Stranger Than Fiction | Matthew Kriese

Photo: Bobby Jones

In my academic career, there have been almost no moments where I have been congratulated for pursuing a degree in Philosophy. More often than not, I have had to overlook people trying to hide cringes behind passively motivating remarks like, “That’s unique” or “I’m sure you feel smarter now than before.” These remarks, I feel, completely miss the point of an education in Philosophy and the deeply beneficial analysis it provides to the world around us.

Photo Credit: Bobby Jones

Take the recent government shutdown for example. Instead of viewing the government as a massive, unapproachable instrument of the interests of the United States, think of it as one of Plato’s colleagues in Ancient Greece. Plato taught others that all things have a telos. This is the end goal or function of a thing. An acorn’s telos is to become an oak tree, an artist’s telos is to construct beautiful things and so on and so forth.

If all things have a telos, it makes sense to ask what is the purpose of government? More specifically, what is the purpose of the government of the United States of America? In the past, I believe our government pursued upholding the values that the American people held dear. It protected our interests at home and abroad. It strived to allow for a framework to exist where people of all backgrounds and orientations could pursue justice and liberty vigorously to uphold what was right. This seems to be the closest it was to accomplishing its telos. 

Since then, we have lost our telos. Politicians are no longer interested in the protection of these rights; alternatively, they have become engrossed in the pursuit of power and profits. The entire government must shut itself down every two years in order to accomplish even the most minute of tasks.

It is frustrating to say the least to witness our governing body lay idle while no agenda is set or pursued. However, it should serve as a reminder that the purpose of our government has been lost.

I think it is the telos of the American people to hold our government accountable for pursuing its own purpose. However, I am afraid philosophy has not equipped me to answer what that actually means.

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