Monday, April 12, 2010

Why: The Questions of Philosophy

I was listening to a podcast this morning and the speaker was talking about the human heart.

"Why is it that as a culture we are fascinated with certain stories: what's the truth, what happened, what didn't happen...All of those--the sort of tabloid level, the People and US Weekly level-- those are just facts. Why do these stories sell millions of copies? Because the real questions we have are not the questions of 'what.' The real questions come from the endless question of the ages,'why does the human heart do what it does?' and that's what we're compelled by."

And I thought about the first time I read Plato's Republic and realized that this was what I was looking for all along, not the how questions that were answered in my chem lab and bio class. Philosophy asked the why questions.

But many contemporary philosophers have begun asking "how" as though it answered "why." Without a notion of telos, the function of a thing just is its purpose. They seem to think we can only make the world intelligible by arid factual explanation. The materialist philosophers of mind argue that bare brain states determine our thoughts and actions. Moral philosophers look to psychologists for explanations of what makes us happy and derive from these empirical facts notions of "virtue." Political philosophers advocate non-ideal theories based on how people actually behave, rather than how they should behave or how the state ought to run.

As a result, we write like we're content with where we are; we'd simply like to understand how we got here. Metaphysics and epistemology are booming-- because these are fields that can provide us with a clearer picture of the steps we took before our arrival. What properties impress themselves on our consciousness and cause us to have these brain states of "belief" or "knowledge"? If we can just get a hold of these facts, maybe we'll be satisfied.

I wonder if we are mistaken in characterizing our restlessness as caused by a desire for "knowledge" or awareness of the infrastructure of our world. Perhaps it's our consciousness just roping us back in to the fundamental question why.