I had intended to write a different post for today (which I still may). But the topic gave me so much trouble, I fled to an easier one:
Is philosophy dead?
My as-yet-unfinished post talked about epistemology—the study of knowing—which is a philosophical concept. Then I began to think maybe I was
disappearing down a rabbit hole having trouble because the entire framework in which I was trying to express my ideas is crumbling.
Hence: Is philosophy dead?
As usual, I find myself able to argue both sides.
YES, philosophy is dead BECAUSE:
- Philosophy is a luxury of the well-off. Only those who have a roof over their heads and food enough on their tables have the leisure of contemplating the meaning of existence. In a time when we’re meeting to figure out how to mitigate the climate changes threatening the existence of life on earth, when one in nine people do not have enough food to lead a healthy life, and the list of ongoing conflicts (wars) in the world scrolls on for pages, we can’t afford to
sit around contemplating our navelsspend time on something as frivolous as philosophy.
Or not: What about Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychologist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning? Far from being a frivolous pursuit, his search for meaning during the darkest hours of his imprisonment is what saved him. If we accept this, now is exactly the time we need to ask the very biggest and seemingly most unanswerable questions.
- Stephen Hawking says so! In a 2010 lecture, the famous physicist declared that philosophy is passé, its function largely usurped by scientific inquiry.
But many disagree. Almost five years later, Times Higher Education covered a number of dissenting voices, many of which arose from a 2015 seminar organized by the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation called “What is the Point of Philosophy?”
In fact, some argue that science depends on philosophy.
NO, philosophy is not dead BECAUSE:
- Only certain types of philosophy are dead. In a 2013 opinion piece for Aljazeera, Santiago Zabala and Creston Davis argue that analytic philosophy may be dead, while “‘democratic’ philosophy is not dead but very much alive and well.”
- Rumors of philosophy’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Philosophy has been declared dead for years. Quora has 23 answers to the question of how philosophers are reacting to Hawking’s declaration. Many point to previous declarations of philosophy’s demise and to the irony that physics itself was declared dead in 1900 by one of its leading practitioners of that day.
- It depends on how you define death. In western culture, we tend to think of death as an ending, a finality. In fact, death is transformation from one state to another. In that sense, yes, the philosophies of Aristotle and Socrates and even Leibniz and Wittgenstein may be dead. In their place, we have something new that serves our time and our concerns. (Is that an argument for or against? I don’t know… my brain is starting to hurt.)
Which side are you on? Are you with the 34 percent who say yes, philosophy is dead, or the 66 percent who say no on Debate.org? Or do you think all of this is
just so much hot air beside the point?
If you wish not to take all of this so damned seriously, check out Existential Comics.
Candidly, I have always thought of philosophy as the serpent eating its own tail. I have enough introspection in my life without having to think how I think. There are crusts to be made, dinners to cook, and if I dream a little while I am performing my ‘painting the wall’ functions, I really don’t take myself that seriously. Do I have an answer to the meaning of the universe? No. Do I want one? No – I indulge myself with the mystery. It is much more intriguing.
It is frightfully easy to start taking oneself (and everything else) much too seriously. Indulge the mystery, yes! Because what would happen if we actually discovered the meaning of the universe?
Thanks for commenting.
I don’t think philosophy will ever die as long as there are humans in the world or other similarly intelligent beings in the universe. Where there are brains that think, there will always be minds that wonder. If you doubt it, try reading some speculative fiction…
Perhaps that explains why I am drawn to both philosophy and speculative fiction :-).
Philosophy is alive and well.
Know of a recently retired professor who combined philosophy and artificial intelligence, for a very cool thirty years of teaching and study.
Aristotle out of date? In a way, yes, because he, and Plato, and Descartes, were all guessing when it came to how we work — but they are front line when it comes to the nature of consciousness, which we still don’t understand. Plato believed that body and mind are separate, and that within the body, which is withering, decaying matter, burns a spark of pure reason, given to us by, whatever. Aristotle understood that body and brain are one. He appreciated our warped fiber, and recommended that political institutions be set up to accommodate actual humans, rather than ideal humans. Another blogger and I debate the essence of this argument all the time.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It’s nice to be among kindred questioners. “Good questions”–therein is the biggest argument in favor, I think. Who among us asks these questions, if not the philosophers?
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haha, as a philosophy professor I’ll argue that it’s not dead, of course. Ethics and critical thinking play a key role in delineating the boundaries of our society and the flexibility of those boundaries. And as Descartes famously stated “I think, therefore I am” 😉
Thanks for the reminder of that most elemental of existential statements! I’ll put you squarely in the “not dead” column.
I’m glad I didn’t know there was a philosophy professor among my blog followers, or I probably would have been too intimidated to put this out there :-).
Never be intimidated to write anything – that’s the best thing about our blogs, it’s an outlet to write what we want, to explore our ideas, and to have fun doing it!
While I enjoy a lively debate, I don’t think I’m much of a philosopher. My oldest teen son, on the other hand, could give people a run for their money. Sometimes when he speaks, I just nod and pretend I understand. 😉
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“Out of the mouths of babes,” they say…
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I don’t know about there, but the chilling fog and drizzle here make one wonder.
I saw/read about this recently. if philosophy is “dead”, it could be because so many are taught by repeating, chants, and multiple choice in windowless rooms for years and years (which pretty well deadens actually thinking…bores thought to death?)
As long as there are those who defy modern life and go outside – who are dwarfed by the sight of big skies and waters, feel the wind across wide open plains, and gaze at the dark skies with endless stars, some will ponder, wonder, and think – whether starving or not.
We are desperate for drizzle here in California… lovely response. Perhaps the question should be “Is education dead?” which no doubt would garner many affirmatives. Minds want to feel and ponder.