I post quite extensively about Philosophy (or at least pretend to), and usually with questions rather than concrete answers. I would hazard a guess many people like Philosophy, but don’t quite feel that it impacts their every day lives.
I don’t say this to belittle or condescend. I sense this is the general feeling of many because of how Philosophy is portrayed. Its generally a kind of negative thing, it appears useless, and when people do think its useful, its undeservedly downgraded to “opinion” status, where anything and everything can be true so long as you believe it.
But that isn’t Philosophy. Philosophy is the applied study of thought, nature, and structures. And its everywhere.
I think the best way to demonstrate the dominating impact of Philosophy is to look at History. History also gets a really poor view for similar reasons. History is assumed to produce an exact and accurate view of what the world was, why things happened, and what life was like.
Except History can’t actually do those things. To understand why requires understanding the Philosophical boundaries of History. History is experts piecing together fragments of information about the past. They do so in a way that tries to best frame each fragment as a part of the whole unknown truth. Sometimes its not clear that any particular news clipping or advertisement or graffiti or political mishap or war is important until we look at all the fragments together.
Even then, the fragments have to be pulled together into a picture and placed by those who are living in a different world from the one they are studying. How could a modern day scholar with computers and malls really capture the life of a Roman or Aristotle or the trial of Galileo? To truly capture an understanding of events as they were to explain precisely why, for example, WWII happened is on the same level of artful mastery as a famous work of art or discovering important scientific observations of our universe.
For all this effort, historical analysis and products can still be wrong. Because another crucial fragment could always suddenly appear, which then totally overthrows what we thought was the truth. And in understanding our biases of how we view each fragment, we also better understand what will become our own History.
History is rife with Philosophical issues and boundaries and limitations. And in order to even ask really basic questions about History and events requires an enormous understanding of the philosophy of History. Otherwise you may take away an analysis and be shocked that it didn’t apply in a modern setting, or that it was overturned by the findings of a vase, or is counter-intuitive.
And this extends deeply into Science and the Scientific Method. Understanding the limitations and actual requirements for what constitutues “real Science” would go a long way to undoing click-bait articles and fraud.
Mathematics is also philosophically different from Science, and in incredibly importants ways. Most chiefly, that Science can never prove definitively prove something, whereas something revealed in mathematics is inherently true given its axiomatic nature. This difference seems pedantic, but is far from it.
Laws and the governing of people is driven by philosophical assumptions about people and things and history and economics and human nature. We can’t hope to govern others if we can’t look to the past, or to ourselves, or the basic institutions for parsing our world.
Religion itself is deeply buried within Philosophy, not just spiritual aspects. Listen to a Bible study group or the Amish debate the value of the phone, or if one can conquer mind over matter.
Lastly Philosophy, at its simplest, is just asking “Why”? You can’t really ask why more than two or three times to an event or about a thing without stepping into Philosophy. Again, using History as an example: Why did WWI start? Franz Ferdinand was shot. Why did a single guy getting shot cause WWI? Because he held important roles in leading a country, and people were looking for revenge. But why did that cause everyone to go to war? Because of an intricate network of defense pacts and alliances. Why so many alliances? Because…*
At some point, you end up unable to answer the question without fully understanding the history of all those events, and their history, and the limitations of what we can determine. Asking why will never be satisfying. Only exploratory.
Maybe I left you unconvinced. Maybe I convinced you, but you feel that I have given too much importance to something which doesn’t consistently provide applicable or meaningful outcomes. Or worse yet, you feel like complex topics are for those who have time to waste, and without simple solutions, are useless in of themselves.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t really lend itself to any of those things. Its just not simple. Philosophy tries to explain why, but it, too, can’t provide satisfying answers. Maybe one day it can. But we can’t know until we keep asking why, and earnestly hear what it tells us each time.
Maybe I convinced you. And maybe you leave this post with more questions, more assumptions over-turned. Maybe you feel empowered to tackle those questions you have burning in your mind during those long showers or eating away at your heart.
Even better, out of my own selfish sense of satisfaction, maybe you will continue reading my posts, where I take the long way through topics, sometimes blindly, sometimes after years of experiences and reading others works. And maybe you’ll even write some of your own; probably in response to my nonsense.
* To kind of prove my point in a very meta fashion, I didn’t look up the current accepted modern view of why WWI started. I instead gave what I learned. What philosophies do you think I was influenced by? My own, others, or maybe even poor education? This post has a meta tag for a reason.