Robert Clancy

[Reprinted from the Georgist Journal, No.64, Summer, 1989]

Philosophy, says a modern critic, is a profession not called for in the world today. Pity. It could be helpful if used properly.

The problems and troubles besieging the world today seem to be like live wires writhing and spitting danger without any clear method of taming and channeling them. We get wild outpourings and savage suppressions like the recent events In China. Terrorism and enmity, crime and corruption, poverty and unrest go rampant.

Our domestic issues also seethe intensely -- abortion, death penalty, prayer in schools, guns for citizens, affirmative action, welfare, foreign policy, etc. They are dealt with by adopting a Word, a dogma, a slogan, and by demonstrations, disruptions, disorder. Whatever the issue, proponents and opponents learn the same stunts, such as confrontation, "passive resistance," and instant martyrdom for television.

There ought to be a better way of handling issues. Nowadays, if we want a less hysterical answer, our only recourse is to go to lawyers, psychiatrists or astrologers. This is where philosophy could help.

But it should be a philosophy that is willing to deal with big issues rather than niggling academically with semiotics, hermeneutics, linguistics, etc.

The last person willing to call himself professionally not just a teacher of philosophy, but a philosopher, was John Dewey. He concerned himself with social problems, education, politics, ethics -- controversial, to be sure, but reasoned out and to be answered with reason. Dewey was also a proponent of the philosophy of Henry George -- certainly a real world concern.

Philosophy is not woolly meandering, but a process of examining the world and drawing conclusions by reasoning about it. It goes further than science which limits itself to observation of facts, whereas philosophy goes on to interpretation, evaluating and invoking principles. It does not go as far as religion which takes dogmas on faith, but it continually questions.

I don't ask that emotions and demonstrations be stopped. All I suggest is that somewhere in the social decision-making process, philosophy ought to have an input. Perhaps there could be a Philosophy Court as well as a Law Court. Monarchies had court philosophers, why not democracies? I should think that when problems can be discussed in a philosophical way, we would be in a better position to handle them than we are today.