We begin at the beginning in all four classes today, asking What is philosophy? What is atheism? What is bioethics? Or answering, to turn it around Jeopardy-style. The short affirmative prompts, then, to which these simple questions are each an appropriate respective response:
- The stubborn commitment to thinking and speaking clearly, motivated by the love and pursuit of wisdom.
- The belief that there are no gods or other supernatural agencies and forces guiding the fate and destiny of human beings.
- The study of life in light of the rules, conditions, and actions by which it may flourish.
I’ll solicit crowd-sourced alternative prompts and definitions from each class, as always.
Not every philosopher is devoted to clarity, nor does every philosopher seem especially clear on the meaning of wisdom. When the Philosophy Bites
inquisitors asked a sampling of contemporary philosophers to say what their profession is and does, the results varied widely. None of them came up with a better answer than William James’s “stubborness.”
There’s less variety among atheists, definitionally, but there’s a distinct spectrum of attitudes and temperaments within the godless community. Some atheists are “friendly” like Hemant Mehta and Julian Baggini, some are nasty like P. Zed Myers, many just want to understand what others mean by “God” and why, like Spinoza. I’m urging him as our role-model.
There’s plenty of difference among bioethicists, particularly when religious convictions concerning the god-granted sanctity of life are introduced, but none would deny that good living is the field’s focus. And good dying. That’ll be our capstone topic, as Atul Gawande leads us into the thicket of issues surrounding life’s final chapters.
What does it mean to live a good life and anticipate a good death? If that’s our jeopardy answer, the prompt might just be: What are all of these classes ultimately about?
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