Michael Sandel on Philosophy

以下是我从Michael Sandel的课程Justice: What’ s the right thing to do中的第一堂课节选的一段话,算是他对课程的概括。也可以当做是对哲学的概括。

 

Not just to enliven these abstract and distant books but to make clear, to bring out what’s at stake in our everyday lives, including our political lives, for philosophy. And so we will read these books and we will debate these issues, and we’ll see how each informs and illuminates the other. This may sound appealing enough, but here I have to issue a warning. And the warning is this, to read these books in this way as an exercise in self-knowledge, to read them in this way carries certain risks, risks that are both personal and political, risks that every student of political philosophy has known. These risks spring from the fact that philosophy teaches us and unsettles us by confronting us with what we already know. There’s an irony. The difficulty of this course consists in the fact that it teaches what you already know. It works by taking what we know from familiar unquestioned settings and making it strange. That’s how those examples worked, the hypotheticals with which we began, with their mix of playfulness and sobriety. It’s also how these philosophical books work. Philosophy estranges us from the familiar, not by supplying new information but by inviting and provoking a new way of seeing but, and here’s the risk, once the familiar turns strange, it’s never quite the same again. Self-knowledge is like lost innocence, however unsettling you find it; it can never be un-thought or un-known. What makes this enterprise difficult but also riveting is that moral and political philosophy is a story and you don’t know where the story will lead. But what you do know is that the story is about you. Those are the personal risks. Now what of the political risks? One way of introducing a course like this would be to promise you that by reading these books and debating these issues, you will become a better, more responsible citizen; you will examine the presuppositions of public policy, you will hone your political judgment, you will become a more effective participant in public affairs. But this would be a partial and misleading promise. Political philosophy, for the most part, hasn’t worked that way. You have to allow for the possibility that political philosophy may make you a worse citizen rather than a better one or at least a worse citizen before it makes you a better one, and that’s because philosophy is a distancing, even debilitating, activity. And you see this, going back to Socrates, there’s a dialogue, the Gorgias, in which one of Socrates’ friends, Callicles, tries to talk him out of philosophizing. Callicles tells Socrates “Philosophy is a pretty toy if one indulges in it with moderation at the right time of life. But if one pursues it further than one should, it is absolute ruin." "Take my advice,” Callicles says, “abandon argument. Learn the accomplishments of active life, take for your models not those people who spend their time on these petty quibbles but those who have a good livelihood and reputation and many other blessings.” So Callicles is really saying to Socrates “Quit philosophizing, get real, go to business school.” And Callicles did have a point. He had a point because 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 “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." "Simply to acquiesce in skepticism,” Kant wrote, “can never suffice to overcome the restlessness of reason.” I’ve tried to suggest through these stories and these arguments some sense of the risks and temptations, of the perils and the possibilities. I would simply conclude by saying that the aim of this course is to awaken the restlessness of reason and to see where it might lead.

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