PHILOSPHY IS DEAD (?)

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Why write philosophy if there is no philosophical culture? Our age could be labelled un-philosophical or even anti-philosophical, so what good can philosophy do? A definition of nihilistic culture could be a culture without philosophy.

            Stephen Hawking has said that philosophy is dead: which sounds like a provocation, but if we take it to be a mere description of the general situation then he is in essence right. However, if we place qualitative judgements on what Hawking said and interpret the phrase “philosophy is dead” to mean “philosophy has nothing to say about our reality because it speaks qualitatively rather than quantitatively about our reality and we no longer need to worry about the quality of our life,” then he is trapping himself in a paradox. Once Hawking himself starts to moralise he himself is talking unscientifically and philosophically. By moralising that philosophy is dead he is proving its existence to anyone who understands the moral value of such a statement.           But what is really implied in Hawking’s provocation is the idea that only scientists have the right to philosophise because only they dominate the tools in order to really comprehend reality. We, however, would argue that the distinction between a scientist and a philosopher is one of commitment. A good scientist will be committed to the quantitative side of reality. Sometimes he or she may allow him/herself to make value judgements from the quantitative data they possess, but they cannot have any commitment to such qualitative decisions because such a commitment is unscientific. A scientist committed to the qualitative side of reality: the judgemental arenas of ethics, aesthetics or politics; of the good, the correct and the useful, etc. – forfeits the right to identify him/herself as a scientist. Likewise a philosopher who has a total commitment to the quantitative reality forfeits his/her right to be called a philosopher. Science and philosophy, however are inextricably tied. All science has its roots in philosophy and, arguably, vice versa. In their origins the two were the same, coming from the same search for the arche, the prime element, the nature of the cosmos, the consequences of cause and effect, and a commitment to the understanding of reality. But science drifted to a quantitative focus while philosophy moved in a qualitative direction.

            In nihilistic culture the ethical is diminished in favour of a statistical and quantitative perception of reality. Nihilism is scientific and anti-philosophical culture. At the other extreme are the anti-scientific cultures of the monotheisms – the Catholic Middle Ages or the Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan. These are examples of philosophies gone mad; superstitious realities anchored in an idea of permanence that allows for no new revelations beyond the Revelation. No room for discovery means no room for science, and no room for philosophy.  

            The erroneousness of creating an anti-scientific culture must be obvious to most of us. But likewise should the observation of the dangers of an anti-philosophical civilisation, of our anti-philosophical civilisation.

 

But we are neither scientists nor philosophers . our commitment has always been art. An art that now must form a triptych, must becoming one side of a triangle, between science and philosophy. We claim this right from our common purpose of unveiling  reality, and also for our shared dynamic of creativity. We realise that what we have said about commitments will make us sound hypocritical, and we admit that we are, unashamedly. It is our shameless pride that separates art from science and philosophy, for we derive our greatest inspiration from our own vices. We see art as necessary conduit between science and philosophy but also the harmonising factor betwixt the two extremes, and the area in which science and philosophy become intelligible. We extol the anti-philosophers and philosopher-artists and the complete creators of science-art-philosophy, the great Renaissance artists – Da Vinci and Bacon; Goethe and Voltaire; Sartre and Dalí – not as inspirational figures as much as brothers in arms. We champion the spirit of the poet philosophers from the pre-Socratics to Sloterdijk via Nietzsche.

            Cultures can only truly progress when the lines connecting the points of this triangle are clearly established. It was clear in Classical Greece where the Odyssean man was born. Science and philosophy emerged and flourished. Humanity suddenly became something else, something new, with a far deeper consciousness and curiosity than before, with a thirst for knowing that had never existed before. The triangle was maintained through the classical age, collapsing with the fall of Rome and the onset of the Middle Ages; re-established with the Renaissance; revitalised with the Enlightenment and revolutions in America and France; sustained though also undermined by Romanticism and perverted by the evolution of the politico-economical dialectic between capitalism and communism – until it has dissipated completely into a nihilistic, economic reality dominated by quantity – and hence science.

            To draw the paradigm for real progress we need to start with our triangle of science-art-philosophy, around which we must draw a circle – the cosmos, or reality – Within the triangle we have a medium-sized circle representing politics (which is circular by nature) and within which another smaller ring can be found – economics.

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            This paradigm must be interpreted as a sensible hierarchy for progress and stability and an inverted description of the current dictatorship of our all-engulfing economic reality.     

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3 thoughts on “PHILOSPHY IS DEAD (?)

  1. Brilliant post! I’m just reading Alain de Bottons new book “Religion for Atheists”. In one chapter he tries to find the middle ground between art and religion. Outlining ways how museums could profit from religion, by showing art in a less scientific way, providing answers to the fundamental questions of life.

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