PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 178 11th September 2013
I. On the 12th Anniversary of 9/11
II. Ask a Philosopher!
III. GVKlempner on YouTube
This the first issue of Philosophy Pathways to go out in 2013. I decided to wait until the new academic year before sending out this update, with a couple of items of Pathways news. It seemed appropriate to choose the anniversary of 9/11 as I would also like to add my voice those commemorating the events of that day.
As I explained to the authors who have recently submitted articles for publication, I have resigned as Editor in order to have more time for my own work. I am still fully involved with running the Pathways School of Philosophy as well as mentoring a fairly large proportion of Pathways students.
For the record, under my Editorship 177 issues of Philosophy Pathways have previously been sent out since January 2001 when the e-journal was launched. In addition 75 issues of Philosophy for Business have been sent out since its launch in November 2003, including two issues (53 and 63) edited by Guest Editor Dena Hurst.
During the interregnum, issues of Philosophy Pathways will continue to appear as and when the need or opportunity arises.
If you have a graduate degree in philosophy and would be willing to consider taking on the role of permanent Editor of either, or both, e-journals please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I. ON THE 12TH ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11
Convention dictates that a piece of writing commemorating the events of 9/11 should be focused on the victims who lost their lives, and their bereaved family and friends. The majority of those who died believed, not just that 'this can never happen to me' but that such an event was simply unthinkable, the stuff of science fiction. The truth, as we now know, is that there is no limit to how bad things can get. To be realistically optimistic about the future requires that we accept the ever-present possibility of catastrophe. There is no way to insure, one hundred per cent, that 9/11 could not happen again, or indeed, that 'our' side would not this time be the ones perpetrating the atrocity.
On the Facebook ISFP Open Group discussion page, one of the regular contributors recently posted the question, 'Were we truly philosopher-kings in the Platonic style what would action should we take over the events in Syria? If philosophy has any worth it should be able to sort out this little problem -- yes?' My answer is that there is a role for philosophers, but only if they are willing to 'know a lot of things besides philosophy'. Plato would have been aghast at the narrowness and specialization of present-day academic philosophers.
For what it's worth, here is my contribution to the debate. I am conscious that it would take a book to untangle all the threads of ethics, psychology, politics, game theory of threats and counter-threats. At the end of the day, if you are an member of Parliament or Congress and you are asked to vote, you vote, Yes or No. Sometimes the margin between these two alternatives can seem vanishingly small. All that one can hope is that, through some guiding hand, an almost magical principle, the process of democracy will lead to the best, or at any rate the least worst decision under the circumstances. It can do, sometimes.
It is an irony that will not be lost on the US Congressmen and women who will be returning this week, that amongst the rebels fighting for the Syrian opposition against Assad is a sizeable contingent from Al-Qaeda. If anyone had predicted just a short while ago that the US would be planning a military strike against those fighting against Al-Qaeda, no-one would have believed it. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend?' is what many unconvinced members of Congress will be muttering.
Like many, I hope that the vote does go through, not because I want to see Syria attacked by the US but because the threat of force appears to be needed in this case. There is a persuasive argument that nothing less could induce Assad and Russians to agree to put chemical weapons under UN control, as now seems to be the case. It is a lesson learned from the ancient game of chess that 'a threat is more powerful than its execution.' It is hard to resist the temptation to use force when it looks as if it would solve your problem, but once you've done your worst, shot your bolt, it's your opponent's turn to take his shot.
At the time of Kissinger and Nixon, the US Administration toyed with the 'madman theory'. From a game theoretic standpoint, there is a case that the best strategy against an opponent who has shown adeptness in predicting your every move is one that convinces your opponent that you are insane and willing to employ any means to achieve your objective. According to Kissinger, this was the rationale behind the bombing of Cambodia with fleets of giant B-52s, something barely conceivable in our present enlightened times -- or so we would like to think.
I would be willing to wager that both Assad and Obama have closely studied 'Unrestricted Warfare' by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui (Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House 1999), as no doubt did the leadership of Al-Qaeda at the time of 9/11, and most other terrorist organizations around the world. In a standoff between a superior and inferior military power, the inferior power who is prepared to forego ethical principles that the superior power is unwilling to give up can gain the upper hand. Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui go into alarming detail over the options available to the sufficiently ruthless.
Unrestricted warfare and the madman theory almost seem like two sides of the same bent coin. Both promote irrationality -- in the first case ethical, in the second case prudential -- as the most rational means of attaining one's end. That's not such a paradox as it may seem.
The cynical will say that in the present situation, all talk of 'ethics' is merely strategic, merely game theory. It's not for real. As Ghandi demonstrated in his fearless resistance to British colonial rule, the only truly ethical alternative is to offer yourself up for slaughter. Failing that, there is no political leader in the East or West or in between who has the luxury of keeping his or her hands clean.
True ethics begins with this thought. There is still a difference. A difference between using chemical weapons and choosing other weapons that would be less effective in the circumstances, for no other reason than the intuitive gut feeling that this 'crosses a red line'; between using violence to hijack planes and fly them into civilian buildings, or using violence to hijack planes and surrender in order to make a protest; between bombing to death innocent men, women and children and choosing other, more precisely targeted but still horrific means of engaging an enemy.
A wise leader understands ethics and also understands the full implications of game theory, and what that means in practice for one's ethical principles. One has to be prepared to countenance inconsistency, while inconsistently and hypocritically proclaiming -- when the need arises, which happens frequently -- that one will never compromise on ethics.
1. ISFP Facebook Open Group
2. PhiloSophos web site:
'Philosophy is for everyone and not just philosophers.
Philosophers should know lots of things besides philosophy.'
3. German: 'Eine Drohung ist starker als eine Ausfuhrung.'
4. Haldeman, H. R. (1978). The Ends of Power. Times Books. p. 122
Referenced in Wikipedia:
5. Unrestricted Warfare by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2013
II. ASK A PHILOSOPHER!
Launched in 1999, 'Ask a Philosopher' started, like many of the now permanent features of the Pathways site, as a few scribbled notes on a jotting pad. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Unlike the present, when we have a panel of up to a dozen or more contributors responding to questions on a regular basis, I answered all the questions submitted -- admittedly, not that many in the beginning.
But things soon picked up. The first page of the 1st series, August-September 1999, has 16 questions and answers. By the time we reached page 9, December 2000-January 2001, the number had risen to 95. The first panel members were recruited for page 6, June-July 2000. They were Dona Warren, Michael Bavidge, Steven Bullock, Matthew Del Nevo, and Brian Tee, to whom I am grateful for helping to get the ball rolling.
The length of pages continued to increase over the years, as the frequency of questions increased, as well as the average length of answers given. The 49th page, 2nd series, had 139 questions and answers and ran to over 100,000 words, the length of a sizeable book.
Typically, I would edit and HTML code a page of questions and answers in a day, or two days at the most, which was all I had time for in between my other duties. By any standard, editing a book in a day is requires heroic singleness of purpose, not to mention willingness to take ruthless decisions. (I am still occasionally correcting errors that sharp-eyed visitors to the site point out to me.)
Things all changed in July 2011 when a new site for Ask a Philosopher was launched at Wordpress.com. Instead of gathering questions and answers over a period of months, it was decided to limit the number of questions and answers on a page to just six, leading to a much faster turnaround time. Apart from myself, none of the panel members answering questions on recent pages is included in the original June-July 2000 list.
We are now actively recruiting for more panel members from students taking the University of London BA (Hons) degree in Philosophy via Pathways. In our view, anyone who has passed one or more of the twelve modules that comprise the BA degree is sufficiently qualified to answer questions that fall within the area or areas that they have studied. An answer does not need to be final or authoritative, arguably, in philosophy it is rarely so. It is sufficient that you make a case for the view you adopt -- which is exactly what I tell my students submitting essays to me for review on a regular basis.
If you are one of my BA students, please do consider joining the panel. I'd rather issue the invitation this way than embarrass you by asking you individually!
I know that as part-time students who in many cases have full-time jobs, there is not a lot of time to spare for extra-curricular activity. But in this case, as BA students who have joined the panel such as NHS Senior Consultant Craig Skinner would attest, answering questions on Ask a Philosopher is a great way to explore and deepen one's understanding of philosophical issues.
Joining the panel to Ask a Philosopher couldn't be easier. Just send an email to email@example.com and I will add you to the 'Ask a Philosopher' e-list, which is distributed by the Sheffield University list server alongside the Philosophy Pathways and Philosophy for Business e-lists. (For the record, this is the only connection Pathways has to Sheffield University!) A new list of questions is sent out by email every week or two weeks. There is no obligation to answer any of the questions, but if you see a question that takes your fancy, email your answer to me and I will include it on the next page of questions and answers. If your answer requires revision, I will tell you, but it is comparatively rare for that to happen.
Under each submitted answer there is a short bio note that says who you are, which can also be linked to a web page if you have one. If you don't have a web page, I can make one for you at philosophos.org.
I look forward to hearing from you!
1. Ask a Philosopher: Page 1, 1st Series
2. Ask a Philosopher at Wordpress.com
3. University of London Diploma and BA via Pathways
4. Craig Skinner at philosophos.org
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2013
III. GVKLEMPNER ON YOUTUBE
It's a fair question to ask what 'work' was so important that it required my giving up the Editorship of the Pathways e-journals. The fact is, I don't know for sure what exactly I want to do at this point in my philosophical life. Writing another book would be one option, but the question that has always brought me to a halt is, who would be the intended audience?
Despite my admiration for a number of contemporary philosophers, I am not really interested in engaging with the world of academic philosophy. Rightly or wrongly, I don't believe that that is the best way to the truth about the philosophical questions -- primarily questions in metaphysics -- that happen to grip me. Even if one doesn't engage, however, one still needs to keep half an eye on what the opposition is doing: 'Those ignorant of the history of philosophy are doomed to repeat it,' goes the saying, and that saying is no less valid when applied to knowledge of contemporary debates.
So, what to do? In a flash of inspiration I decided that while I am waiting for a better idea to come along, I could try my hand at YouTube. To date, I have made five videos. My username on YouTube is 'GVKlempner'. The reaction has been encouraging, and I hope to make more.
For the record:
Why am I here?
11 May 2013
What is death?
20 May 2013
Reality: the locked corridor
20 July 2013
Reality of the past
7 August 2013
What is truth?
25 August 2013
The challenge I set myself was to do philosophy and not just talk about things I know. By that criterion, the exercise has been a success. In the course of making the videos, new ideas did come. Although each video could be improved by a second or third 'take', it seemed right to stick to the first attempt, because it is in a way the most truthful, even when I find myself saying things which I would now disagree with, or which I now feel could be better expressed.
Do you have any ideas for topics I could tackle? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know your thoughts.
Or if you have a response to any of the points made or thoughts expressed, post your comment on YouTube and I will do my best to reply!
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2013