Monday, January 4, 2010

Newton & Leibniz

There's a word for an idea that's time has come and then comes into being simultaneously in different places.  In evolutionary biology, there's a similar concept (parallel evolution?) such that beings very similar to one another independently evolve (Australia is riddled with animals similar to, but different from animals in the rest of the world).  The idea I'm most familiar with that arose at the same time is calculus with the burning question being "who was first?" Leibniz or Newton?  To me it doesn't really matter who was first, the more interesting question is why did they both come up with the same idea at about the same time?

How is this relevant to me (given that everything I write about is relevant to me)?  I've become more and more convinced in the last few years that the area that philosophy really needs to be looking at is the issue of decision-making.  Whether there is an absolute truth (moral, scientific, etc.) or not is irrelevant given that we are unlikely to gain access to it.  Nonetheless, we must decide what to believe and decide how to behave.  Saying we don't know the absolute truth doesn't remove the necessity for decision making.

I, of course, just assume that I, in my little, insignificant corner of the world, have happened upon a question that was probably asked and answered during the Middle Ages (or at least by Kant) and now I'm finding out, more and more, that this question is the question that is hot right now in philosophy.  Now I certainly didn't come up with this question by keeping up with all that's being written in journals, listening to the most influential folks in the field speak, or any other avenue there might be to current conversations...I am simply not keeping up with current conversations but am, instead, wandering around in my little world of reading, every year, Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and The Metaphysics of Morals, Hume's Treatise and Enquiry, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Plato's Gorgias, Mill's Utilitarianism and On Liberty, Waldron's Theories of Rights, Glendon's Rights Talk and Civic Virtues (I can't remember the author of this off the top of my head) and I'll probably be adding Pogge's book on rights.  Then add to this my regular reading and pondering of James, Dewey, Royce (♥), Goodman and Elgin (♥).  But, seriously, that's about it.  And, yet, I've arrived at the same place that other more important and influential people have.  And they even have a name for it "Practical Reason" and "Action Theory."

Wonder how this happened.

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