- 2012-06-13 23:21:06
Philosophy distances us from conventions, from established assumptions, and from settled beliefs. Those are the risks, personal and political. And in the face of these risks, there is a characteristic evasion. The name of the evasion is skepticism, it’s the idea –well, it goes something like this –we didn’t resolve once and for all either the cases or the principles we were arguing when we began and if Aristotle and Locke and Kant and Mill haven’t solved these questions after all of these years, who are we to think that we, here in Anders Theatre, over the course of a semester, can resolve them? And so, maybe it’s just a matter of each person having his or her own principles and there’s nothing more to be said about it, no way of reasoning. That’s the evasion, the evasion of skepticism, to which I would offer the following reply. It’s true, these questions have been debated for a very long time but the very fact that they have recurred and persisted may suggest that though they’re impossible in one sense, they’re unavoidable in another. And the reason they’re unavoidable, the reason they’re inescapable is that we live some answer to these questions every day. So skepticism, just throwing up your hands and giving up on moral reflection is no solution. Immanuel Kant described very well the problem with skepticism when he wrote When we first came together some 13 weeks ago, I spoke of the exhilaration of political philosophy and also of its dangers. About how philosophy works and has always worked by estranging us from the familiar by unsettling our settled assumptions. And I tried to warn you that once the familiar turns strange, once we begin to reflect on our circumstance, it's never quite the same again. I hope you have by now experienced at least a little of this unease because this is the tension that animates critical reflection and political improvement and maybe even the moral life as well. And so our argument comes to an end, in a sense, but in another sense goes on. Why, we asked at the outset, why did these arguments keep going even if they raise questions that are impossible ever, finally, to resolve? The reason is that we live some answer to these questions all the time. In our public life, and in our personal lives, philosophy is inescapable even if it sometimes seems impossible. We began with the thought of Kant,that skepticism is a resting place for human reason. Where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings, but it is no dwelling place for permanent settlement. To allow ourselves simply to acquiescence in skepticism or in complacence, Kant wrote, can never suffice to overcome the restlessness of reason. The aim of this course has been to awaken the restlessness of reason and to see where it might lead. And if we had done at least that, and if the restlessness continues to afflict you in the days and years to come, then we together have achieved no small thing.
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