At a time when advances in science and technology have changed our understanding of our mental and physical selves, it is easy for some to dismiss the discipline of philosophy as obsolete. Stephen Hawking, boldly, argues that philosophy is dead.
Not according to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Goldstein, a philosopher and novelist, studied philosophy at Barnard and then earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton University. She has written several books, won a MacArthur “Genius Award” in 1996, and taught at several universities, including Barnard, Columbia, Rutgers, and Brandeis.
Goldstein’s forthcoming book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, offers insight into the significant—and often invisible—progress that philosophy has made. I spoke with Goldstein about her take on the science vs. philosophy debates, how we can measure philosophy’s advances, and why an understanding of philosophy is critical to our lives today.
“When people tell you that they love the new New Orleans, what they mean is that they love that the poor were kicked out and social services were eliminated so they can make more money.
A lot of people suffered because of Katrina, but even more people suffered because of political games and corruption. I believe more people died as a result of the closure of Charity Hospital than as a result of the storm. There were so many injustices. Public housing projects were not allowed to reopen. Private landlords were not allowed to reopen affordable multifamily apartment complexes in places where working class people live.
All this had the collective effect of denying people affordable housing and jacking up the rent for what was left. As a result, New Orleans now has the highest rental cost relative to income of any city in the country. In August of 2005, right before the storm, we had 8,000 unionized teachers. After the storm, the state legislature voted to fire all of them and replace them with non-union people. They got a lot of kids from the ritzier schools around the country coming down here as part of what was called ‘Teach for America.’ We called it ‘Scab for America.’ They were sending kids from upper- and upper-middle class background to working-class, mostly African-American schools. They didn’t know anything about New Orleans. They had no ties, no understanding. And these were kids who thought they were doing something good. I think they were being manipulated. It was simply politically advantageous for some people.
The whole country has changed. It’s not the country I was born into. When I was born, this country had the 12th highest life expectancy. By 2010, we dropped to 34th. I hear these excuses that people are fat, like me, or that they eat bad food. Well, why the hell do they eat bad food? Because it’s the only thing they can afford. They can’t buy organic or go to a nice restaurant, so they buy a hamburger. Or they don’t have the time to cook a healthy meal, so they buy a TV dinner and throw it on the plate. Americans work, work, work, work and work. They have to. Just to survive. Americans now devote a greater share of the year to labor than any other industrialized country except South Korea. It’s very hard for people to find leisure time. They ask, ‘Why are Americans so out of it?’ And stuff like that. Well, think about it: If you had no paid vacation and you had bills to pay, and if you didn’t pay them you’d be thrown out on the street, what would you be doing all day? You’d be working. So people don’t have time to read; they don’t have time to write; they don’t have time to dance; they don’t have time to think. Leisure time for the average person has almost disappeared. The whole society has been restructured and all it means is money for the wealthiest.”
There was something about him which made one feel at once (and it was so all his life afterwards) that he did not care to be a judge of others—that he would never take it upon himself to censure and would never condemn anyone for anything.
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (via heimaland)
Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war. ‘If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.’ And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.