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Is Philosophy Relevant Anymore? A Deep Dive Into The Scarcity Of Philosophers

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When we hear the word ‘philosophy’ today, most people are reminded of the 20th century, the golden age of modern philosophy. The feminist and existentialist movements taking over the world of philosophy. We are not, however, even aware of contemporary philosophers. The focus on the old philosophical eras is a peculiar thing. In most sciences, we have rallied forward and rendered most old theories obsolete. Is philosophy different because it is not empirical? There are certain ways to look at this issue. If we first look at the issue of the implication of philosophy in laypersons’ daily lives, we are met with the problem of inconsistency and simply, lack of time and interest. There is also an argument to be made that since science has made the world focus on the structure and composition of the universe, rather than the beginning and causality of it. This makes philosophical questions irrelevant for most people. To understand why we arrived at this place, we need to understand why philosophy was so popular in the modern world in the first place.


This leads us to the obsession with philosophy in the 1900s, specifically in the European continent. With heavyweight thinkers such as Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Foucault, and many more, the 20th century was a bright time for any lover of philosophy. The trends of existentialism which started in France and Germany, revolutionary feminist philosophers coming forth, and political philosophy gaining much more popularity, there was little possibility of being unaware of this school of thought. It was a part of general discourse, with a great many original ideas and schools of thought coming out from various places around the world. However, with the idea of philosophy mostly being associated with ancient schools such as the Platonic and Socratic schools of thought, it is no wonder that it has become a subject that most people roll their eyes at now. 


In this analytical essay on Cahiers de Proxématique, Anna Wierzbicka makes a very interesting observation that the word ‘really’ instead of ‘truly’ has become more popular in current times. The essay links it to the word ‘proof’ being more founded on pure thought and the word ‘evidence’ suggesting a more material object. The reality of being constantly surrounded by things that are dependent on ‘evidence’ rather than ‘proof’, and the intense focus of the capitalistic world on material things, seems to have made our lives less focused on the abstract world of ‘thought’ and theories that simply connect one thought to the other, without the yield of anything material. We lead lives that are now naturally drawn to the materialistic, and so, the abstract has little place in our lives. It now has a place mostly restricted to academia, with a most focus being on every school of philosophy other than contemporary philosophy of the 21st century.


Another aspect of modern contemporary philosophy is consequentialism. This refers to the idea that actions are driven by their consequences, not the other way around, and these consequences deem the action as either morally good or bad. This, in itself, is a scary idea, particularly for the current world. With some governments falling and some declaring all-out war, the idea of consequences seems pointless, with the current generation having fairly little hope for the future. It further alienates the natural direction in which philosophical though is going. There is hardly any interest in actively seeking out the nature of the causal relations between actions and consequences, and which leads to which.


Another explanation of the divergent nature of the population and the contemporary direction of philosophy can also be the fact that post-modern philosophy gave rise to the popularity of consequentialism. The wars and devastation became a way to look inward, and thus, logically led to the examination of actions and their outcomes. Another aspect of modern thought in philosophy is the position that there are no absolute concepts. So, in this mode of thinking, good and bad become relative concepts, again, leading us to examine actions in morally grey areas. We can see here, that the allegiance of academia to ancient philosophy is strong, because modern philosophy has very few theories of importance to offer. Even if they are considered important, they are not vastly known.


Philosophy has now been reduced to a subject that is studied in institutions. Few know that philosophy gave rise to those educational institutions. This obsolescence is not just attributed to science as we saw in previous examples. Time and time again, waves of thinkers have simply become at odds with the way that the world is going. Not in terms of ideology, but in terms of purpose. Well-known modern philosophers are either political thinkers or new-wave feminist philosophers. Although this is a good thing, they are not identified primarily as philosophers. We, again, reach a crossroads with the idea of philosophy being irrelevant today. However, this only means that philosophy is needed, now more than ever, with alarming amounts of opposing opinions crossing swords with another; an objective way of analysing these inclinations is imperative.

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