I studied my moral and ethical philosophy with Albert Tussman at U.C. Berkeley. He taught there well into his 70s, I believe, and resolved to give it up when a coed popped her bubble gum before his lecture. I guess that her action crystalized his sense that nothing was sacred to the generation he was teaching.
His wisdom to me was granted one Spring day when he broke out of his office hour to take me out on the lawn under the clock tower. He allowed me to unburden myself of my concerns for the future. When I finally realized what a great honor he had granted me, I asked what he considered to be the most important source of philosophical understanding in our age. His response is relevant to this discussion: the decisions of the Supreme Court. He supported the judgment with the observations that they decided matters that had to be implemented by systems that were critical to the survival of the citizens of the nation, but that they had absolutely no power to effect change. Thus their decisions had to be crafted in a way to build consensus between the parties in the matter.
“Philo sophia“, indeed.
So what about academic philosophy? Well, these are people involved in far more abstract issues regarding the accessibility of truth and the nature of human experience. These become esoteric for at least two reasons.
The first is the categorization problem. As in the sciences, we start with coarse categories of experience and then, when that coarseness frustrates our powers of explanation, we refine. That means a never-ending progression of inventive vocabulary that ultimately leaves the common man standing out in the hallway (metaphorically). What becomes even more interesting is when thinkers in two traditions of philosophy try to reconcile their categorization schemes. Ach! Me noggin!
The second is the desire to maintain lineage so as to preserve as much from the past as possible. Now the Supreme Court is going through an activist stage in which this principle is less important, but in general philosophers are wary of throwing anything away. This means that they tend not to reclaim words used in the past, but rather to invent new ones.
My clearly stated intention at everdeepening.org was to buck this latter trend. I set out to reclaim words in common usage to try and help people out of the moral and ethical morass that imprecision of everyday use has bequeathed to us. First and foremost of those words was “love.”
Imprecision in everyday use is mostly a problem when power is conditioned upon avoidance of responsibility. When the shit hits the fan, a typical sound bite is “Well, that’s not what I understand the word to mean”, or “But that’s not what I meant.”
I was put onto this by the confusion regarding the phrase “I love you”, which I realized meant, in most usage, “I love myself.” In other words: “I feel good when I’m around you – let me use this token to bind you to me.”
While the power of precision has been valuable to me in managing my personal relationships, it’s been essential to me in surviving my spiritual engagements. When we know what it means to love others, we know what it means to love ourself. That understanding has protected me from a lot of harmful associations that presented themselves with a great deal of shiny glitter.