Why philosophy won’t go away

Are you living an examined life?

No, really, are you? In between texting while walking, daydreaming while note-taking, scrolling while sleeping, and sleeping while strolling, are you living an examined life?

It’s ok if you are not. Few are. But it’s an important question to ask oneself, and that’s why philosophy matters.

Clancy Martin, in his review of Rebecca Goldstein’s book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, discusses questions that science cannot answer but philosophy can. Some extracts:

Goldstein wisely doesn’t take philosophy’s revival for granted in a culture committed to an increasingly materialistic worldview—materialistic in the philosophical sense, meaning convinced that the scientific study of matter in motion holds the answers to all our questions. The impetus for Goldstein’s ingenious, entertaining, and challenging new book is the theoretical version of the very practical problem I confronted when I graduated from college: Now that we have science, do we really need philosophy? Doesn’t science “bake bread” (not to mention make money) in a way that philosophy never has? Science is responsible for the grand upward march of civilization—so we are often told—but what accomplishments can philosophy claim?

The question that Goldstein’s book sets out to consider is what we mean by progress, and also what we mean by meaning. Her goal is to do more than prove how relevant philosophy still is. She aims to reveal how many of our most pressing questions simply aren’t better answered elsewhere. Much of what we take for progress delivers answers that miss the point, distort issues, ignore complications, and may be generated by badly formulated questions in the first place. Goldstein also wants to show us that figuring out how to live a meaningful life is something very different from understanding the meaning of special relativity or evolution. We are deluged with information; we know how to track down facts in seconds; the scientific method produces new discoveries every day. But what does all that mean for us? As the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed:

Whatever the one generation may learn from the other, that which is genuinely human no generation learns from the foregoing … Thus, no generation has learned from another to love, no generation begins at any other point than at the beginning, no generation has a shorter task assigned to it than had the previous generation.

A particularly potent phrase from Martin’s review is:

Philosophy, at its best, probably doesn’t have to progress that much, because the most-difficult and most-important human problems don’t change that much.

What do you think? Are your questions similar to those your parents asked at your age?
Let us know in the comments below!

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By What would Plato Tweet? | The Core Blog on March 25, 2014 at 9:04 am

[…] cerebral momentum from yesterday’s post on why philosophy won’t go away, let’s move on to another question raised by the same author, Rebecca Goldstein: what would […]