07 December 2010

the Site of Thinking

This short opinion piece in the New York Times outlines a compelling approach for practicing philosophy in our time. In it, the author describes what he refers to as field philosophy;

“Getting out into the field” means leaving the book-lined study to work with scientists, engineers and decision makers on specific social challenges. Rather than going into the public square in order to collect data for understanding traditional philosophic problems like the old chestnut of “free will,” as experimental philosophers do, field philosophers start out in the world. Rather than seeking to identify general philosophic principles, they begin with the problems of non-philosophers, drawing out specific, underappreciated, philosophic dimensions of societal problems...Field philosophy, then, moves in a different direction than either traditional applied philosophy or the new experimental philosophy. Whereas these approaches are top-down in orientation, beginning in theory and hoping to apply a theoretical construct to a problem, field philosophy is bottom-up, beginning with the needs of stakeholders and drawing out philosophical insights after the work is completed.

I think this helps highlight where the Bahá’í world has been moving in recent years. Gone are the days when Bahá’í "scholars" could content themselves with having an encyclopedic knowledge of Bahá’í teachings and history without extensive engagement with the wider society. And those serving actively in the field are discouraged from limiting themselves to simplistic activities, such as handing out pamphlets or walking in a parade. Service now requires a great deal more thought and effort. And intellectual pursuits inspired by the Baha'i faith are becoming more and more mobile and “embedded” in patterns of community action.

The junior youth spiritual empowerment program is perhaps the best example of this. A successful junior youth group is one that stimulates on-going dialogue among early adolescents around topics such as justice, beauty, love, education, prosperity, and others— and then engages them in service and artistic projects aimed at transforming society. Between the junior youth program and field philosophy we see two complementary movements. One is of philosophy extending its efforts to embrace the community. The other is of service extending its efforts to embrace philosophy.

Taken together, and each acting from its own pole, we see an enactment in practice of what philosophers have been talking about since at least Nietzsche—the systematic de-emphasis of a whole series of false dichotomies: mind/body, thinking/acting, theoretical/practical and others.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. Paul Lample remarks on the question of the role of scholars in the Baha'i community in a talk given at the 2008 Association for Baha'i Studies conference:

    "Perhaps the learned Bahá’í is more like the “scout” who helps to guide an expedition on a journey into unexplored territory. This is someone who participates actively in the journey, but whose specialized knowledge, skills, and experience informs various aspects of the struggle to make progress: constructive perspectives into the past, present, and future; insight and technical capacity for ongoing study of the text; problem posing and problem solving; the defining of culture and intercultural relations. On this journey, the learned individual/scout does not have authority, and, while making a vital contribution, like any other participant is fallible and learns over time."