Philosophy: “The Las Vegas of Rational Inquiry”


Every society has a population that loves trashy, glittery entertainment; porn; gambling… and it would be foolish to despoil some beautiful area with it. Plunk it in the middle of some otherwise irredeemably inhospitable and infertile desert—concentrate the glitz and sleaze in one place where it can be indulged in with a minimal impact on the rest of the world. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!…

I see philosophy as the Las Vegas of rational inquiry, where every ism is permitted to be promulgated, where outrageous doctrines are “taken seriously”… and, in general, no one gets hurt, because, hey, it’s philosophy, and who takes that seriously? What happens in philosophy stays in philosophy, by an large, and a good thing it does, too. 

That’s Daniel Dennett (Tufts), in a recent issue of Free Inquiry.

Dennett seems to take philosophy’s insulation from the rest of the world as, on balance, a good thing for philosophy, allowing creativity and curiosity to run free, unconstrained by concern about consequences:

Philosophers can take a hard look at anything… and this is quite innocuous because there is a sort of quarantine barrier between philosophers’ discourses and the general run of conversation and discovery. If there weren’t we would have to worry a lot more about the environmental impact of our musings—and sometimes this can be surprisingly dangerous. 

It would be a good idea to see philosophy, he says, as

a play room for serious thinkers… Play is serious; play is where one can break the “rules” and discover new vistas.

He takes this picture of philosophy to have implications for engagement with the public:

By all means, broadcast the sound conclusions of philosophical analysis, but until something approaching consensus is achieved, the promulgation of unsettling perspectives can do serious mischief. 

The whole piece is here.

(via Victor Kumar)


related: The Intellectual Achievement of Creating Questions

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