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An Introduction to Western Philosophy – Why the West is Great

I just watched the PBS DVD on Western Philosophy called “Wisdom for Life” and here’s what it’s about. At a time when Western culture seems to be strip clubs, Kim Kardashian, and porn, the program looks at the true value of Western culture – thinking.  In an age of terror, it’s more important than ever as Columbia University philosopher Arthur Danto explains, “the 911 terrorists came here and visited strip clubs and immersed themselves in our pluralistic society … and then turned around and said ‘yuck’.”

An illustration of Mahommed's assetion - the kind before the 1300's ban on realistic art
The Prophet Mohammed’s ascension – in green robe – the kind of illustration common before the 1300’s ban on depictions of the Prophet

The arguments for the West’s outlook on reason and morality are extremely compelling.   At a time when we face competing claims from religious fundamentalists, it’s helpful to draws out the West’s rational and moral tradition.

Otto Neurath - one of the philosopher's who's ideas are discussed in the program
Otto Neurath – one of the philosopher’s who’s ideas are discussed in the program

The program features interviews with 10 top philosophers who explain the modern Western outlook by tracing it back … all the way back to Plato and Aristotle.  Otto Neurath’s analogy of  human consciousness as a boat at sea needing repairs while afloat, is explained.  The ship metaphor – a brilliant challenge to empiricist foundationalism – is contrasted with the worldview of the fundamentalist.  Richard Rorty, in an interview before his death, explains how everyone needs to have the courage to act in a world where  certainty is not achievable.

Far from being an attack on the Muslim tradition, the program explains how the West rediscovered it’s self with Muslim help.  I found this low quality sample of the DVD on Youtube:

Akeel Bilgrami goes on to explain how the Muslim fundamentalist worldview has more to so with colonialism and  shame than logic.

Muslim scientist with Astrolabe
Muslim scientist with Astrolabe as seen in the philosophy program

We all need to get clear about the case to be made for the West’s pluralistic values.

The above illustrations are included with the kind permission of the PBS documentary “Wisdom for Life – A guided Tour of Western Philosophy.”