"As we well know, the imbecility of "profound"
philosophers is so immense that it is exceeded
only by the infinite mercy of God." - Giovanni Papini
The Challenge for Modern Philosophy
Here is how Will Durant paints the challenge for modern philosophy:
…. Human knowledge
had become unmanageably vast; every science had begotten a dozen more,
each subtler than the rest; the telescope revealed stars and systems
beyond the mind of man to number or to name; geology spoke in terms of
millions of years, where men before had thought in terms of thousands;
physics found a universe in the atom, and biology found a microcosm in
the cell; physiology discovered inexhaustible mystery in every organ,
and psychology in every dream; anthropology reconstructed the
unsuspected antiquity of man, archeology unearthed buried cities and
forgotten states, history proved all history false, and painted a canvas
which only a Spengler or an Eduard Meyer could vision as a whole;
theology crumbled, and political theory cracked; invention complicated
life and war, and economic creeds overturned governments and inflamed
the world; philosophy Itself, which had once summoned all sciences to
its aid in making a coherent image of the world and an alluring picture
of the good, found its task of coordination too stupendous for its
courage, ran away from all these battlefronts of truth, and hid itself
in recondite and narrow lanes, timidly secure from the issues and
responsibilities of life. Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.
All that remained
was the scientific specialist, who knew "more and more about less and
less," and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about
more and more. The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out from
his vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his
nose. Perspective was lost. "Facts" replaced understanding; and
knowledge, split into a thousand isolated fragments, no longer generated
wisdom. Every science, and every branch of philosophy, developed a
technical terminology intelligible only to its exclusive devotees; as
men learned more about the world, they found themselves ever less
capable of expressing to their educated fellow-men what it was that
they had learned. The gap between life and knowledge grew wider and
wider; those who governed could not understand those who thought, and
those who wanted to know could not understand those who knew. In the
midst of unprecedented learning popular ignorance flourished, and chose
its exemplars to rule the great cities of the world; in the midst of
sciences endowed and enthroned as never before, new religions were born
every day, and old superstitions recaptured the ground they had lost.
The common man found himself forced to choose between a scientific
priesthood mumbling unintelligible pessimism, and a theological
priesthood mumbling incredible hopes.
In this situation
the function of the professional teacher was clear. It should have been
to mediate between the specialist and the nation; to learn the
specialist's language, as the specialist had learned nature's, in order
to break down the barriers, between knowledge and need, and find for new
truths old terms that all literate people might understand. For if
knowledge became too great for communication, it would degenerate into
scholasticism, and the weak acceptance of authority; mankind would slip
into a new age of faith, worshiping at a respectful distance its new
priests; and civilization, which had hoped to raise itself upon
education disseminated far and wide, would be left precariously based
upon a technical erudition that had become the monopoly of an esoteric
class monastically isolated from the world by the high birth rate of
terminology. No wonder that all the world applauded when James Harvey
Robinson sounded the call for the removal of these barriers and the
humanization of modern knowledge.
Durant, Will, The Story of
Philosophy, Washington Square Press, New York, NY, 1967, p. vii
Where is the philosopher who would not willingly
deceive mankind for his own glory? - J. J. Rousseau
Is it knowledge or just
It is quite fashionable for western modern man to think that knowledge is
increasing, but this depends on your definition of knowledge. Maybe
information is increasing, but is this knowledge? It is certain that
intellectual noise and confusion are increasing! It is certain that
religious sects and bifurcations of spiritual thought are increasing.
The real issue in an age of information overload is whether
understanding or wisdom is increasing. While longevity may be
increasing, the "Human Condition" produces a tenuous balance between the
sustenance and the enhancement of life. There may even be an increase in
comfort and ease, leisure time, learning, etc., but all of this may actually
build up stress and may not add up to an increase in meaning, richness of
experience, morale and happiness, truer measures of the enhancement of life.
It is a premise of this site that for the spiritual man, the
meaning of life is being drowned in an ocean of mundane information,
false religion, and unworthy philosophy. In this world it has been
observed, "For in much wisdom is much grief; he that increaseth
knowledge, increaseth sorrow." And the "Good News" from the
appointed emissary is buried by multifarious layers of distraction, spiritual and
intellectual numbness, confusion and false belief.
It is also a premise of this site that all of extant philosophy to this point
in time is a somewhat arid and academic wasteland. Traditional philosophy
has never really dealt with the ultimate issues, much less focused on them.
There is no meaning to anything apart from its impact on the sustenance
and enhancement of life. And yet traditional philosophy has failed in
this most central regard, although it has expounded upon a myriad of
lesser facets and issues. Where is the philosophy or wisdom that has
made the sustenance and enhancement of life the core of its exposition?
Where is the philosophy that has enabled us to transcend our staggering to
the grave? Where even is the philosophy that has more than marginally
enhanced life? Modern academic philosophy excuses itself from these more
meaningful, ultimate issues!
The Immortalist position
Here is what
Alan Harrington has to say in his
insightful book The Immortalist:
But the immortalist position is that
all philosophical systems relating to ethical conduct and the end of
man, insofar as they teach us sportingly to accept extinction, are a
waste of time. In the face of death, such wisdom is a waste of time.
The philosophy that accepts death must itself be considered dead, its
questions meaningless, its consolations worn out. (If the philosophy
does not bother with life and death, confining itself, say, to our
semantic confusions in approaching knowledge, then it must be judged
profound but trivial, which is to say profoundly unimportant.)
Formal philosophy has dissevered itself from "Theology"
and excused itself from any exposition regarding the beginning of or
source for evil. Evil is the elephant in the living room that is ignored
by the most prominent philosophers, scientists and thinkers. Most are
obsessed with trying to explain origins and processes without an
"originator" through a dozen different evolutionary protocols, and offer
the most fantastical suggestions ranging from an infinite number of
universes and possibilities, to minimalist socio-biology, or to even
ideas that the whole physical universe is an intelligent living being or
organism. But they studiously ignore dealing with evil, something that
each one of us has to deal with every day.
Today, most scientists have given up on philosophy and
have concentrated on just learning more about the physical universe,
which translates into more power and control over our environment.
Thus Stephen Hawking, quite arrogantly, has pronounced philosophy as being dead.
Philosophy is now marginalized as just being in the purview of arcane academia,
and is not thought to have much of a role in real life. Courses in philosophy
usually are no longer required or even encouraged in our colleges and universities.
"Real" learning about science or the business of life has crowded
them out as being largely irrelevant.
Philosophy, essentially synonymous with
wisdom, has been severely degraded in value, and the pursuit of it has all but
been abandoned. The confusion of our busy, noisy world has evidently caused modern
man largely to give up on this most important element of life. Probably the only
philosopher to have made a significant contribution or impact since Nietzsche is the
irreverent, irrepressible Ayn Rand. Although she mislabeled it
negatively as "selfishness" she made enlightened self interest respectable if
not the obvious stance to take. It took thousands of years to get to this point? Amazing and deplorable!
Now, let me lay out a perspective. It is not philosophers–the seekers of wisdom–but
academic personnel, the clergy, and politicians that are largely in
control of three of the most powerful or influential facets of our
society: education, religion and government. This is done through
both formal and informal public dissemination of “official”
positions and thinking. And the formal educational structure and
process have almost totally lost being in touch with good
metaphysical and epistemological principles, such as no mysticism
and no reification allowed, to name just two. In this era any person
that stands up to them is in the unenviable position of being a Don
Quixote tilting at windmills.