It may sound paradoxical, but philosophers have proved useful in times of collapse and rebuilding. Some of the greatest works in philosophy–at least in terms of their longevity and influence–were written in and during such times.1 (More on this below.) Alfred North Whitehead, one of those philosophers writing in the early 20th century, put it this way:
Systems, scientific and philosophic, come and go. Each method of understanding is at length exhausted. In its prime each system is success: in its decay it is an obstructive nuisance. The transitions to new fruitfulness of understanding are achieved by recurrence to the utmost depths of intuition for the refreshment of imagination. In the end–though there is no end–what is being achieved, is width of view, issuing in greater opportunities. (Adventures in Ideas, 1933, pg. 159)
The creation of this “width of view”–thanks to our Homo sapiens hardware–is open to most of us. The paragraphs below were written in response to a colleague’s question about how the COVID-19 pandemic helps us better understand climate change and the many other ongoing, cascading, planet-sized crises. I offer them, in part, because I don’t know what else to do in this Moment (as opposed to this moment), and because I wrote them while sitting in a chair. More importantly, they issue mostly from my experiences and observations, not from a particular method of analysis or formal system of logic. And it is my hope that they will inspire others with Whitehead’s optimism that the work of the imagination can issue-in greater opportunities.
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