 The notion that science and philosophy are divergent disciplines is a relatively recent one. Two hundred years ago all scientific endeavour was considered a philosophical exercise in essence since it involved the extrapolation of deduced logic from observation of the physical world. Hawking's claim that one has now effectively killed off the other would, to the enlightened mind of the period, have seemed a patently ridiculous statement.
But yet it doesn't seem that way now.  For the most part, philosophy appears to have retreated to a comfortable sofa in a university somewhere, from where impenetrable nuggets of Socrates, Plato et al are burnished up like gold.  When one can convince someone who understands the leaden jargon of philosophy to break down what these great men were saying into lay terms, the results tend towards the patently obvious.  This is perhaps because philosophers of old did their job almost too well, with the result that what once seemed dangerous and/or revelatory is now so woven into the fabric of modern day thinking that we hardly give a second thought to how it came about.

Job done, modern philosophers tend to be numbered amongst the ranks of the talking heads (not to be confused with US art-rock band of the same name), who occasionally get wheeled out onto Question Time or Radio 4 in order to so say something heavyweight and lofty and which very few people understand.  They have been divorced from what is perceived as true scientific endeavour and are seen instead as the slightly uneasy bedfellows of high profile religious commentators, who now and again get dusted off to give a moral view, presumably on the grounds that holding a religious belief gives one greater claim to pronounce on morality in the first place.

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 09:51

AR

Tout à fait! - Quite!

MM

And yet I have a doctorate in philosophy rather than one in materials' science which is what my thesis was actually about.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 13:47

The University of St Gallen in Switzerland recently drew up this rather interesting chart which indicates the mid-career earning potential of graduates based on the discipline in which they took their degree. All those polled operate in the commercial sector. Given that "philosophy" now tends to mean actual philosophy in academic terms its position on the chart could come as a surprise to many:

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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 14:21

In terms of graduate level exam results as broken down into verbal, quantitative reading/writing and analytical writing, philosophy students also score very highly - according to this recent survey published by the Educational Testing Service research institute in the USA:



It would appear from these surveys that the business sector has cottoned on to the benefit of analytical and critical thinking. I wonder how a similar breakdown of our politicians would fare with regard to upward mobility of philosophers?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 16:43

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11136511

It is the degree of choice for the Westminster elite, claiming six cabinet members and three Labour leadership contenders among its alumni. Why does Oxford's politics, philosophy and economics course dominate public life?

I don't think it's the comfy chair option, AR. You have to be brilliant to get on this course and even more brilliant to cope with its demands.

Mind you, according to the article, Nick Cohen calls it "this silly degree" Rolling Eyes
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 17:26

The difference is between philosophers and philosophy.  The latter is a discipline, the former a job.  I am an English Lit graduate, but I am not an author, a poet or a literary critic.  An undergraduate philosophy course might be enormously rigourous and mentally demanding (unlike an undergraduate English Lit course, I am pleased to report), but it doesn't teach you how to be a philosopher.  What it actually teaches you is critical thinking through the medium of philosophy.  That critical thinking might be an essential prerequisite of becoming a successful philosopher, but it is also an essential prerequisite for many other jobs - including becoming a successful historian.  Over here, significant numbers of law students go on to do well in the commercial environment without ever going near a legal careerThe same principles apply - what you are being taught at Law college is how to think.

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 22:18

Quote :
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11136511

It is the degree of choice for the Westminster elite, claiming six cabinet members and three Labour leadership contenders among its alumni. Why does Oxford's politics, philosophy and economics course dominate public life?
And yet those great brains still haven't sorted out so much as the UK's chronic litter problem - which remains, year-in year-out, decade-in decade-out, one of the worst in Western Europe.

It's also interesting to note that in both the Swiss and the US studies posted, neither History nor Mathematics are listed as subjects majored in. Are there any other important subjects which are also missing from the lists?
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 23:51

Interesting tables from Nordmann....

But where are the engineers? ... the people to continue the work of Watt, Newcommen, Parsons, Brunel, Ricardo, Stephenson, Bessemer, Whittle, and a host of others  .... ?

Sadly it seems engineers are no longer (or at least not for the past 50 years) particularly valued in Britain ... despite successive UK prime ministers lauding, in general terms,  the finance boosting achievements of native British,  petroleum engineering, satellite engineering, aerospace engineering, biomedical engineering, recycling engineering, water management engineering ... etc... etc...

Hence the reason why I now run a B&B in France!


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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 23:56

And where are the architects?  Engineers in NZ seem quite well paid.  Three of my sister's children are engineers, all doing various work, and pretty well paid, I think.  My nephew was recently flown to the USA to fix something made here in NZ; I might have thought someone in the States could have managed.

My three sons all studied some philosophy at university - it may have helped teach them to think, but they still seem to have the same type of opinions, which they can of course back up with scientific research, as they had when they were young.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 00:40

No law, medicine, geography, modern languages or classics either, never mind archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, geology etc, etc.  I wonder what the criteria for inclusion were?
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 12:08

I just stuck them up as I found them - it could be that these scored lower than the ones listed or just that the ones listed hop over some categories, I don't know.

The idea that political leaders should not be philosophically inclined appears to be an ancient one. Hammurabi, the great grand-daddy of all philosophical rulers and whose law codes are the oldest known, was apparently dismissed by his son and successor Samsu-iluna as "a wise man who, in his wisdom, consigned my kingdom to rebellion and defeat".

Samsu was exaggerating of course, probably just weary and teed off by successive invasions, uprisings and bad harvests that dogged him throughout his reign. It is notable however that he did not rescind any of his old man's laws, for all his griping, including Hammurabi's innovative and pioneering insistence on a presumption of innocence unless otherwise proven, the basis of all civilised legislation in its aftermath.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 20:44

I'm not sure how relevant this is to the OP but it might be of interest.

Its just to say that philosophy, as a subject in its own right, is still a very critical part of French secondary education. The baccalaureat system requires students (at about 16 years of age) to opt for sciences, humanities, literature, or languages options but whatever section one chooses, one still has to study and pass an exam in philosophy to gain ones bacc in the final school year. And this philosophy bit isnt just about the theory or history of philosophy. To pass one has to be able to display a critical use of various philosophical methods to address a proposition. In the final exam (timed, written format I think its 3 hours for the science bacc, but 4 hours for the literature or humanities bacc) one might be expected to develop an exhaustive coherent argument around the subject of, say: 

Is truth preferable to peace?
Does power exist without violence?
Can one be right in spite of the facts?

This all stems back, as so often is the case in France, to the intellectual fervour of the First Republic. The bacc system was introduced by Napoleon in 1809, and in the heady intellectual spirit of that age, it was felt that the state should be encouraging its citizens not just to be learned, and have knowledge, but to be able to think too. Which Im sure we all feel is a very laudable aim.

But whether French baccalaureates or graduates are, for all their efforts, better thinkers, is another question. In discussions with guests they dont seem to unexpectedly catch me out by a cunning employment of Ockhams razor or the reductive methods of Wittgenstein. And as for critical thinking about the functioning of the French State (which was the original reason for promoting philosophical thinking by its citizens) Im afraid most modern French, including the baccs and graduates, generally still seem to believe in their inalienable "right" to work 35 hours a week, with 6 weeks paid leave annually, in a well-paid job guaranteed for their lifetime, and yet still expect to retire at 60 years on a full pension, and continue to benefit from at least a further 20 years of excellent state-funded health care. while at the same time freely admitting that their own children, like some 20% of French under 30s, whilst equally well educated, are nevertheless unemployed, have often never had a proper job in their life, and have never paid a single sous into the system which they and their parents are relying on. But not many people seem to see a fundamental problem in all this, of if they do it's for 'the government to sort it out'.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 21:36

All very laudable of the French to pose such philosophical teasers, MM, but makes me wonder how some of our more - er- challenging students here in Albion would respond to such intellectual demands:

Q. Is truth preferable to peace?  A. Depends what you mean by truth, mate. Miss says Pilate didn't know the answer to that one,  so how the f*ck should I?
Q. Does power exist without violence? A. Don't be daft.
Q. Can one be right in spite of the facts? A. I always am.

I once went out with a PPE student at Oxford (I, I hasten to add, was doing a secretarial course at the Oxford and County Secretarial College, St. Giles, Oxford. I got chucked out after one term for being utterly useless at both typing and shorthand: getting chucked out of that particular college took some doing, believe me, but I managed it). MY PPE pal was very good-looking, icily intelligent, but completely mad. He had a pet plankter (singular of plankton - quite invisible to the naked eye, of course) which he kept in a goldfish bowl in his rooms. The relationship failed (partly) because he insisted on prefacing just about anything he ever said to me with, "My dear ***, what you don't seem to understand is..."

Silly idiot, but I still remember him (sort of) fondly. Wonder what became of him and his plankton - sorry, plankter? He (the boyfriend, not the plankter) is not a member of the cabinet, as far as I know.


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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 23:32

Of the many things I've learned on this forum, finding that plankter is the singular of plankton is one of the most satisfying. How I wish I'd known that long ago - calling someone a pathetic plankter has a real ring about it and so much more erudite than just slimy pond life. In fact it could be an amalgamation of a number of other disparaging epithets, several extremely vulgar. I shall be muttering "Plankter" under my breath, quite possibly at a member of the cabinet, in preparation for deploying audibly it in anger.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 07:19

Well, I expect the poor little thing got flushed down the loo eventually, ferval, but glad you liked the word.

Apologies for typing the F-word, even with an *, last night, but occasionally, in the middle of all our high-flown discussions here, memories of another very different world intrude...

Here's a Wiki list of famous politicians, media folk and "others" who hold/held a PPE degree from Oxford. Bill Clinton apparently started the course when he was at Oxford on a Rhodes  scholarship, but he did not finish his studies and was never awarded the degree.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_University_of_Oxford_people_with_PPE_degrees

One of the "others" is Rupert Murdoch.

AR wrote:
The difference is between philosophers and philosophy.  The latter is a discipline, the former a job.  I am an English Lit graduate, but I am not an author, a poet or a literary critic.  An undergraduate philosophy course might be enormously rigourous and mentally demanding (unlike an undergraduate English Lit course, I am pleased to report), but it doesn't teach you how to be a philosopher.  What it actually teaches you is critical thinking through the medium of philosophy.  That critical thinking might be an essential prerequisite of becoming a successful philosopher, but it is also an essential prerequisite for many other jobs...The same principles apply...what you are being taught... is how to think.
Mmm - I suppose when all is said and done, it is not so much how you are trained to think that matters, but what in the end you decide is worth thinking - and of course what you then do with your thoughts.

Logical, analytical thinkers can sometimes be far more dangerous than the warm, fuzzy brigade - the intuitive, untrained, undisciplined lot. Is it possible to be a warm, fuzzy philosopher?

But as for Eng. Lit. courses not being rigorous and mentally demanding, I'll not comment.

PS I've told this story before, but perhaps I may be excused for repeating it on this thread. Mrs T.S. Eliot once wrote to The Times recalling how her husband, the great poet and thinker, was once recognised by a London taxi driver. "You're T.S. Eliot, aren't you?" the cabbie asked. "I get a lot of famous people in my taxi. Had Lord Russell in it only the other night. 'What's it all about then, Bertrand?' I asked him on the way to Paddington, and do you know, he couldn't tell me."


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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 08:25

PS Unlikely that a cabbie would ever address Lord Russell as "Bertrand", but I still like the story.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 09:04

And - before I retire for the day - I should like, if I may, to offer a story from my other world/life.

I had been teaching Golding's Lord of the Flies to a small group of very difficult sixteen-year-olds. They - although they had all been officially labelled "failures" by the system - had really liked the book, and, when it came to discussing some of the issues explored by Golding, they were by no means uncritical thinkers. We were exchanging ideas about the nature of evil when (it was a glorious October day outside - a cold, crisp, sunny morning, ideal conditions for football) one lad, who was not being at all rude or unpleasant, looked out of the window, sighed deeply, and then exclaimed in despair, "Talk, talk, talk - all this talk! You don't know, miss; I don't know; nobody don't know."

I assured him he was absolutely right (even told the little group about Socrates' comment about his not knowing anything. I do hope they remembered that - and Socrates' name).


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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 09:14

If it was around the time of the 1982 World Cup they would all have known Socrates.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 09:28

I should have shown them this - and they could have explained to me whether Socrates was offside or not.

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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 09:49

One footballing philosopher, the ex-goalkeeper of Racing Universitaire d'Alger, would probably have made a rather decent political leader. In a time when "philosophers" such as Sartre were back-handedly endorsing totalitarianism on esoteric grounds Albert Camus was not only countering the political philosophy with cogent and intelligent argument but even getting out and doing his bit on the ground in the Resistance Movement. His tragic death at the age of 46 robbed the world of one of the best "anti-bullshitters" in philosophical circles, a role which has never been adequately filled in his absence and of which, in my view, the French are amongst those in direst need.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 10:07

Anthony Soprano Jr. quoted The Outsider at his dad, if I remember correctly, and Tone later brought it up with Dr Melfi:

Dr. Jennifer Melfi: Sounds to me like Anthony Jr. may have stumbled onto existentialism.
Tony Soprano: f**k' internet.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 13:52

Q. Is truth preferable to peace?  A. Impossible to answer as the question makes no sense.  You might as well ask if watering cans are preferable to yellow. 

Q. Does power exist without violence? A. I agree - don't be daft.  Where physical violence doesn't underpin power, intellectual violence usually does.  A weak argument dressed up in long words is every bit as hopeless as a weak argument equipped with a baseball bat.

Q. Can one be right in spite of the facts? A. Yes, but one would be wrong.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 17:13

Hugh Schofield, whose daughter recently prepared for the French examination MM has mentioned, has some interesting things to say in this BBC article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22729780

Philosophy can indeed be dangerous for some people. Nordmann mentioned Camus above - a brilliant man certainly, but I know a couple of young people who were nearly driven mad by that thinker's insistence on "the benign indifference of the universe". Is indifference ever benign? It's hard coping with such stuff when you're only sixteen; it's hard coping with it when you're sixty. As someone once noted, humankind cannot bear very much reality.

I mentioned Tony Soprano's dismissal of his son's interest in philosophy; we can laugh at his comment, but of course there was a dark side to the joke. Young Anthony's discovery of Camus and Nietzsche led him pretty quickly to the conclusion that life was meaningless. He ended up jumping into the family swimming pool, having first tied a brick to his foot. His father fished him out just in time.

To be fair to Camus and Nietzsche, Anthony Soprano Jr. was already a pretty messed up kid. Drink, drugs and a toxic family are not good for anyone's sanity. But add too much dark philosophy to the mix and you get a very dangerous cocktail - especially for vulnerable adolescents.

We have to be careful. I'm all for encouraging youngsters to think and to question and to debate, but force-feeding them really difficult philosophy too early is perhaps not that wise. The list of philosophers Hugh Schofield mentions is pretty daunting. Tricky. I'm not too sure the French have got it right.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Wed 14 Aug 2013, 20:10

I recall growing into discussion on just about everything as Scofield relates of his daughter but would balked at an examination. One reason for this was because though discussion stimulate thought an argument expressed for a passive reader would have seemed shallow. I also soon learned even then that some people had defective sounding boards.
A young friend left his Phil and Maths masters course because he had a tutor who disagreed very strongly with everything he wrote - I saw the damning remarks for myself - no argument just negative tyranny. It could have been destructive but the lad came through unscathed and went on to his life of committed good work - mainly  with  homeless dead beat derelics and slowly bringing them back into coping in a world they had rejected in hopelessness. 
I draw no conclusions from this only perhaps to observe that of the two men the younger  one has a richer and happier life - the abysmal salary for what he does is not an issue either.
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PostSubject: Re: Philosophers as rulers?   Thu 15 Aug 2013, 09:11

I've been mulling over AR's comments. There are many trained philosophers who are nevertheless bad philosophers. Didn't Plato have Socrates expressing disapproval of the  sophists Euthydemus and Dionysodorus (hope I've spelled their names correctly)? A good philosopher cares for real wisdom and truth, not just for displaying cleverness in verbal combat.

We certainly train our politicians to be clever sophists, but does that make them lovers of wisdom?
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