“It is a Weltanschauung, an intellectualized attitude towards life. ”
There. Clears it right up. Why couldn’t all those confused and laughing philosophers simply have said that?
Oh yeah: every time I’ve ever asked students about their weltanschauungs, they either giggled or recoiled or looked nonplussed… as though I’d mentioned something not suitable for discussion in polite company.
So let me clarify.
The quote is from William James, trying in the first chapter of his last published (posthumous) work (Some Problems of Philosophy, 1911) to answer the Philosophy Bites stumper question “What is philosophy?”
And here to clarify the Jamesian clarification is Herr Doktor Professor Freud, writing two decades later:
By Weltanschauung, then, I mean an intellectual construction which gives a unified solution of all the problems of our existence in virtue of a comprehensive hypothesis, a construction, therefore, in which no question is left open and in which everything in which we are interested finds a place. It is easy to see that the possession of such a Weltanschauung is one of the ideal wishes of mankind. When one believes in such a thing, one feels secure in life, one knows what one ought to strive after, and how one ought to organise one’s emotions and interests to the best purpose.
Oh. “No question is left open” by a good weltanschauung? In that case, I ain’t got one and I really don’t want one. The open questions are the ones that get me out of bed in the morning and give me something to talk about at work.
So philosophy is an open-ended, never-ending quest for clarity that gives you an “intellectual attitude” and feeds your curiosity. It is intellectually unifying, to that extent, but should never be stultifying. As James’s thorny friend Charley Peirce insisted: “Do not block the road of inquiry.”
One more thing: good philosophy is interesting.
Philosophy, indeed, in one sense of the term is only a compendious name for the spirit in education which the word ‘college’ stands for in America. Things can be taught in dry dogmatic ways or in a philosophic way.
So there’s the gauntlet I’ll be picking up, as chief facilitator of three sections of CoPhilosophy at MTSU: don’t be dry, don’t kill curiosity or the cats who have it, don’t dogmatize. And don’t block the road.
Or as DNA pioneer James Watson put it: avoid boring people.