Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The End of Which Philosophy? On David Brooks

David Brooks' column today, "The End of Philosophy," is a tad over-billed. I think he's right to highlight that recent work in neuroscience, cognitive science, and evolutionary biology has increasingly made us appreciate that we human animals make our way in the world not primarily as "thinking things;" rather, our conscious, intentional choices and actions are just the tip of an unconscious iceberg of pre-cognitive intentionality of a different sort. (In fact, it's more like a snowball on the tip of the iceberg.) As Timothy Wilson, John Bargh and others have noted, we are oriented to the world in all sorts of ways that are pre-conscious--what Bargh and Chartrand refer to as the "unbearable automaticity of being." Indeed, Brooks himself is familiar with this literature as seen in an old column on baseball. I think this is right on the money.

But Brooks over-reaches when he bills this as "the end of philosophy." Whose philosophy? Which ethics? Brooks is absolutely right that this comes as a challenge to overly "intellectualist" models of the human person and human action--pictures of our being-in-the-world that construe us as always and only thinking, deliberating machines. But that is an increasingly small school of philosophy. Indeed, it's philosophers (from Heidegger to Merleau-Ponty) who have challenged just such an "intellectualist," cognitivist, top-heavy picture of the human person. In fact, one can find philosopher Charles Taylor articulate just such a critique of "intellectualism" in an important essay on Pierre Bourdieu, "To Follow a Rule."

So Brooks eulogy for philosophy is a little premature. And the philosophy that "ends" with these insights is well lost.