Universally Preferable Behaviour
If I were a nutritionist, I would tell you all about the science, biology and chemistry of food and digestion – with the express goal, at the end, of convincing you to change your dietary habits in order to improve your well-being.
If I were a personal trainer, I would tell you all about the science and biology and chemistry of stretching and exercise – with the express goal, at the end, of convincing you to change your exercise habits.
My goal in this book is to give you the background, knowledge and expertise to understand the value and purpose of philosophy, which is to get you to change your moral habits.
The purpose of medical research is to provide knowledge that leads to the prevention or cure of disease. There is no purpose in engaging in medical research if no one ends up changing any behaviours based upon the results of that research.
The entire purpose of a smoking cessation program is to have you not pick up a cigarette, light it, and suck on it. Going over the medical, biological and genetic background as to the dangers of smoking is all very important, but it is important only insofar as it helps reinforce your willpower to refrain from smoking that cigarette.
Everything in philosophy comes down to you changing your moral habits – and changing your moral habits requires a deep understanding of the value of good moral habits, and the disasters of bad moral habits.
This may seem like a controversial position, but only because philosophy has been largely hijacked by people who wish to use it for personal gain – such as academics and sophists (often the same category). Therefore, modern philosophy delivers abstractions that are clever, confusing, often annoying, and ultimately worse than useless. Academic philosophy is like an overindulged amateur magician – intrusive, irritating, incompetent, but rarely called out.
The four major branches of philosophy – metaphysics (the study of reality); epistemology (the study of knowledge); politics (the study of state power); and ethics (the study of virtue) – are like the plumbing that delivers water to your sink. Aqueducts, sewers, piping – these all only have value insofar as they enable you to turn on a tap in your house and actually get some clean water. Metaphysics, epistemology, politics and ethics – these have value insofar as they enable you to make and enforce better moral decisions in the world.
Think of the immense amount of research, science, engineering and physics that goes into the design and creation of a car – the purpose of which is to get you from A to B. Few people would buy a car without an engine (unless it was to cannibalize parts for another car with an engine) because a car is not a piece of art, a paperweight, or a hat, but a piece of machinery designed to provide mobility. If you give a paralyzed man a wheelchair with only one wheel, your “gift” is cruelty, not charity. The purpose of a wheelchair is to give someone without the use of his legs mobility, and such purpose is not served with only one wheel.
Think of the engineering complexity and technological genius that is required to serve up a web page to your eyeballs. The whole point is to facilitate your viewing. Without that viewing, everything else is worse than useless. If your monitor won’t turn on, the entire infrastructure becomes useless.
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