Author's Note: This blog post was written in the context of a 400-level ENG course on The 2008 Housing Crisis. The blog post stands alone, but was also in conversation with other blog posts and with class discussion. All of the blog posts I made during this class—most of which integrate my philosophical interests into larger discussions about literature, class, and economic crisis—can be found here.
As we begin reading The Parable of the Sower and thinking about the nature of things like safety, necessity, violence, homes, or adequacy, some of the philosophical tools I mentioned in class on Friday might allow us to pursue a more fine-grained analysis of the issues that will continue arising in this class. I also want to use these tools to reflect on Francesco’s post on the problem with words—and especially words like “necessary.”
The major question Francesco’s post raised for me is, What are words for? This question bears on metaphysical issues insofar as we usually want the words we use to track something that is true and real about the world. Yet, words and how we use them also shape and filter our experience of the world. When it comes to thinking about the identity of certain words, there are surely meta-linguistic issues that are salient. I could go down the rabbit hole with this, as I have on other posts, but I won’t today. Instead, I want to reiterate the different kinds of conceptual analysis I discussed on Friday while also convincing you that these philosophical tools are useful for what we are doing in this class.
When you hear me discussing “possible worlds,” some of you might think, “Why do possible worlds matter when we are thinking about issues as pressing as water shortages, housing crises, and racism?” And sometimes, I think this too. I sleep at night by reassuring myself that there are myriad ways to make sense of the world—we can gain new perspectives and a greater understanding of the important issues from light and color and sound (photography, art, music), from prose, from economics, from sociology, from psychology, and from philosophy. Even applied ethics that seems “relevant” bears on questions related to the nature of moral propositions, the nature of moral psychology, what it means to change something, the right way to define words, and so on. So, although I bring up philosophy yet again, I encourage you all to remember the profoundly human aspects of philosophy that motivate the cold-looking logical proofs: we’re trying to better understand the nature of the things around us, and sometimes, this more abstract understanding might illuminate a question or solution that we might not have otherwise seen.