Utility and revolution

It’s Bentham, Mill, and Marx in CoPhi today, three thinkers divided by their shared commitment to change the world and not simply understand it. “Simply”? Is the world ever simple enough to understand from a singular point of view? Of course not.

It should by now be clear to us all that our survey of philosophy’s history is not a quest for the holy grail of exclusive ideological purity, it’s an expanding conversation. None of these philosophers is going to be voted off our island of “Co,” which in the parlance of Stone contributor Robert Moor is an increasingly-interdependent network, a mutual dependence society, an Exarky. In his terms we could think of our study of western philosophy as akin to a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Nice twist on our peripatetic theme.

We all know what an endarkist looks like. America has practically mythologized the type. Most of our best-known nature writers were vocal proponents of endarky: John Muir tramping off with a crust of bread tied to his belt, Thoreau hammering together a cabin beside Walden Pond, Edward Abbey advising his readers to “brew your own beer; kick in your TV; kill your own beef.”

In the past, we may have called these people “rugged individualists.” They tend to internalize information and skills. They grow their own food, build their own furniture, distill their own whiskey. Truly endarkic people crave solitude and, perhaps less consciously, cataclysm, if only for the opportunity to prove their self-reliance.

The exarkic person, on the other hand, is utopian, the type who believes in improving systems, not rejecting them; who does not shy from asking for directions; who would rather rent or share or borrow a home than own one; who has no qualms uploading his digital memories to something called the Cloud; who welcomes the notion of self-driving cars. Exarks prefer a well-trained police force to a well-oiled firearm. They walk, nimbly, with a kind of holy faith, atop wires others have installed.

If Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, and Abbey were endarkists, Bentham, Mill, and Marx are exarks.
Marx said he was not a Marxist, much as Darwin was not a (Social) Darwinist. The best thinkers, though they may inspire others to embrace rigid ideology, do not submit to it. They start a conversation and would love nothing more than to continue it, like old Socrates in heaven. They start out on the trail, and secretly hope the trail doesn’t end. They want to understand the world in order to change it, but they resist the idea of oxymoronic permanent change.
Some questions for today: Is there more than pleasure and pain to utility, and more than utility to personal happiness and social flourishing? Is quality an issue or is “pushpin” – let’s just say football – really as good as poetry, from the standpoint of utility? Are philosophy and the good life for everyone? Is utilitarianism a coach potato philosophy? Is it softheaded and softhearted to seek the greatest happiness of the greatest number? Does “ought” imply “can”? Do our desires, for example the desire for food, come before or after “the calculation of pleasures and pains”? Do all desires deserve presumptive consideration, to be discounted only when shown to conflict with the greater good? Why does Russell say that questions concerning competition, property, and state ownership of land and capital are not “matters for philosophy”? What did Thoreau mean about “killing time” and “injuring eternity”? 
5:50/7:04, 54/77/47, 5:58

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