In the play “The Zoo Story,” Edward Albee has a character say, “Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.” Philosophy sometimes plays a similar role. Thus, philosophers explore various avenues of thought. It is then essential to learn to come back that “short distance” and appreciate that experimentation and observation are the fundamentals behind accurate knowledge acquisition.
There is thus a need for a new “modern philosophy,” but this is different from “old philosophy.” Old philosophy was mainly based on speculation and looked away from or placed only minor emphasis on experimentation, analysis, and plausible conclusions. Daniel Dennett, a modern philosopher, writes in the introduction to “From Bactria to Bach and Back, The Evolution of Minds” that when he was a graduate student of philosophy in 1963 thinking about the evolution of the human mind:
“In those days philosophers weren’t expected to know about science, and even the most illustrious philosophers of mind were largely ignorant of work in psychology, neuroanatomy, and neurophysiology. The fledgling enterprise dubbed Artificial intelligence.. was attracting attention, but few philosophers had ever touched a computer.”
Dennett obtained an “education in these fields and learned how to “think about minds and brains” using scientific findings as to the basis of his work. This is how the best modern philosophers work. Dennett writes that changes have taken place:
“Today, there are dozens, hundreds, of young philosophers who do have solid interdisciplinary training in cognitive science, neuroscience, and computer science.”
However, there are still as many philosophers stuck in purely speculative thought and without a solid grounding or understanding of experimentation or theoretical science. In addition, many contemporary philosophers hide behind a patina of mathematics and arcane vocabularies and are mostly disconnected from the scientific endeavor. As significantly where philosophy should help us learn to live better lives, modern philosophers avoid discussing these critical topics, leaving this to mankind’s old tribal beliefs.
In this author’s view, modern philosophy has three major roles:
It clarifies the process of knowledge acquisition discusses what might work best as “right reasoning.” This is a practical explanation of philosophy.
Modern philosophy helps us in the many areas that are still difficult to experiment with clarity. Moreover, it works in collaboration with, or at least along with, scientists in exploring areas such as consciousness and artificial intelligence.
Finally, it provides guidance and advice on which to live better daily lives and organize ourselves in our societies.
A periodic review of philosophy is essential for living a good life. The ancient philosopher Socrates summarized this best as “The unexamined life is not worth living.”!