Building a philosophy is more like trying to build the world’s best subway system than like trying to be an ascetic monk –or revolutionary, for that matter– standing in a lofty tower and bemoaning the filth and disease of the world. We should want more coverage for the subway network but also faster trains, better monthly plans for users, safer brake systems, more environmentally sound fuel consumption, and even aesthetically superior design in the tunnels. We also need better geological studies of the composition of the soil through which the future lines will be running.
Some partisans of realism are obsessed with couching everything in terms of science, and in some quarters mathematics. But why not engineering instead? It’s a much better analogy, in many ways.
As someone who works at an engineering school, I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that the field rules the roost in my current environment. What’s the best way to do that? Not to lament second-class citizenry and recede into malaise, but to embrace it and ask what can be learned from it. I’m with Harman here, there’s something productive to learn from engineering, even if there are also bad habits to steer clear of (the commonest is a total disregard for history in favor of technological progress).
Graham also teases a book on these and related themes, to be titled Infrastructure, which you can read more about in his post.