Why should we be interested in philosophy and ethics? Humanity is facing profound challenges as it becomes clear that we not only have an unsustainable relationship to the environment (we have known that for a long time) but that the situation has become critical. While the best that science and engineering can offer must be part of the solution, that won’t be sufficient. A complete reorientation in out behaviour is required if we are to avoid having a cataclysmic correction forced on us. The source of these enormous challenges lies in our behaviour, our ethics and philosophy; we must take an interest in these and try to find out what has being going wrong if we are to find a solution.
The following collection of articles tries to explain my own conception of philosophy, which I divide into classical philosophy and modern philosophy. The boundary between the two isn’t sharp but everything preceding the 17th century scientific revolution clearly belongs to the classical period and everything from the 19th century romantic period belongs to modernity. The focus of my writing at the moment is Jane Austen, who is particularly interesting in belonging to both: while grounded in the classical tradition she was engaged with shaping the new (synthesizing the great English 18th century novelists to create the modern English novel).
In the first article on Classical Philosophy I explain my own appreciation of pre-modern philosophy and make some remarks about our relationship to it.
In George Berkeley I explain why I think Berkeley’s idealistic philosophy is more important than it is generally given credit for. In trying to push back against a trend towards absolute materialism Berkeley proposed his idealistic system; the importance of this system—I would argue his main point—is that there is an unavoidably idealistic aspect of reality, and the evidence for this has become overwhelming with the most startling evidence coming from physics, the discipline that originally gave rise to the rage for materialism.
In The Enlightenment I explain the key idea of modernity, a principal of ethics that flowed naturally from the scientific revolution, that Hume and Rousseau explained better than most: that the head should be subordinated to the heart, and in Kantian Philosophy I explain why I think Kant’s philosophy reinforced this trend, ushering in the romantic era. This promotion of sentiment, and the attendant disdain for reality, I believe to be the defining mistake of modernity and in Joseph Butler I explain Butler’s much neglected conception of ethics and his elegant understanding of the relationship between science and ethics.
In contrasting David Hume’s and Jane Austen’s approach to ethics I explain why I think the latter is coherent and the former, before (lest anyone gets the wrong idea) taking a short digression to explain why I think David Hume is a great philosopher. In The Romantics and The Cynics I look at some of the modern critiques of Jane Austen before relating a short personal anecdote in a postscript.