John Lachs on the Track of Philosophy

Philosophy has lost its way. At one point, it was the queen of the sciences, but the sciences grew up and, like naughty children, came to believe they didn’t need her. Many once thought she was the guide to life, rivaling religion but offering a more rational way. However, philosophy could not match the emotional power of the offer of salvation. Then philosophy fell in love with physics and tried to imitate the precision of its inquiry. But it was incapable of discovering a single new fact.

That’s when the siren sang and told philosophers to move into the safe, sacred confines of the university. The siren explained that sufficient technical virtuosity would secure philosophers an entire department in the knowledge factory. There would be jobs, and they would be accorded the same honor as scientists (or almost the same). To be sure, they would have to teach a few students, but they could spend their time in the classroom discussing technique with little reference to results. . .

[Philosophy] should. . . be good for something, and it is if viewed in the proper light. Nevertheless, philosophy is always in crisis, and its death is frequently announced. Yet it is a survivor and tends to outlive its murderers and morticians. The reason becomes obvious upon even short reflection: at its best, philosophy deals with the most persistent and most difficult questions of human life.

John Lachs, “Has Philosophy Lost its Way?,” Philosophy Now. Issue 99, Nov./Dec. (2013) p. 30

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