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The Importance of Philosophy in the Modern World

Many of the philosophers we have been reading in class seem to me to be hopelessly dated (although some of them express useful ideas and/or make good points). Of course, it’s easy to become trapped in writing only for the period a person lives in, and a philosophy is necessarily dependant on the historical situation and the extent of man’s knowledge. And many of the philosophers who have existed over the course of the centuries have necessarily had to worry about governmental, church, or societal disapproval, censorship, or punishment. (Socrates, for instance, was sentenced to death by a court for the crime of explaining his ideas. )

However, Victor Hugo said that if he were writing for his own time only, he would have to break his pen and throw it away (or something like that). As so it seems that, in order for a philosopher to be relevant for the future as well as the present, he must take into account all of the objections to his philosophy which can be anticipated at the present time. (Since we are not omnipotent, that’s the best we can do. ) And it seems to me that the most frequent objections to modern and premodern (but not postmodern) philosophers come from the incompatibility of their philosophies with what is considered to be established scientific fact.

For instance, Plato’s theory of forms does not, to me, seem to jibe with modern physics and cosmology. And although I can only vaguely glimpse the psychology which underlies Kant, it seems to be highly questionable. (In my view, application of Kant’s epistemology and metaphysics could never produce an artificial intelligence capable of passing a Turing test. ) And so, it seems to me, the best way that a philosopher can keep from being dated (not in the romantic sense; many seem to have no problem with that) is to be aware of scientific knowledge, and integrate it into philosophy.

Of course, this necessitates an independent evaluation of the merits and drawbacks of a given scientific idea, which necessitates, in turn, a thorough knowledge of that theory. After all, physics can (it seems to me) give us insights into metaphysics, since both seek different ways to do the same thing; psychology, sociology, anthropology, and archeology can give us insights into epistemology; various “soft” sciences dealing with comparative cultures can provide food for thought in ethics, and so on.

History is, of course, necessary to any understanding of a philosophy: how it came about, what people did with it, etc. Sartre, although he developed some of his ideas from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, probably could not have expounded those same ideas of existentialism in their times; Nietzsche, who popularized the idea that “God is dead”; could not have written in the time of Descartes; and Descartes could not have expressed (or, possibly, even produced) his (for the time) radically individualist ideas during the time of Plato.

I suppose that my point, which I am being exceedingly long-winded about, is that philosophy does not (and should not, and must not) stand apart from the rest of the sciences (and it should, can, and must be a science–but there goes my Objectivist train of thought again). Rather, Philosophy should be integrated with the rest of the sciences through a method of rational judgement.

Rather than sailing behind, or next to but away from, the rest of the sciences, Philosophy should be the flagship of the group (as it were). Although the other sciences can provide us with data, observations, and theories, only philosophy can integrate those into a coherent whole, tell us what to do with them, or provide a meaningful context for using these facts in our daily lives.

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