Is Philosophy Still Relevant Today?

February 19, 2013 12:51 pm

plato philosopher
Ancient Greece

Around 2000 years ago the Ancient Greeks, with their infinite wisdom, considered philosophy a science. We don’t do the same today, however, so why would the Greeks have done so when their science was so developed, creating the first models of things like vending machines, fire hoses and alarm clocks? Well, quite simply, they thought that the study of knowledge was essential to a creating a broad and knowledgeable mind.

As a student who has been studying philosophy for the past year or so, I feel that it has broadly widened my boundaries of thought which, as I look back to before I had started the course, was very much restricted. Now, I have learned about the wonders of free will and determinism to Plato’s speculative idea of ‘The Forms’. A truly riveting subject philosophy is.

Philosophy and science

Does this mean that it should be entrenched as a science though? It’s still up for debate. Obviously, at the moment, it is considered more a  sub-science, and in the words of the dictionary it is said to be the “investigation of nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.” This suggests, contrary to science, that a philosophical idea isn’t gathered by the senses, but by rational thought. Darwin didn’t rationalize in his armchair, at home, and , thus, theorized evolution, did he.

I feel, however, that philosophy helps analytical and logical thought, which are a couple of the characteristics that constitute a good scientist. I’m 99% sure that most of the greatest scientists who have ever lived didn’t study philosophy, though. I think that this is because most scientists like solid scientific facts (the clue is in the name ‘scientist’), so why should they bother studying a discipline that doesn’t answer anything? Well, what these proclaimed genii are incredulous to is that philosophy encompasses an incalculably broad range of things, from a thought about the world around you that randomly passed across your mind, to a new scientific idea.

Ancient GreekPhilosophy and religion

But perhaps philosophy is relevant today as religion is. From some perspectives it is a false claim to control the masses, but others might say that it instills moral precepts that can be transferred to any human being to make them live a virtuous life. In other words, views of philosophy are subjective and differ greatly. Also (carrying on the religious analogy) , religion was once a huge part of our lives that was necessary for us to function in a working society, because it gave us hope about death. At the same time philosophy gave us hope about dark things that needed light shed upon them, because we were scared. An example of this is life itself, which so many philosopher have philosophized about in the past. Plato suggested, in ancient times, that life as we see it is like shadows on a cave wall. The full analogy was that we are prisoners trapped in the clutches of chains inside a dark cave, save for the area of light on the wall which shows silhouettes of the world behind us. In other words, we aren’t seeing the full picture of life. Why did Plato think of this? To give hope to the masses about an unfulfilled life.

The essence of what I am saying is that I believe philosophy is capable of broadening one’s knowledge , but that’s where we draw the line on its purpose for today. Science has shown us that philosophy is superfluous in a functioning society.

 

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  • ChrisRobinson

    Very thought-provoking article, Callum. Of course, I think there IS a place for philosophy but whether many people (in relation to the population as a whole) think it is relevant is questionable. however, I think philosophy underpins most of humanity’s thinking and ideas ranging from psychology, politics down to things as basic as how we treat each other.
    And, speaking as a Marxist socialist, without the building blocks laid down by the likes of Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Hegel etc there would have been no Marxism. Having said that, as Marx himself pointed out: ‘Philosophy EXPLAINS the world, the point is, however, to CHANGE the WORLD.’ Look forward to reading more of your stuff.
    Regards.

    • callum_brown

      I think that philosophy has undoubtedly shaped society. As you say, politics and psychology have had an enormous influence from philosophy. Without the existence of philosophy, I don’t think we’d be as advanced as we are today.

      I don’t think we’ll ever give up on philosophy, because steps in societal development are perpetually changed by the influence of thought (philosophy).

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