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The Editor’s Bit

by Rick Lewis

First things first. Due to a major improvement in our personpower situation, Philosophy Now will be published on a proper quarterly basis with effect from this issue. While I appreciate that losing the element of uncertainty will remove some of the fun from buying a copy of the magazine, it should make life a bit easier for contributors, stockists and subscribers. Issue 5 will appear in January 1993.

These are stirring times in Britain: the Bill for ratification of the Maastricht Treaty is about to be brought back to the House of Commons, and demands for a referendum continue to grow. Serious constitutional issues are at stake and the outcome of the current political strife will affect all our futures for decades at least. The arguments of both sides are legitimate objects for philosophical examination; as are such concepts as sovereignty, independence and democracy. Like so many people I have strong opinions on all of this, but I feel it would be wrong to air them here. It would be like trying to hitch Philosophy Now to a particular political wagon, and I won’t do it. But it’s tempting! I hope you all appreciate the sacrifice I’m making here, ‘cos I just love sounding off about these things.

A large number of pages in this issue (pp.19) are taken up by replies to a single short letter that appeared in the last issue. In it Dr. John Shenkman, a general practitioner, said that while his patients desperately needed advice on a whole range of philosophical worries connected with their everyday lives, philosophy as practised seems to be like the activity of a bunch of headless chickens. Obviously some readers have been stung by this fowl calumny!

My own feeling on this is that over the years, lots of philosophers have indeed addressed themselves to the practical problems that people worry about. Many of them have given a clear lead, and indicated how people should conduct their lives. The problem is that as in any bunch of experts, there are nearly as many contradictory opinions as there are philosophers. How can you tell which is the best? In order to tell, you have to become a philosopher yourself, and think the problems out from scratch. But then, how do you know that your conclusions are more reliable than those of the other philosophers?

I think the problem here is (a) that the questions addressed are really quite difficult and (b) that different people mean different things when they ask what appears to be the same question. Fortunately, although this is a bit of a morass, the bog isn’t infinitely deep – there is solid ground down there somewhere. Logically, any question you can ask must either have a clear and meaningful answer, or not. If it has, you can try to find out what it is. If it hasn’t, you can try to understand why there is no meaningful answer, and then stop worrying about it. Therefore, philosophy needn’t be a hopeless enterprise. We can make real progress with the Shenkman questions, but we probably won’t agree that progress has been made until long after the event.

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