Philosophy’s task is to Understand and Guide Life and the World. That is what Real Philosophy is and should be.
Philosophy in general tends to get a bad rap in our times. Almost to the extent of getting bullied by the scientific community. In fact, philosophy has been getting it for a long-long time. Paraphrasing Kant, ‘she used to be the queen once, but not since long’, Understandably so!
After the advent of the scientific method and its apparent successes in the form of Copernicus’ model, Galileo’s observations and most importantly Newton’s calculations, philosophy in Europe quietly hung its head low and retreated to the back side of the scholarly ‘classroom’. Literally too, the success of science and its use to the states at around the 17th century along with the growing irrelevance of church and theological speculations meant philosophy had no place in what used to be the highest level of learning — which it used to share for a lot of years with theology. Understandably so!
Philosophy had no business meddling in things that were empirical in nature. Things of matter. It never had. The scientific method was destined for that. And once it arrived, philosophy had to retreat.
Yes, there have been philosophical roars and explosions now and then after the advent of the scientific age but they haven’t been intense enough, they haven’t been loud enough, they haven’t been impactful enough. Apart from: in the social, cultural and ‘life’ domains.
An example is Nietzsche. He was good and impactful because he didn’t speculate much on the nature of atoms, or the color of stars. Or even if he did, he wasn’t promoting it as loud as superman. He was a good thinker of human thoughts, nature, culture and understanding — the domains not accessible to science. That’s why he was good. He was doing real philosophy.
Real Philosophy for me then is philosophy in its truest sense: love of wisdom.
And wisdom is the ability and the state of mind where everything (notice the word everything) is taken as a whole and reasonable (notice the term reasonable) observations and conclusions are drawn from it. This is where philosophy is good. This is where philosophy is relevant and this is where philosophy is beautiful. The end goal of philosophy is life. That is: The Everything. Human Life. Animal Life. Machine Life. Whatever life. But Life. Not life in an organic sense but life in a subjective sense. And whenever philosophy focuses on life, it wins. It becomes relevant and it makes bloody sense.
Let’s take Plato. His works have multiple dimensions. He has talked about all sorts of things from Government to God to Education to Arts. I find Republic to be an extremely valuable and life changing piece of work, but Timaeus feels tedious, vague and nonsense. Whenever he talks about how people work or how society should operate; about the types of people present and about the use of art or war in human affairs: he is solid. He is there. Making sense. Changing thoughts and lives. Breaking shackles. Un-ignorable. Same is with the Allegory of the cave. We take something to be true, but what if it isn’t: this is the domain of skepticism, about our tendency to mistake things false as real — it’s about illusions and deceptions. It’s bloody good! False perceptions can have dire consequences in life. One human doesn’t need to experiment by jumping off a cliff to know that one cannot fly. It is common sense. It is pre-science. It is Real Philosophy. It is Plato. But when he starts talking about how the earth — which is our nurse, clinging around the pole which is extended through the universe — he comes un-believable and ignorable.
Similar is Schopenhauer. In his seminal work, The World as Will and Idea, look how bloody genius he is when he is talking about Arts and their use for us in life. And then compare that with his preoccupation with wanting to find the material and ideal source of it all — he goes astray and never becomes the genius thinker again. He seems like a mere copywriter of Upanishads and Buddhism.
Staying with those latter two, my experiences with them too have been similar. They are relevant and working as long as they are addressing life in general. About the misery. About the absurdity of desires, etc. But as soon as they venture into expressing how the universe may be working, how the earth may have come about — they look stupid.
Real Philosophy then is a subject that deals from the most general POV. With Wisdom. About life. Let science rant about The Big Bang Theory, the duty of philosophy is to check its relevance to our lives. Point out the theory’s absurdity for the mind, life and society. Laugh at science’s over-ambitions and faults. Be sarcastic if needed. Bring everything that is overrated back to size.
Real philosophy’s duty is not to compete with science. It’s is to guide and nurture science. An aging grandfather may not be able to outrun his granddaughter who is breaking records in local running competitions — and he shouldn’t try — because it’s not his job! His job is to tell her what she is doing right and what of hers is wrong and guide her appropriately. Tell her what over ambition will do to her life. Share experiences. Tell her what in life is of value at the end of it all. Show her the meaning of race in the context of her life. That’s the role of real philosophy and its presence for humans is eternal. Unlike the analogical human grandfather however, philosophy will only die with humanity and will only get wiser the as humanity ages.
For instance, let Neuroscience or psychology — the scientific embodiments of age old philosophical question of mind-body — do their work. See where they lead. Patiently. If they stumble upon a problem that is not empirical in nature but is epistemological, tell what may have been wrong in the approach. Guide those sciences. Don’t go around forming new speculations about what mind may be. Don’t go around promoting simulation theories. Those will lead nowhere. Science is philosophy’s child, there is no need to be competitive. Without philosophy, science wouldn’t have been born, without philosophy humans might not be around for long! That’s enough of pride for real philosophy!
As humans sit on their rockets and fly above, pump their data into their computers and a new being create, take more and more control of earth and its surrounding: many-many challenges await. Numerous problems will this race and other creatures face. If you leave it all to science, the chances are: either everything will be mechanical or dead. This is where real philosophy shall step in. To keep the real human engine running, to keep things alive. To think about and better life. It should show the significance of various things to people and all beings capable of seeing. It should teach to be critical, skeptic. It should explain the value of everything. It should be able to talk about the impact of learning and knowledge. Importance of virtue. Context of greed, lust and everything of the likes. About the good and the bad.
It is something no university can/should teach. Because it’s no business of organizations driven by various motives to be teaching life to people! Whenever they have tried, they have failed. Let them create their workforce for states and corporations. Real philosophy should be kept away from all these temporary structures. Its work is to contextualize and guide all thoughts and actions.
It is real and it has always come out of real thinkers. Call it Real Philosophy, Philosophy OR Thinking: the choice is yours.
Cheers to Lichtenberg — One Real Philosopher!