John Huss is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Akron. His work can be found in the recently published “Johnny Cash and Philosophy,” a collection of essays he edited that explore philosophical issues by examining the life and art of the American music icon.
He says that philosophy’s method of pulling apart a person’s assumptions and following the logic behind the thinking wherever it leads is disconcerting to people. And that is just fine to him. “Philosophy, at its best, should make people uncomfortable because it is a way of getting beyond the way you normally look at things. It’s to make you realize, ‘Wow, things I thought I knew for sure can actually be doubted,'” he says.
GM: Why does the philosophical way of thinking seem foreign to most people?
JH: Most of the time, people’s notions about right and wrong and what exists or what doesn’t exist comes from one of the following: religion, tradition, how someone was raised and they might also be a social product of interactions with other people. These are sources of our beliefs.
There are reasons we hold those beliefs. Philosophy should, at its best, give you a reason to question all of that. Think about how ingrained a lot of those beliefs are. It’s much easier to go along with what your religion says about a moral issue.
It’s much easier to succumb to dogma than it is to decide that you are going to fly in the face of that dogma…The price of going against societal norms is, you could be labeled as some sort of freak…There is a huge social burden and it’s a lot easier to go with tradition. It doesn’t require as much soul searching. There is no social cost to pay. Plus, it’s not really taught.
GM: So, people are going the easier way or they are worried about consequences. But do you think that the thoughts that occur to philosophers occur to everybody?
JH: That is a good question. There is an impulse in me to say “yes,” but I want to temper that a little bit. I think there are moments when everybody might ask a philosophical question – some fundamental question about existence or a fundamental question about a right or wrong.
But the difference is that philosophers occupy themselves almost exclusively with these kinds of questions. But there are also plenty of people outside of philosophy who are preoccupied with fundamental questions and have different methods for addressing them. I really enjoy listening to historians, anthropologists and psychologists speak about some of the same topics that philosophy is interested in.