On Disagreeing

Disagree - photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdfalk/

A friend of Philosophy Matters recently linked me to an interesting article discussing new funding opportunities for philosophers researching some of the “Big Questions.” Research funding for philosophers is something that has, essentially, never happened before. Now multi-million dollar grants are being awarded for looking at questions regarding free will and immortality.

First and foremost, I’m thrilled that philosophers are getting the chance to take reigns on such projects. It’s a new opportunity for the discipline to showcase it’s importance and how it can address such “Big Questions.”

However, the criticisms mentioned in the article are telling:

 Partisans of Richard Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have long despised the foundation, interpreting its interest in dialogue between science and religion as an attempt to buy undeserved credibility for the latter at the cost of the former. Adds Brian Leiter, “It’s clearly more of a windfall for philosophers who have some sort of vague religious angle to what they’re doing.”

The battle that has been established between so-called New Atheists and religious persons is frustrating. I understand that many, including Dawkins, feel that religion is poisonous to all aspects of life. But, as a point of simple rhetoric, going around and throwing this in everyone’s face is not going to do a good job of convincing anyone who doesn’t already believe that.

It’s ok to communicate and appreciate and like people even if they believe very different things than we do. And we can have discussions and debate each other without demonizing the other position. Bill Clinton made a very similar point just last night at the Democratic National Convention:

Sometimes I couldn’t tell you for the life who I’m working with because we focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities and not fighting all the time. And — so here’s what I want to say to you. And here’s what I want the people at home to think about. When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation. – Bill Clinton

Cooperation is the cornerstone of any society – it’s necessary to exist as a society.

And philosophy should be able to play that role. Perhaps Templeton does have an agenda. Regardless, let this research stand up to the same scrutiny and open debate that our science does. Be open to exploring and having others explore questions and issues that you might not believe yourself. Personally, I’m excited about the opportunities that these Templeton grants will open up for the field of philosophy and the questions that such research will bring to light.

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