Philosophy Retrospectives

I find myself, in the final week of philosophy class, in whole-hearted agreement with Bertrand Russell’s quote:

“Philosophy aims primarily at knowledge . . . but it is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions . . . but rather for the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”

So often in our time, we are accustomed to getting concrete answers to questions at the push of a button, and the uncertainty can often make us feel uncomfortable.  We have computers that we carry with us in our pockets at nearly all times, and they are able to pull up information, contradictory information, fact-checking information, and alternative points of view to almost any position at any time.  With the overflow of information that we are accustomed to, it is good sometimes to be reminded of the uncertainties that surround us at every waking moment.  Not every question has an easy answer.  There is not always a right or wrong answer.  Sometimes there is not an answer at all, and sometimes there are dozens.  Sometimes the way to discover the truth is to dig deeper, becoming willing to topple our own preconceptions and biases out the window.  It is only by entering into certain topics with an open mind that we can hope to come closer to uncovering the truth.

There have been several times over the past few weeks where I’ve really had to challenge myself. Some of the reading material was frustrating to me, not knowing which direction to turn, not having an easy way to refute claims that I either didn’t like or didn’t agree with.  But ultimately, I think a lot of the questions (at least the big questions) that we confront within our lives take this consistency.  We have to become accustomed to seeing things from multiple points of view, rather than just seeking out confirmation of what we want to believe just because we are predisposed to it.  Like history, philosophy is a subject that doesn’t always have an easy solution.  Mistakenly, a lot of people think that history is black and white and largely irrelevant in the present.  Realistically, however, nothing could be further from the truth.  The study of history (my major) is one of great depth and is undeniably open to interpretation and debate.  You can have five sources to an event that all disagree with each other.  The job of the historian is to try to uncover the truth, and in order to do that sometimes you have to weed through century’s worth of biases to get closer.

The most valuable thing I think I can take away from the past 8 weeks is that steady, constant reminder. I am no more immune to bias than anyone else.  I have my own ideas, beliefs and preconceptions.  I have desires and predispositions.  But things aren’t always the way I want them to be just because I want them to be that way.  There are alternate points of view that conflict with mine.  If I value truth more than I value comfort or self-justification, I should be willing to adjust my positions by examining other points of reference, and being willing to accept things that have the most justifiable reasons behind them, even if they make me uncomfortable.  Keeping that in mind going forward, as I have had to do throughout the length of this course will be an invaluable reminder to keep shifting the way I think, and to keep an open mind for points of view that differ or even conflict with mine.

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