IN THE POPULAR WORLD TODAY, in which all fields are specialised, the general view on philosophy seems to be that it is a wishy-washy, groundless subject of no import or substance – or, in more colloquial terms, ‘bullshit’. It is hard to establish any real cause for this aversion and distaste toward the subject, but if I were to put forward a reason it would be that of unfamiliarity – or, in more damning terms, that of ignorance. For how can anyone acquainted with philosophy hold it in such low regard? Perhaps the problem lies in the accessibility of the subject. Indeed, if one were to read of Berkeley’s conclusions – that minds and their ideas are the only things in existence – without having first read his preceding arguments, one may perhaps be a little more justified in throwing the term ‘bullshit’ around.
Accessibility, then, can be labelled as a problem. Indeed, the original text of the seminal works is often too difficult, too dense, too dull; whilst the introductory guides leave out the boring, scientific methods of inductive and deductive inference at the cost of offering only the often controversial conclusions such reasoning can produce, triggering a cloud of ‘bullshit’ to arise from the page which accordingly causes the reader to wretch and slam the book, along with any open interest in philosophy, shut. Where, then, can one possibly find intrigue in studying philosophy?
Before answering this question, let me ask a few of my own: what introduction did Plato have to philosophy? Which explanatory aid did Descarte refer to? How was Immanuel Kant guided toward the subject? Was Bertrand Russell tutored in an introductory fashion?
Now, let me answer all questions. To find intrigue in philosophy, as the great thinkers above found it, one must only look inward. Indeed, the only introductory handbook necessary to us is available in all places and at all times: the mind. With the right mood only a little introspection is necessary before the big questions come to mind. You know the ones – why are we here? Is our existence meaningful? How best should we spend our time on earth? When these questions arise, you can be safe in the knowledge that your spark plug of curiosity is firing and the huge engine of philosophy present within you is slowly but surely whirring into life…
At risk of extending this audacious metaphor further, reason and argument can be seen as the petrol that causes this great philosophical engine to churn out the academic miles. (Not to be held back by the metaphor, I must work around it in noting that this ‘petrol’ does not require a station to fill up at: the engine recycles it.)
For, indeed, philosophy does not run on ‘bullshit’, it runs on reasoned, logical statements that follow from other reasoned, logical statements. Philosophy married with mathematics to form logic. Logic is the overarching meta-system upon which all other systems of knowledge are built. Put in another way, philosophy tests hypothesise with word experiments; modern science imitates this formula differing only in that it uses physical rather than verbal experimentation. Essentially, all subjects in which knowledge is progressive – including biology, chemistry and physics – are just specialised branches of philosophy.
But I digress: the point of this piece is to reaffirm philosophy’s status not as merely a valuable pastime, but as a cherished discipline both relevant and necessary to the modern world. And how necessary: one look at the state of the economy is surely enough to establish that a reasoned, philosophical approach is required to sort the country out; one look at the state of popular culture is surely enough to cause within you a desire to exile yourself to a faraway island inhabited by little or no people.
For, indeed, popular culture would perhaps be better described as popular cancer. The inane meaninglessness of the majority of television – the brainwashed multitudes that sit themselves through it – it is enough to drive a man mad. It is not surprising that apathy rules when people seem helplessly slave-like to pointless broadcasts: next time you settle down to watch a ‘Reality’ TV show, why not switch it off and instead think on what reality actually is – for surely it is not to be found through watching idiotic fame-hungry clones perform menial tasks – ironically the concept of ‘bullshit’ seems to have come full-circle.
But let us end on a more positive note and resurrect the metaphor: turn the key in the ignition of decision, let the spark plug of curiosity fire into the glorious, under-appreciated engine of philosophy and, with reason pumping your pistons, drive, drive, drive the roads of the universe.