Guess that must make me an empty blowhard, too, omnivore; for I was a double major in literature and philosophy. (I hope my minor in history might improve my "rep" a little in your eyes....)
Goodness, I find it amazing that you would find the humanities "dehumanizing." I'm simply speechless....
But I'm over that now: If I might make a "humanities" recommendation: Boccaccio's Decameron, a fourteenth-century collection of 100 short stories. It is a celebration of universal humanity that is by turns hilarious, ribald, scatological; serious, profound, tragic, noble. It presents man as he is, warts and all; saints and sinners, heros and villains, etc., etc. Everytime I read this work, I am struck by the thought "I KNOW these people! They are just like the people you meet everyday!" -- a testimony to the constancy and durability of human nature, down the ages.
Plus the book gives a fascinating account of the Black Plague in ~1350 A.D. Florence: the horrors, the social transformations it caused, etc. (Recommend the Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella translation. Their language is very modern and fresh -- which is most fitting; for Decameron was among the very first works of literature to be published in the vernacular: It was "the height of modernity" in its own time. The book was deplored and condemned by the religious authorities practically everywhere it went. :^) Up to quite recent times! Go figure....)
You wrote that most college-bound students have a good handle on the basic skills of reading and writing "by the end of the third grade." Simply amazing, that they could begin their college career "literate," and yet manage to graduate as illiterates -- and not just in reading and writing skills, but also in terms of knowledge of their own culture and history.
If you believe that writing doesn't require the most painstaking thinking -- well, I guess I should stop myself now, otherwise I'll surely say something I'd regret....
You wrote: "If philosophy were actually so all-fired 'fundamental' and important, philosophers would be at the leading edge of finding new knowledge...."
omnivore, philosophy is the MOTHER OF SCIENCE. As late as the 19th century, science was still called "natural philosophy." Philosophy is the historic source of mathematics (Pythagorus, Euclid), psychology (Plato's specialty), biology (Aristotle), physics (Democritus, Leucippus) -- the list can be easily extended, but I hope you get the picture.
Both Einstein and Bohr -- you know those guys who radically transformed all of physics in the twentieth century -- had a consuming interest in the philosophy of science, and Bohr was probably one of the greatest epistemologists who ever lived. Einstein was (IMHO) a frank Platonist; and his thought was strongly influenced by Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza, a seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher.
For me, reality starts where we leave the words behind, and the weird stories and primitive beliefs that we construct with words, and deal with the physical world physically, in its own language, which is mathematical.For me, reality starts before there are words to describe it. And that is why our articulations about it are so important -- they are the only means we have for grasping knowledge and communicating it to others.
We -- you and I -- are parts of the physical world; but neither of us is reducible to mathematics in the sense I gather you to mean.
Guess we just have different points of view, omnivore. Thank you so much for sharing your observations with me!
Strange that anyone who would reduce our existence to the merely mechanical level of the physical world would consider the humanities *dehumanizing*.
Of course there are philosophers and then there are philosophers. Some are engaged in trying to explain or identify truth, and these are the greats, there are the ones who even after a hundred generations we can still read with profit, because the questions are still current, even with all of the water under the bridge since then.
To read these guys, and to attack the same problems with modern eyes is to become part of a 3 thousand year old conversation that is still ongoing.
Others seem to be engaged in building their own reality, and in this I am in agreement with people who refer to it as empty wordplay (as would Socrates, who spent most of his time going after such people). Foucault is a good example of this, and a host of others like him.
When you think of philosophers, you think of the classic thinkers, and of the war of ideas that we deal with every day, and there is nothing more necessary, nothing more interesting, civilizations rise and fall on the outcome of these debates. These debates are not really fought out in college classrooms by the clueless boobs assigned to teach them, obviously, they are fought out in peoples souls.
To be ignorant of the big questions is to be just one more of the herd, unaware of your destination and purpose, unaware of who is directing your steps and with what motive.
You arent a philosopher because you have a PHD and tenure, you are a philosopher if you have a clue, and are engaged in the war of ideas. In other words, you, my friend, are a philosopher in the best sense of the word, I say that having read you for years now. I know you. But if your college philosophy professor was one, it was a lucky accident.
There is another class of philosophy as it relates to science. Philosophy in this context is both pre-science and post-science, in a way. Science operates at the edge of knowledge, and when our scientist stares out into the dark past the ring of campfires and asks the unasked question, he is engaging in philosophy. He may be a scientist on his day job, but at that moment he is doing philosophy. The scientist sets about doing the research that sheds light on the question, and as the data is uncovered, it is again the scientist wearing his philosophers cap that tries to make sense out of what he is seeing.
And then there are guys like me, looking over his shoulder, I cant do the science but I can do opinion all day long.
I didnt always have a high opinion of philosophy because I didnt have a high opinion of most of the empty nonsense that pours out of the pens of people who are usually being lauded as great thinkers. They remind me of the kind of guy your school system hires as this years poet laureate, who pays for his years stipend with some awful and endless verse that the kids have to be forced to listen to at some school assembly, or the guy who is this years resident composer who comes up with some awful symphony that will be mercifully forgotten as soon as everyone files out of the auditorium and can get to their MP3.
The ones we love to hate are precisely the guys like Derrida and Foucault, and why leave out frauds like Chomsky, guys only a college professor could love, and will be forgotten as soon as the current crop have retired and been replaced by the next crop of walking clichés.
Real philosophy is precious when you find it. Most of its would-be practitioners are not only wrong but laughably wrong, or dangerously wrong, ranging from the too-dumb-to-know-theyre-wrong to transparently evil to conmen, and if you have the stomach for it you study them so you can defeat them before their ideas become headlines in your morning paper or whole chapters in a history book. And the few philosophers who are capable of divining truth, doing battle on its behalf, and refuting the rest, these are the guys you are looking for. These are the guys we aspire to be.
Thanks for the ping, betty. Like you, Im amazed.
Im amazed that anyone but a Liberal would think that most college-bound students are at an acceptable level in the basic skills of reading and writing. On this very forum have we not heard, from almost every side, that Americas reading & writing skills are in a miserable state? Is this not the case? Correct me if Im wrong. I would be very glad to hear that I am mistaken.
Im amazed to read that Bill Bennett is an empty blowhard. I didnt know there was any other kind of blowhard save an empty one, but its shocking to learn that friend Bennett is to be found among them. But, then, again as usual, we read the accusation stripped of any attempt to make the case, as though the accusation proves the fact. Of this latter I am not at all amazed, for it is a standard Liberal schtick.
I am amazed to read that the humanities are "dehumanizing." I wasnt aware that there was anyone of discernment left in America incapable of making the distinction between the humanities and what in most universities is quaintly identified as the Humanities Department (more often some bastardized title being substituted). Anyone who has followed the battles of Dr. Mike Adams with the University of North Carolina surely must understand the distinction without a need for coaching. And, of course, there are many on this forum who have no need for the example of Dr Adams either, being themselves participants in the battle.
We all know who is in charge of our universities and our public schools. It is not Conservative Christians. Yet we learn that it is the fault of Conservative Christians that our universities and schools are overflowing with Socialist/Marxist garbage. I am not merely amazed to hear this; I am astounded.
And then once again I am propelled well past mere amazement to learn that self-evident truths and the consent of the governed are but pointless words and useless philosophy.