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.