A Defense of Philosophy

A dear friend of mine told me, categorically, that philosophy is a neurosis. A devastating conclusion. To this person I say that one will never rise above the mores of one’s time if he does not ask the tough questions. The unexamined life one may choose to blindly follow results in being a product of one’s time and place. That person is but a mere ball going down an incline plane, letting gravity do the hard work for him. He’ll be like a fish in water, never knowing what water is like, that it is wet, do you see? As this person chooses not to play the game, he’ll just accept the metaphysics and ethics of his time. It’s once you start asking about the three fundamental problems in philosophy that you begin to live the examined life. The problem of knowledge, which is what is there and how can I know; the problem of conduct, which is how should I live my life; the problem of governance, which is should I govern or be governed, it’s in asking and answering these fundamental questions that we begin to rise above the swelter and welter of our age! By tracing the golden thread that runs through history we come to know, in relation, our place and ourselves. When one unravels the story of history, that golden thread of reason Theseus himself followed to get out of the labyrinth, given to him by princess Ariadne, we come to see the big picture. It is only through hindsight that we can have foresight and become transhistorical.

Not just one of my friends, but two of my dear friends fasten to this idea that philosophy is a neurosis. Both of which are college educated men. If they only knew philosophy was the master science! There is a reason why there is a philosophy of history, of science, of psychology, of biology, of politics, mathematics, technology, art, and aesthetics. It’s far reaching and blankets the universities most cherished curriculum because these subjects teach methods, and data, but they don’t ask the deeper questions that they beg, they go no further. The baton of knowledge is always handed back to philosophers in hope that we can think outside the box and go ever further with the data, in interpreting it and knowing it’s limitations, and in hopefully finding new solutions.

For my example of how people may not critically examine subjects often enough, I will pick on science. I’m choosing science because one of these men, that has condemned philosophy, holds a science degree. I ask them, what is the limit of scientific explanation? I do not know if my friend knew that it is was Francis Bacon who overthrew the hegemonic hold over science that Aristotle had over it. Science was no longer, from that point on, going to be won over by the authority of a wise man who died two thousand years ago, no, it was going to be won over by none other than the light of experience. Enter the Enlightenment! But whether my friend knows it or not, by being a scientist, he’s already playing metaphysics! I mean to say, he’s taking a position on what exists, and picked an epistemic mode of discovery. Interesting how there is always a dialectic between what one’s mode of discovery is and what one believes exists. Think about that fact friend. We would do well to acknowledge that if we set out to describe all of reality, using a method designed to discover only what is physical, then our conclusions must be that everything is physical. On this model, of course physics is complete! I am not here denying the success of scientific achievement, I am merely pointing out this limitation. For instance, you can never look at another human being and tell, objectively, whether they are conscious, that they have pains and plans in life. By scientific measures, my friend would be eliminating what is most essential about himself as a human being, which means science isn’t on page two yet when explaining a complete picture of reality.

Friends, you have lost that sense of wonder that you natively held as a child. For whatever reason, after college, you ended your search after truth. You see it as only a means to argue, but it is a means for getting things right.