DOES PHILOSOPHY HAVE A FUTURE?
D. R. Khashaba
Does philosophy have a future? The answer naturally depends on what we mean by philosophy. Of course our colleges and university faculties will continue to teach ‘philosophy’ and give degrees and doctorates in ‘philosophy’ and academicians will continue to publish learned tomes on the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of history, the philosophy of this and that. All of this is very good as far as it goes and may give us food for thought and the best of it may contribute to the spread of enlightenment. But, begging your pardon, all of this is not what I mean by philosophy.
Philosophy properly speaking had its seed sown in Ionia on the western shores of Asia Minor sometime around the sixth century BC. Of course there had been much profound wisdom and much learning in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, in Persia, and elsewhere. But there was a difference. The Greek speculations were freed from all attachment to vital need or practical utility. It was sheer curiosity, sheer wonder; it was, strictly speaking’ all child play. Moreover, and this is most important, it acknowledged no authority, no judgment but that of the philosopher’s own inner light. In this too it was childlike.
But, once again begging your pardon, I would say that this, original and wonderful as it was, is not what I – obstinate I – take to be philosophy pure and simple. The pre-Socratics, audacious and free as they were, were still concerned with the world outside us, the world enveloping us, a concern that was inherited by science as its rightful realm.
Philosophy came of age when Socrates in the fifth century BC said: I know nothing. All of Socrates’ predecessors wanted to know. Socrates renounced the desire, the urge, to know. Let others, he said, find out how things come about and perish, what things are like, how things are related.
All of that is good and useful as far as it goes, and we all know we are indebted to such inquiries into things for all we revel in of technical and technological achievements, and for all the knowledge and power that may make humans live comfortably and happily, or, more likely, bring humanity to its final doom.
Socrates was not concerned with any of that. Socrates did not seek to know. Socrates sought to understand himself, to understand his inner reality. It was then that Philosophia sprang forth from the forehead of Socrates as Athena sprang forth from the forehead of Zeus.
Plato was the only, and still is the only, thinker who grasped that fully. He then found that the understanding Socrates sought cannot be confined in any definite formulation of thought or words. It can only be intimated in parable, metaphor, and myth.
Plato has been telling us that in dialogue after dialogue but we persist in being blind to his message and continue to be deluded by Aristotle’s distorted interpretation of Plato. Aristotle was a great scientist but he was not a philosopher. Philosophers, deluded by Aristotle, continued to seek knowledge and certainty. The result was that they reached neither knowledge nor certainty nor understanding. Consequently the erudite tomes of our ‘philosophers’ are fit for nothing but Hume’s flames.
So, does philosophy have a future?
The work done in colleges and university faculties may have its uses, but it is not philosophy. Today we find the best philosophy in literature, in fiction, poetry, drama, and in the arts, and perhaps now and then in the work of an obscure non-academic philosopher whose work is hardly noticed by anyone.
So, does philosophy have a future?
I have been trying to give my answer in the above lines. But I do not give my answer for you to accept. A philosophical question can only be answered by everyone by oneself and for oneself. So, dear reader, in what I have been saying I was not giving you an answer but a question to puzzle out for yourself. That is all what a genuine philosophy can do and has to do.
Cairo, 17 October, 2014.