A few days ago, James posted an interesting question that I’ve been pondering. He asked “Is an interest in Marx, then, also an indication of an immature mind, a phase perhaps understandable in the young but unforgivable in adults?” He asked this question in response to similar critiques of Rand and in recollection of a former professor who referred to Nozick’s libertarianism as “a young man’s philosophy.”
I would broaden this question and ask “Is devotion to a particular philosopher, in general, a young man’s game?” Do those engaged in philosophical pursuits tend to become less doctrinaire as they get older?
A common — though by no means universal — feature of the intellectual maturation process seems to be increased awareness of the inherent difficulties and uncertainties associated with any particular point of view or direction of inquiry. As thinking people get older, they tend to become more aware of how little they know and about how hard it is to know anything. I contrast this with those people who tend to become intellectually hardened and incapable of considering any ideas that challenged their longstanding opinions. Indeed, I think the hallmark of an educated person is that he/she is a person of the first type mentioned, not the second.
In my observation, the young frequently develop a passion for a particular philosopher–be it Marx, Rand, Nozick, Rawls, Kant, Hayek, or whoever. The philosopher seems to be less of an issue in explaining the passion than the age of the follower. Those who don’t study philosophy can still get passionately involved in political causes in much the same fashion. So, do people “grow out of” certain philosophies or do they just grow out of philosophy? And, if one grows out of Nozick or Marx, what does one grow into? Some mixed or pragmatic approach perhaps?
This question reminds me of the bumper sticker that says “Hire a teenager while he still knows everything!”