Thursday, 24 November 2011

"Philosophy is what you want to keep in a good world"

On 23rd of April 2010, Bill Gates gave a talk at MIT in which he asked: “are the brightest minds working on the most important problems?” By “the most important problems” he meant “improving the lives of the poorest; improving education, health, nutrition”. Unfortunately, the list should probably include improving peaceful interactions, human rights, environmental conditions, living standards… and this is only the beginning. Clearly, the brightest philosophical minds should not be an exception, but turn their attention to such pressing challenges.

The first question is how. Of course, one may stop philosophising and start doing something about this messy world instead. We may, in other words, close down our philosophy departments and never corrupt our brightest youths philosophically. Yet, such solution smacks of self-defeat. It would be like deciding to burn the wicker basket in which we are travelling, because our hot air balloon is descending too quickly. Philosophy is what you want to keep in a good world, not what you want to get rid of in a bad one. So there must be a different way forward. The fact is that philosophy can be extremely helpful, for it is philosophy, understood as conceptual design, that forges the new ideas, theories, perspectives and more generally the intellectual framework that can then be used to understand and deal with the ultimate questions that challenge us so pressingly. In the team effort made by the brightest minds, the philosophical ones can contribute insights and visions, analyses and syntheses, heuristics and solutions that can empower us to tackle the most important problems. Every little effort helps in the battle against idiocy, obscurantism, intolerance, fanaticisms and fundamentalisms of all kinds, bigotry, prejudice and mere ignorance. If this sounds self-serving recall that the longer the jump forward is, the longer the run-up to it should be. Or, with a different metaphor, philosophy takes care of the roots, so that the rest of the plant might grow more healthily.

Read the full article in Philosopher’s Eye

This opinion piece is one of a series of five being released this week and next to celebrate World Philosophy Day and to publicise the upcoming workshop entitled Editor’s Cut – A view of philosophical research from journal editors. the workshop will take place at the University of London on Friday 13th of January 2012.

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