There is, as yet, no acceptable non-sexist alternative to “fisherman.”

Niraj Chokshi: “How fitting that the man often credited with saying ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes’ most likely did not invent the phrase.”

I’m reading Derek Parfit’s On What Matters again, slowly and carefully, taking short breaks when its brilliance moves me to tears. A friend of mine glances at a paragraph on my phone and is not impressed.

Why do I bother? he asks. Why does anyone bother with philosophy? “It changes nothing in the real world. All that time and effort would be better spent on medical research, on agriculture, on developing new forms of reinforced concrete or improving the efficiency of electric power plants.” He carries on like this for several minutes, getting more worked up when he notices I’m ignoring him.

I suspect there’s something he’s not telling me. There is, as they say, history here, trauma buried in his past. If I dig carefully I will find withering putdowns from philosophy professors or ex-boyfriends who broke up with him while quoting Sartre. Someone hurt him, and now he takes it out on philosophy, on a casual bystander who has done the world no harm* and has, in fact, done it a great deal of good.

Our friendship survives his ignorance. We talk about Klitschko and the death of old lions. He tells me how proud he is. He and AJ are distant relations. How distant? He reels off a list of names, connections by blood, marriage, and mistaken identity, weaving a web I’m too weary to unravel. I’m still thinking about philosophy and how best to make a case for it. Should I begin with Bertrand Russell?

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected.

It’s good, but not good enough. Most educated persons acquire “a tincture of philosophy” without ever taking a course in formal logic or metaphysics. And openness to unfamiliar possibilities may be more a matter of natural temperament than instruction.  It doesn’t help that many academic philosophers, with souls deep-dyed in the stuff, aren’t paragons of virtue. They may have few prejudices “derived from common sense,” but their ideas are often no less fixed and no less dangerous.

There’s a simpler response. Philosophy, like pure mathematics, is beautiful, and the world is better for having beauty in it. It is also inevitable. As long as there are people on Earth who have satisfied their basic needs (for food, shelter, etc) there will be philosophers. For this we can all be thankful.



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