What is philosophy these days?
Jan 7, 2005
I was/am having problems with my emails as you would have realised by now; or
rather your email inbox has!!
The problem is this, I'm using Outlook Express connected to an ADSL line
(Telefonica). However, when I prepare the emails from MS Word, it sometimes does
not send copies to the out box in Outlook Express and when it does it refuses
to send them on the email@example.com email account; so I have to use my
Wanadoo account. I know it is complicated and what I have read about it does not
make it easy. Oh! Yes, to really complicate life I switched to Mozilla's
Thunderbird email program (read old Netscape) for a while; you don't want to
know the rest even if it is a good program……..
Anyway, I think I have solved the problem: go back to the old technology! Which
of course brings me straight to next Sunday's topic: What is philosophy these
Does ADSL technology qualify as a philosophical question?
See you Sunday
SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in case
there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left and
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Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004
metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147
What is philosophy these days?
Maybe philosophy has always been the same? In the same way that mathematics or
architecture has always been the same. What has changed are: what people
philosophise about and how they do philosophy.
Today, we have more opportunities to do philosophy. We still have the
traditional venues such as journals, conferences, books, maybe an article or two
in a newspaper and of course universities. Other venues for philosophy have been
from the Paris salons to the coffee shops of central Europe. Today, the
participants might not be as exclusive as in the past, but they, or should that
be 'we,' are still full of vision and passion. Today, we also meet in cafés and
pubs, and then there is the internet. The internet is probably the single most
important thing that has happened to philosophy and which is also different from
what took place in the past. Today we can reach more people in more exotic
locations, at the same time, to share our philosophy with. We can meet with
people who have varied interests and of course we have close to limitless access
to information. And this is where the state of philosophy today takes it's cue.
Could it be that all these new opportunities to do philosophy change the state
of philosophy and what is philosophy? We have first to distinguish between what
is labelled as philosophy and what people are philosophising about. However,
what's in and what's out might still at the end be a matter of fashion and needs
of the day. Identifying fashion from philosophy might itself be a challenge for
philosophy today. Furthermore, there is no reason to suppose that information
overload does not apply to philosophy. This means that the task of identifying
real philosophy is that much more difficult.
Of course, one must point out that what is labelled as philosophy by
professional philosophers, what is regarded as science by those who prefer other
name tags and what actually is philosophy will always remain a challenge is the
quest for knowledge. However, I would identify the following areas as being some
of the prime interests to philosophy today.
> Issues concerning consciousness especially the brain and how it works. An
interesting debate concerns the role quantum mechanical phenomena play in the
brain and their implications to consciousness. Linked to these issues are the
implications of DNA research including cloning, genetic engineering and
> Issues in medical ethics and bioethics, especially isssues relating to the
development of new treatments, caring for terminally ill people, globalisation
of health and models of health services. An issue that needs debating is who
sets the ethical standards in medicine. Can we assume that the practitioners of
medicine are the best people to set the ethical standards? The problem here is
that real life cannot usually wait for people to come up, in real time, with a
philosophical conclusion. Another issue is, how much do we need to know about
medicine to contribute intelligently to a philosophical debate about medical
> Philosophy of language especially the development of concepts, theories of
meaning and science, philosophy of mind and language are still issues that need
looking at. As with many other discipline, what is philosophy of language, what
is linguistics and what is psychology is a blurred territory. Applied philosophy
can look at language and political philosophy. Politicians use concepts today
that need a modern definition. Another practical issue is making science
accessible to non scientists. The argument is something like this: since part of
science depend on public money then the public ought to have access to that body
of knowledge. The philosophical question then arises, how can a body of
knowledge based on mathematic be translated into a body of language based on a
mix of emotions and culture?
> A new branch of applied philosophy is philosophy of business. Here we are
concerned with issues such as ethical policies and practices of companies,
globalisation, state-company relationship and issues arising from company/stake
holders interests. Is the profit motive a valid proposition today as it were a
hundred years ago or, lets face it, a thousand years ago? And if competition is
the best guiding force in modern business, who or what are its competitors
today? It seems a bit incongruous that competition needs to be the only option
in the market place for it to succeed.
> Philosophy of science is always an exciting source for philosophical
investigation. The subjects are wide and varied, for example: the scientific
methods, especially issues relating to confirmation, statistics and probability.
Quantum mechanics still provides fertile ground for philosophical research and
when linked with astronomy, we are looking at questions relating to the creation
of the universe itself. And questions relating to the universe take us straight
into questions about God and creation. Artificial intelligence and information
theory are also good candidates for philosophy today.
Maybe issues that are closer to our times would come under the banners of theory
of the state, theory of justice and philosophy of economics.
Starting with economics, there are new developments in economics and psychology
especially consumer behaviour, economic issues in sociology and social
responsibility. The ethics of labour, the use of rare resources and pollution
also affect the models of economics we are used to.
A theory of justice today will take us back in a theory of rights. Maybe more
needs to be said about duties of individuals and also collective duties. But
equally a valid argument is whether a theory of justice ought to tell us
something about how individual rights are guaranteed. What powers do individuals
have to pursue their rights? Is there a conflict between the state and
individual rights? And on the business front, how does a theory of justice cope
with globalisation, multinational companies, and organisations such as the
European Union, the WTO and the IMF?
This is perhaps the point where we clearly depart from tradition and move into
our times: 21st century philosophy. High on the list of issues is the theory of
the state. And for us we have to look again at what is democracy? Except now we
have the added question of whether democracy should and ought to be exported to
other nation states? Another issue is the theory of war. What is the
philosophical and political debate on the principle of the pre-emptive strike?
And what do we mean by defence of the realm, today? But it is difficult to
forget old questions and a really old question is the relationship between state
and religion. For example, Is there a place for a religion with political power
I would be the last one to argue that the above list is a representation of the
state of philosophy today. It's probably more a subconscious list of what I'm
interested in; but there again subjectivism was never killed nor buried by the
Modern philosophy was started with a rather good catch phrase which survived the
test of time: cogito ergo sum or I think therefore I am. The philosophy behind
this catch phrase was equally challenging at the time: What guarantees the
existence of the thinker? Today, this question is as valid as ever. At the time
Descartes did not have the benefit of psychology, neuroscience, Magnetic
Resonance Imaging, quantum mechanics, information theory and the rest of the
knowledge we take for granted. Maybe today we ought to go back to basics: what
is a thinker? What am I?