Philosophers And Nuclear Weapons
Philosophers can inform civic debate, not by doing politics, but by doing philosophy.
To me, nuclear weapons are indisputably the most important matter of public concern, given their ability to erase all other public concerns in just a few minutes. The existence of nuclear weapons would seem to provide an arena rich with philosophical questions.
What does the nuclear gun in our mouth tell us about our relationship with ourselves, our family, our community, our future? What does the fact that we ignore the gun tell us about the human talent for wishful thinking and self delusion? What do nuclear weapons tell us about the philosophical foundations of a civilization that considers their existence normal, routine, unremarkable?
What historical influences caused us to arrive at such place in our time? How did we get here? Should we be fundamentally re-evaluating some of the deepest assumptions of Western civilization? Is that what nuclear weapons are trying to tell us?
What do nuclear weapons, and our lack of interest in them, tell us about our relationship with death? Are we Christians who look forward to a better life after our demise, thus our demise is not a worrisome matter? Are we “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” nihilists who find meaning only in the present moment, thus the future is not a worrisome matter? Do we feel that someday somewhere beyond the grave we will have to answer for what we have created, or do we believe there is No One to answer to, so what does it matter?
All of us can claim all kinds of philosophies as our own, but perhaps nuclear weapons help us clear away all the claims and reveal what we’re really thinking, what we’re really assuming, what we really believe in?
What do nuclear weapons, and our lack of interest in them, tell us about our relationship with our children, those who will inherit the world we have made for them? If I left loaded guns around all over my house, what would that tell you about my relationship with my children? If nobody cared what that told us about my relationship with my children, what would that tell us?
Don’t nuclear weapons open a box of philosophical questions which are almost endless?
What philosophers can help us see is that such huge matters of civic concern don’t arise in a vacuum. All such phenomena are at heart philosophical questions. And if we don’t identify, examine, and understand the philosophical assumptions which caused us to arrive at such a precarious moment we are quite likely to repeat the mistakes that brought us here.
Philosophers could help us understand that while getting rid of nuclear weapons would be a huge accomplishment, it might not solve the problem if the ideas that led to their creation remain.
Surely that would be a worthwhile job.
Now we just need to find a philosopher who wants to do it.
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