SECTION ONE. WELCOME.
Welcome to the world of philosophy and the literature of science fiction. It's good to have you aboard. I think that all of us will have an interesting time. I suspect that you are wondering, "What is the relationship between the two, philosophy and science fiction?" Your thoughts may be something like this: "Philosophy is that kind of shoot-the-bull stuff "bookworms" do and science-fiction boils down to the "far-out" stories "Trekies" talk about. What they have in common must be that if I am going to have to read and discuss them, it will not be too hard because they only require pedestrian thinking. So, I'll just sit back, relax, and let my mind operate on cruise control; I'll only think as much as I have to. Besides, philosophy never led to the construction of a TV set or anything else useful, and science-fiction is much of the same; both are intellectual mind games people play. Sort of like hard cross-word puzzles; fun to do, but so what?"
Well, to some extent, you're right. Philosophy involves a lot of shooting-the-bull or speculation, but there may not be as much "bull" as you think. And, science-fiction certainly stretches the imagination, but that need not mean that you can write it off as foolishness; just remember, not too long ago, the concept of the world's being round was science-fiction. And one-hundred years ago, speeds (in fact, flying) faster than the speed of sound was, for the average Joe, unthinkable. But, the important question in the back of your mind is really, what do philosophers (and writers of science-fiction) do and why? Let's talk about philosophers first.
1. Philosophers ask questions, puzzling questions.
What do philosophers do and why? Basically, they do what we just did --which is to ask questions. Some of the questions philosophers ask are quite ordinary, but as we push to examine them, they become troublesome. Let me give a personal example of how philosophical questions can get a person into trouble.
I remember an event when I was about five years old --a stringy will o'the wisp kid with hair that could never be combed and a splash of orange freckles across my face. It was early December 1949. My mother and I had gone to downtown Birmingham to do some Christmas shopping where there were four large department stores all grouped within two blocks of one another. The primary joys of Christmas shopping for a five-year old were to see all the toys, play on the new escalators, look at the moving toy displays in store windows, eat a hot turkey sandwich lunch on the mezzanine of the largest store, and, of course, see and talk to Santa. We did all of these at our first stop, Loveman's. Needless to say, I was a happy kid.
Then, we went to the second store, Pizitz. My mother shopped around for some items she could not find at Loveman's. After a short while, I asked to see whether or not Santa were at Pizitz. My mother said that we could take a look; we journeyed to the store's "North Pole." Santa was indeed there, but I was somewhat puzzled. While waiting in the line, I asked her how Santa could be at Loveman's and Pizitz at the same time. Her reply made some sense, but it wasn't altogether satisfying, "Well, Santa moves from Loveman's to Pizitz very quickly."
I finally made it through the line and saw Santa. But, now there was a new problem. This Santa was NOT the same Santa; this one was not as fat, had different colored eyes, and smelled of cigarettes. I was rather upset because as far as I was concerned, this Santa was a fraud. The real Santa was back at Loveman's. Moreover, my mother seemed to know something I didn't. She even seemed to act in ways that indicated she didn't want me to find out what she knew; why else would she have misled me with the story about Santa's getting around so quickly? Worse, I speculated, there is probably a Santa at the other department stores. So, the question popped into my head, "Who and where is the real Santa?" I asked that question.
The reply I received was even less satisfying than the one before, "The real Santa," Mom said, "is a spirit. These Santas are just people dressed up like him so that the spirit of Christmas can meet children such as you."
I didn't ask any more questions that day because I was confused. I had no idea what a "spirit" was except that it was some sort of mysterious and thus somewhat scary thing. I had certainly never seen a spirit and the prospect of meeting one didn't seem to be a good idea; spirits had something to do with dead people. For the most part, I just kept my mouth shut the next few days, but I got into a fight with another kid a week later who said that Santa didn't exist, that Santa was really a person's dad or mom. I told him he was wrong. Santa was a spirit who was real because MY mom had said that he existed. A heated argument and physical exchange ensued and I came to the realization then that it wasn't prudent to assert an hypothesis unless you had thought it through and could defend your position.
Now, let's take a look at the impact those questions had on me. They got me into hot water right off the bat both with respect to my own beliefs and those of others. Unfortunately, the questions remained with me throughout my education like old telephone books that need to be thrown out, but have so many things written in the margins that they cannot be chunked. What stuck were the underlying questions that I had inadvertently asked: "What things are real?" and "How can I know something to be true?" It was not until I went to college that I began to ask about those underlying questions in earnest. And, I'm still asking them after many years of college, graduate school and teaching. Something remains constant in the whole process; I always get into a lot of trouble when I ask them.
2. Here's a quick look at some of the categories of philosophical questions.
What we will do, together, in this book is to get ourselves in a lot of trouble by asking philosophical questions. These questions are easy to come by and ask, yet are so difficult to answer that we will be taking something of an "Indiana Jones' adventure of ideas." We will be poking around in some mysterious and perhaps dangerous places, but the intellectual jewels we may find will be well worth the effort.
Let's take a quick look at some of the areas and topics we will be investigating (at the end of the Introduction, I'll be more detailed in an outline of topics of investigation). Already mentioned is EPISTEMOLOGY. Epistemology deals with the nature of knowledge: what can be known; what constitutes experience, belief and knowledge; is there truth to be discovered? METAPHYSICS: what is the nature of reality; what things exist and in what ways? In examining our own beliefs, we will look at EXISTENTIALISM --man's existence and his place in the world. FREEDOM AND DETERMINISM, whether or not persons have free-will, will be of importance to us. It would certainly be a surprise and "bummer" if it turned out that we are biological robots. SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY is a topic that will be critically examined: what constitutes a just society and a proper government; and, more specifically to us, what is the society created by the institution of marriage? We will also investigate ETHICS, the study of the nature of moral obligation: what actions or rules are right or are moral duties? We'll take a close look at some ethical problems that are coming to the fore in our society: abortion, animal rights, famine relief and fair distribution of goods (affirmative action). Finally, THE MEANING OF LIFE will be examined from the perspective of what would make our lives not only meaningful, but truly worth living.
There will be many interesting sub-topics derived from the above categories: Do things in the world have qualities such as colors? Are our minds separate entities from our bodies? Is there a world separate from a mind? Does God exist? Can God exist? Why is there so much evil in the world? Is abortion right? Is there such a thing as free-will? Should rich nations feed starving nations no matter what the cost; are rich nations obligated to rescue? Do animals have rights? Is there meaning to human life, or better, for each of us, is there meaning to my life?
It is easy to see that there is fertile ground for thought and critical examination ahead. At the end of the chapter, I'll give a more detailed roadmap of our philosophical investigations.
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