Nasty, brutal and short by Scott Hershovitz begins like a fable.
Once upon a time, the author — director of the law and ethics program and professor of law and philosophy at the University of Michigan — fathered two sons, Rex and Hank, whom he has raised as philosophers ever since. his earliest childhood. “If you have a young child, you are raising a philosopher, whether you know it or not,” he asserts.
Postulating that philosophy is an innate subject for children, while employing this premise to persuade adults to be more receptive to a holistic discourse of daily life, Hershovitz states, “I want you to know that philosophy is too important to be left to philosophers. he says. “And I want you to think philosophy is fun.”
Hershovitz explains that philosophy pervades “every aspect of our lives – the sacred, the profane, and even the mundane.” By ironically recounting the conversations he had with Rex and Hank during bath time, before bed, on the way to school and home, Hershovitz sets out to prove that philosophy, like children curious and rowdy, can offer enlightening ideas – even when it comes to complex topics. related to misbehavior, such as swearing, lying, disobedience and revenge.
Hershovitz’s belief that philosophy should be both undisciplined and life-changing both acknowledges and strongly refutes Thomas Hobbes’ view of human existence as “wicked, brutal, and short.” Hobbes, a 17th century British philosopher, believed that in nature, human lives were sadly short, due to constant poverty and conflict. This led him to support a centralized government controlled by an absolute ruler, thus rejecting Aristotle’s idea that human beings are naturally adapted to life in a polite where they would realize their full potential in exercising their citizenship rights.
Hershovitz’s worldview is closer to that of Aristotle. While asserting that he is not religious, the author’s investigation reflects an intellectual openness to embrace the beauty of the world as well as its tragic and maddening contradictions. From his point of view, a mind most receptive to complexities and compassion would probably belong to a child, someone, I presume, much like the little prince from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s unforgettable classic. Perhaps Hershovitz is like the figure of the fox who tells the little prince (and us) his “simple secret”, that “it is only with the heart that one can see correctly; the essential is invisible to the eyes”.
In other words, Hershovitz believes we can become more thoughtful individuals by using reason – the “heart” of philosophy – to examine various approaches to human existence and its values. In this perspective, any form of hatred or prejudice born of dogma can be considered as a lack of interpretation, a lack of complete investigation, a lack of reason.
Accordingly, Hershovitz discusses the concept of dream skepticism as a useful means of questioning the fluid nature of reality. Telling a story about the Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi who wonders if he is a man dreaming he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he is a man, Hershovitz also illustrates how Rex and Hank are ideal avatars for ruminations. Adult/Parent Philosophy: Are we trapped in caterpillar forms even as adult humans, yearning to return to our innocent, luminous butterfly state?
Applying Zhuangzi’s dream skepticism to highlight the instability of dogmatic beliefs and explaining how these beliefs can be recast through the lens of conceptual ethics, Hershovitz cites examples related to gender and sexual preference. For example, by defining gender as a chosen identity rather than a biological determinism, he suggests that we can become more inclusive in sport when it comes to trans athletes. Similarly, if we reframe the marriage debate by asking whether there is a conceptual difference between a heterosexual union and one of two committed partners, then it might be possible to consider both.
As discussed, Hershovitz’s inquiry is motivated by openness and compassion – these principles directly challenge Hobbes’ limited view of human beings as barbaric creatures devoid of agency. Hershovitz argues that even though humans don’t matter much in the grand scheme of the universe, “things do matter to us”. Regardless of the world, philosophy would simply be a nihilistic exercise – but its symbiotic relationship with our lives provides a moral basis upon which we can refine our understanding of rights and responsibility. In fact, in reframing Pascal’s bet, Hershovitz explicitly acknowledges: “We would be novelists about God and put our faith elsewhere – in each other and in our collective ability to fix the world.”
Basically, Hershovitz’s approach, betting on his children’s infinite capacity to ask cutting questions, has a bittersweet side to it, it’s like faith and doubt at the same time. Rex and Hank’s childhood years are over. The portal to their seemingly endless capacity for wonder may close once they reach adulthood. Nonetheless, Hershovitz reminds parents to embrace the “weirdness” of our children for as long as we can, and perhaps in the process find our way back to the questing child-philosopher within us.
Thúy Đinh is a freelance literary critic and translator. His work can be found at thuydinhwriter.com. She tweets @ThuyTBDinh