Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Progress

Hey all,

In his infinite wisdom, Frank has allowed me to coordinate the last two Tapping Philosophy meetings of the semester. This week, we will be discussing progress.

Basically I would like to break our question into two parts which are undoubtedly interrelated: progress within philosophy and social/human progress.


Utilizing the generally accepted Western narrative that Plato and Aristotle are the founders of philosophy, has philosophy progressed in any real way since its Grecian roots? Is the discipline of philosophy any closer now to obtaining any more real or more practical truths about the world or life, itself, than it was in its infancy? Is this the way in which we should be judging philosophical progress, or should progress be judged in some other way, or does philosophical progress even make sense as a theory? Philosophers such as Hegel and his dialectical reasoning would undoubtedly assert that actual progress can be and is made, while Kant would say that philosophers can only talk of how things appear to us and we can make no progress towards a more complete understanding of things-in-themselves.


In today's society, we constantly hear about progress, the progress of global democracy, the progress of medicine, the progress of technology; in the second half of our discussion I would like to discuss what this progress is and why it is considered a stock Good. Is total human progress possible, or can progress only be understood in terms of groups of people gaining an advantage over other groups? Does having three TVs, two cars, and a Nintendo Wii really make one's life better, or does our assumption that commercial and technological progress is a stock Good cloud our capability to reflect on whether we are actually better off newer, 'better', and fancier stuff? Is progress an essential human need, or is it a contrivance, I suppose is the essential question here.

Let's plan to meet at Yeats at 8 o'clock, I can run rides from Connelly at 7:30. Hope to see many of you there.

Anarchy and Love,

1 comment:

Francis Prior said...

Hey guys,

I won't be able to make it this Thursday due to the fact that I have sooo much work, but I would like to leave you all from this appropriate passage from Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of the Titan. I know this would be best to post this on the weblog, but I just had to share.

Some of the President's comments at the time bear repeating — and it should be remembered that the President gave the word "progress" a special flavor by pronouncing it prog-erse. He also flavored the words "chair" and "warehouse," pronouncing them cheer and wirehouse.

"Now, some people are going around saying the American economy is old and sick," said the President, "and I frankly can't understand how they can say such a thing, because there is now more opportunity for progerse on all fronts than at any time in human history.

"And there is one frontier we can make particular progerse on and that is the great frontier of space. We have been turned back by space once, but it isn't the American way to take no for an answer where progerse is concerned.

"Now, people of faint heart come to see me every day at the White House," said the President, "and they weep and wail and say, 'Oh, Mr. President, the wirehouses are all full of automobiles and airplanes and kitchen appliances and various other products,' and they say, 'Oh, Mr. President, there is nothing more that anybody wants the factories to make because everybody already has two, three, and four of everything.'

"One man in particular, I remember, was a cheer manufacturer, and he had way overproduced, and all he could think about was all those cheers in the wirehouse. And I said to him, 'In the next twenty years, the population of the world is going to double, and all those billions of new people are going to need things to sit down on, so you just hang on to those cheers. Meanwhile, why don't you forget about those cheers in the wirehouse and think about progerse in space?'

"I said to him and I say to you and I say to everybody, 'Space can absorb the productivity of a trillion planets the size of earth. We could build and fire rockets forever, and never fill up space and never learn all there is to know about it.

"Now, these same people who like to weep and wail so much say, 'Oh, but Mr. President, what about the chrono-synclastic infundibula and what about this and what about that?' And I say to them, 'If people listened to people like you, there wouldn't ever be any progerse. There wouldn't be the telephone or anything. And besides,' I tell them and I tell you and I tell everybody, 'we don't have to put people in the rocket ships. We will use the lower animals only.'"