Why Philosophy Matters
Philosophy is a field that once combined all the sciences and had considerable influence. Over time that influence waned, to an extent that philosophy is now simply one of the humanities, a “second order” discipline (Rosenberg) that some people wonder what it’s useful for. I’ll here try to use my still limited exposure to the academic world as an advantage when venturing to say that there was never a time more important for philosophy than today.
Philosophy is so important now because of two interconnected trends, two trends that can be argued to have spun out of control: religious extremism as well as scientific extremism. Let’s look at both.
Religious extremism is probably well-known because of the mass media’s extensive reporting on Islamic or suspected Islamic terrorism. Beside Islamic extremism there are other forms of religious extremism though, including Christian extremism (there may be problems with how media report, and the ignoring of Christian extremism, despite its long history, appears to be one example). Religious extremism means the disregarding of contrary religious, spiritual, and political views, and the violent fighting thereof. It starts with verbally attacking people for their views and convictions, and ends with murdering them.
But there’s scientific extremism as well. Scientific extremism, well flying under the radar, is the glorification of science as the only valid approach to knowledge, and the legitimation of all acts and deeds as long as they serve a scientific purpose. Scientific extremism culminates in the idea that the scientific end justifies all the means. Where it starts we find standardized mice, killed to the hundreds of millions in experiments (we have talked about it), where it ends science dehumanizes, devitalizes by dictating how life should be lived. Scientific extremism believes that in order to save life, one must kill it, and it doesn’t recognize the perversion of the idea.
Although I, formally an atheist, maintain the view that we can draw much more insight out of religion, and that there’s significantly more to religion than is commonly thought, the various world religions don’t seem to sufficiently explain our world, nor to give appropriate guidance. But, and that’s important, neither is science, even able to; scientification (or scientism) misguides people just as much for people begin to erroneously believe that there’s one objective answer to every problem—the threefold emphasis indicates where this belief is well to fail. We ascribe too little import to religion, and too much to science, but while the people on the “too little” side look naive, the ones on the “too much” side appear dangerous—there is where we find the fanatics, the extremists.
What seems to have happened, in a way, is that centuries of religious extremism have led, via protestantism, enlightenment, secularization, to the scientific extremism we observe today—which now fuels even more religious extremism, which again leads people to seek refuge in “cold hard science,” which leads yet others to revolt against their valid spiritual side being neglected, even negated, &c. pp. We have, in a way, ended up in a vicious circle. Science can in some way be regarded as a historical counterweight to religion, and with science now being obsessed over by people as was, or still is, religion, religion becomes exaggerated once more—and so on.
This, now, leads us to philosophy. Unchecked, religious and scientific fundamentalists will simply go on, turn more radical in their attempts to one-up another; the scientific extremists trying to push their deterministic views and contempt for anything “irrational” on others, the religious extremists revolting against their spirituality being played down and mocked. Philosophy, and philosophers, are impartial, however: Love of wisdom—the literal meaning of philosophy—allows to fall back on a position that is not and should not be tied to assumption and dogma.
The question, then, may be whether or when philosophy would be ready for the job. The verdict right now must be that it’s not, not yet: From my perspective, philosophy—rather: philosophers—have over the centuries given up not just parts of their “scientificated” field, but also their confidence. The slow descent of the once most powerful discipline has led to (or had it been caused by?) it not being clear anymore why philosophy is so important and why it, indeed, matters. That there are these questions not only in the minds of non-philosophers, but also in those of the people in the field themselves, I deem a huge problem—and a failure.
Philosophy, when steering clear of religious and scientific assumptions and therewith bias, seems to be the only field that can give any direction (not: explanation! that there is one for everything is again an assumption, the very trap science steps into) to us. Where that direction lies is not the subject of this post, and not within the competence of the author, but merely the observation that philosophy matters, and that there has never been a time more important for it. (And this all, now, didn’t even require us to talk about the value philosophy can add and has already added to our individual and collective lives.)
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma. I love trying things, not only in web development, but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!
On October 31, 2016, 22:06 CET, Anonymous said:
The Crusades were to recapture Christian territory invaded and taken by hostile Islamic forces (16 battles from 1090 to 1260)
Whereas the Islamic incursions upon classical Europe saw 548 battles and 400 a year occupation/slavery of Spain southern France and other parts of Europe.
Christian extremism has mostly been directed at other types of Christianity.
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