06 March 2008

Borgmann Consultation: All Campus Forum

Borgmann distilled his thinking into a brief lecture about the material and the moral. Essentially:

150 years ago we used to have to move around physically, deal with physical objects, have some skill. A person could not establish himself in society, e.g., without being married. Listening to music required either (1) making it yourself or (2) going to a function where other living beings were making it. Technology has lifted this from our shoulders.

The new reality is the economy, which is like water for sea creatures. Either we learn to swim in it or we drown. Due to technology, things that were once material necessities have become moral tasks; tasks not forced upon us due to the material nature of our reality. We still have a need for community, for physical activity, but we need to recreate, on moral grounds, conditions that were once the gift of material circumstance.

But even in these new "material" communities, the water still exists; the Old Order, for example, are more like an island in an ocean than a continent. And even recreating the conditions does not make it the same; 150 years ago no one could opt out. Now we can.

So the moral must work back on the material. The water won't go away, but the islands can be made larger. Critical mass of people can change the culture at large.


When asked what the most common criticism he faces is, Borgmann mentioned two: from philosophers, he hears that he is irrelevant (or that he is not doing philosophy); from liberals and Marxists he hears that he is politically naive ("What about the power structure?"). He quickly indicated he does not much care whether philosophers think he is relevant, as they are mostly irrelevant (and he challenged anyone to name the most important currently living philosopher ... one person proferred MacIntyre, everyone else was silent).

One quote regarding philosophy, Borgmann described the guild as being consumed by the "cult of counter-example," that is, the tendency of philosophers to hear an argument and immediately begin casting about for the one thing that will destroy that argument. Nice phrase, that.


John David said...

"cult of counter-example:" Anthony Robbins, the most relevant philosopher of the age :), calls these people "mis-matchers" with the observation that they are usually not well-liked since most people look for rapport and similarities with people they have recently met.

BMG said...

Borgmann thought perhaps John Rawls was the most significant philopher of the 20th century. Is "20th century" coterminus with "the age?"