For too long we have learnt to distrust philosophy.
By way of necessity, we separated God and state, and relied on the power of the rational mind in order to make way for our new golden-grey era.
But is this a Fool’s Paradise?
It is my contention that by losing touch with philosophy, forgetting its shape, needlessly wrapping it in strings of logic, that we by extension, lose a vital part of how we sense and perceive the world.
We would not be here without the power of rational thinking. We would not have advanced our lives without the rigour and concreteness that rationale provides.
But our new God — the scientific method — is not, and never can be a defining epistemological model.
“There is no such thing as an innocent reading, we must say what reading we are guilty of.” — Althusser
Every civilisation or historical era thinks they are the best ones or the right ones.
When the history pages are finally written, the future will look back at us and then understand where we succeeded, where we misled ourselves, or where we may have been going in the right direction.
When our history is written, what will they say about us?
I have a feeling that history will remember us not just as clever, resourceful and ambitious but also as hopelessly blind and arrogant.
We were clever enough to split an atom, and then used that knowledge to bomb a nation into oblivion. Other people then made the same bombs to protect themselves — the firing of one would then lead to everyone else also firing all bombs at the same time which ends in the complete annihilation of the entire world.
We were clever enough to build a system that connects everyone all around the world with no delay, and then primarily used that system to eliminate privacy itself or worse still — move massive amounts of data that serves the purpose of pleasure for pleasure’s sake.
We then built huge global systems of exchange relying on cheap labour and reliable services, only to give the Earth a massive asthma attack — the thing that we live on. Such a huge financial beast, trillions of dollars, was grinded to halt by a virus that is probably thousands of times smaller than the head of a needle.
Whatever your beliefs and/or creed is, you must surely agree that several huge lessons in humility are needed. This is why we need philosophy.
It is philosophy’s purpose to reveal the “why”
The Greeks may have thought the “why” was about getting as close as possible to what is beautiful.
The Romans may have thought the “why” was about trusting nature and making sound judgements internally in order to escape the cruelty of life.
The Arabs may have thought the “why” was about understanding how everything is an expression of divine will.
The Chinese may have thought the “why” is actually a “way” towards ultimate balance.
The European Enlightenment thought the “why” was about finding and adhering to fundamental and provable laws through evidence and inquiry.
The Modernists may have understood that the “why” was about breaking away from the past in response to the trauma of world wars.
The Post-Moderns may have thought that “why” didn’t really exist because everything is an expression of different reference points.
So what about now? In our time today, an era some people call “post-truth” our relationship to purpose is tightly wrapped around money.
We are taught from childhood that ultimately our strongest sense of purpose (and the standards by which we are ultimately judged) is to become a correctly functioning economic unit — contrast that against people who raised their children to become loyal to the crown, to be good religious servants, to uphold their family honour — history is full of endless examples of different motivations that depends on the time period,
As for now, it’s safe to say that our current obsession is about being sure about things in a world that we owe to the novelty of science.
Physics gave us the internet and computers, biology and chemistry gave us medicine or warfare, depending how you look at it, and computer science led us to cryptography and machine learning. In this vein — all of these things are the children of the scientific method.
The scientific method can only show the “how” or “what”
It can never show you the “why” because that is outside its function.
Our mistake today is that we think the “what” is the “why”
The scientific method is as follows:
- Is there an observable or inferred phenemona whose investigation will yield benefit?
- If yes to the above, what is the hypothesis? Does the hypothesis sustain all of the essential laws that precede it?
- Can all of the things that disprove the hypothesis be eliminated through systematic review of tangible evidence? If yes, then the hypothesis is the truth.
- If no to the above, can the hypothesis be sustained to a level of questioning that allows it to be followed by a second study when newer evidence emerges?
While this is essential for the purposes of the academic disciplines that require it, our mode of thinking has been so rooted in the tangible approach that I would say we are almost hardwired to causality.
Let’s root this in an example so we can be clear — in a question we all know extremely well:
Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
If you answer something like “because I have things to do” or because “I have to go to work” or “get the kids ready for school” or “my alarm went off” then it shows how we’re rooted in the “whatness” of reality.
We all need a reason to get out of bed, but these reasons are unspoken, or you understand why by retroactively examining the events.
Each event, each waking up of the morning — is atomised — everyone has a different answer. and each answer is temporal — it depends what happened before and what will come after.
If you look closely, it doesn’t actually answer the “why” in its fullest sense.
It would more accurately answer “What was the reason you got out of bed in the morning?”
You see, we’re pinned into thinking that the “why” is the “What happened”
This is the difference between the reason you got up this morning, and the purpose of why you get up in the morning.
The “why” is the mechanism that drives something to consistently repeat itself.
The problem of using a scientific mode or the “what” as the default (as our education system so efficiently teaches us so that we become obedient dollar-spending consumers) is that we misunderstand the role that purpose brings into the equation.
How else do you think humanity managed to destroy others and the planet without forgetting the role that purpose plays in our decision making?
The only way that you could make such catastrophic decisions is by placing results above principles.
If there’s something I want you to take away from this essay is this:
Stop thinking so tangibly and start thinking more purposefully.
Question why you are doing things and what you are being told.
Remember that philosophical thinking is just as important as logical thinking.
There is no use in being clever or well-educated if that is not used in a way that reflects your own purpose.
Let’s return then, to that “easy” question we examined earlier:
Why do you get up in the morning?
Because I want to keep on living.
Because I have people that I love that rely on me.
Because I have to keep going even if there’s nothing.
Because I have to make use of the time I have left.
That is what philosophy gives us.