Notes on Philosophy versus Politics

Why are philosophical opinions and philosophers more complicated than political opinions and politicians? Seems like a rhetorical question–philosophy is ‘smarter’ than politics. But what do we mean by smarter? My take is, philosophical positions, unlike political ones, don’t really ‘oppose’ each other. Philosophy is much more subtle than politics. For example, Kant vs. Schopenhauer on phenomenology, or noumenon vs. ‘thing-in-itself’, or materialism vs. realism. A realist and an anti-realist (with the possible exception of, say, Daniel Dennett vs. Bishop Berkeley) are not a diametrically opposed as, say, a ‘pro-lifer’ vs. a ‘choicer’. There are only two flavors of American politics (and this seems to apply elsewhere, too): liberal and conservative–and their positions and politicians are all predictable, right down the line. The ‘cons’ oppose higher taxes; ‘libs’ want higher taxes; cons want more defense spending; libs want more spending for social programs such as welfare and education, and so on. And it’s been this way for decades, although sometimes–as we saw the 60’s-80’s when the South switched from Blue to Red–things change. But overall, by merely knowing someone’s political affiliation, you can predict with a very high degree of certainty their views on a wide range of issues. Libertarianism is more subtle, but still is predictable as an admixture of liberalism and conservatism. But philosophy does not yield to such simple reductionism. Unlike politics, it’s also not issue-based, but rather philosophy is what underpins politics. Philosophy, although it’s abstract and subtle, can be pretty significant in terms of real-world consequences when such philosophies lend themselves to interpretation. For example, existentialism, which absolves the individual from any sort of external morality, may have inspired dictators, such as Pol Pot (who in the 50’s studied Sartre in Paris), who believe that they alone (a form solipsism), not a higher power such as God, are the arbiters of reality and morality. This is a potentially a very dangerous belief, in the wrong hands.