Tag Archives: philosophy

QA 48. Think, again (The end of philosophy)

ImageIn 2010, Stephen Hawking pronounced philosophy dead: “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” But he had not kept up with Martin Heidegger, who already said this in 1964, in “The end of philosophy and the task of thinking”. Philosophy’s dissolution into science, Heidegger says, is a legitimate end. What was begun with questions of being and reality, physics and metaphysics, ends up here. Western philosophy has reached its destination.

“Science” signals a rational, objective methodology of “systematic observation, measurement and experiment, and the formulation, testing and modification of hypotheses”. Heidegger saw this attitude illuminating every area of human life. The fields of psychology, sociology, the arts, economics: everything will be “determined and steered by the new fundamental science which is called cybernetics”. (Cybernetics” as “the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things”.) “Philosophy turns into the empirical science of man”, writes Heidegger, thus achieving “the triumph of the manipulable arrangement of a scientific-technological world and of the social order proper to this world. The end of philosophy means the beginning of the world civilisation based upon Western European thinking.”

He’s right, of course, never minding the havoc that Western European thinking had already let loose in the world. With all its evident technological and scientific achievement, this new world civilisation has also delivered cascading economic, environmental, political and social crises. All of our institutions of state, political and religious order are now plagued by corruption. Continue reading

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QA 38. January 2013. Rocking the foundations of thought

Education systems that render people stupid, mental health treatment that renders people mad, religions that render people wicked, economies that render people poor, political systems that render people powerless. How is it that our social systems break down (render) precisely what they are meant to serve (render to)? Continue reading

QA 36. Sept 2012. Knowledge v wisdom: which leads?

Someone recently pointed me to Philosophy v science: which can answer the big questions of life? (The Observer, 9 Sept 2012), a conversation between Julian Baggini, philosopher, and Lawrence Krauss, physicist, both well known for accessible writing on complex topics.

As philosophy’s champion, Baggini concedes far too much ground. His basic position is that “it is an ineliminable feature of human life that we are confronted with many issues that are not scientifically tractable, but we can grapple with them, understand them as best we can and we can do this with some rigour and seriousness of mind.” I agree, but I would change the emphasis: the grounds, aims and conduct of science are among those issues that empirical knowledge can’t satisfy.

When the two express surprise at how much they agree with each other, it’s not that surprising: they share an astonishingly optimistic and uncritical view of science which tends to flatten and impoverish our understanding of our lives. Continue reading