Is philosophy something that self-indulgent academics waste time on in their ivory tower or is it still relevant in the 21st century? Philosophy literally means “love of wisdom” but what does that mean in real terms. Is it the eternal search for the ultimate truth or is it just learning critical thinking skills or debating ethics? For me, it is all this plus so much more.
Philosophy is an approach to the world that encourages questioning, deep thinking and creative possibilities. To give you an example, lately we have been hearing a lot about artificial intelligence (AI) and the possibilities of automation of everything from driving to medical diagnoses. Scientists and futurists would have us believe that this ‘progress’ is inevitable and surely progress is good. But is it? Science is driven by a pursuit of knowledge, to learn more and more about ourselves and the world around us and we have enjoyed huge benefits from this but also some detriments. The role of the humanities – history, sociology, anthropology and philosophy – is to provide context to these gains in knowledge. The wisdom of the philosopher is to ask the question “Is the automation of everything that it is possible to automate actually good for people?” Just because we can doesn’t always mean we should. Why is an AI filled future inevitable when it is us who can choose?
So, wisdom is not just knowledge, as Socrates said, “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” A philosopher, like a scientist, wants to learn more about ourselves and the world around us but the philosopher seeks to do this through a questioning of our connections and our relationships with others and the environment. How am I formed by these? what impact do I have on these? How is this expressed in our social and political systems? Fundamental to everything is how we see and understand ourselves……… – more on that next month.