Philosophy

Enough of the ‘STEM’ obsession: We need more philosophers

This post is in reference to an article I recently read.

The world is based on differences of opinion. What matters most is not what you think, but how you think. At the core of its practice, wonder is the beginning of philosophy; the questioning of what it means to be human, and the critical examination of life that transcends inquiry beyond the socially acceptable spectrum of public debate.

We live in an age, however, where science and technology reign supreme, and philosophy is viewed as something to be left to old and dusty books on a forgotten bookshelf, or to irrelevant University Professors. Alarmingly, the education system is promoting the divorce between science and philosophy; emphasizing the desire for coders, engineers, and technological researchers without the questioning of what we are trying to achieve, and why, as a species through our emphasis on a technological world.

The shared article challenges the dominant epistemic script that has somewhat plagued Western culture. The current STEM focus in schools (which stands for ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’) is very much needed, however, it fails to include the thinking and questioning of its practices that is often associated with the humanities, such as liberal arts, the social sciences and, of course, philosophy.

We have become a society that so readily celebrates the scientific method and the so-called rational mind that we have become bamboozled into believing that all that we are is a walking brain, and that to be human means to be in possession of an intelligent mind; an intelligence which favours maths and logic above all else.

We have attached ourselves so much to the scientific mind that it has become a form of religion. We used to live an age where no one dared to question religion, and yet now we are in the age where no one dares to question the reign of science. However, this is precisely what needs to take place. Our technological advances are, ironically, leading to greater inequality.

With the rise of automation, for example, people are also being left to question their existence for alarmingly the first time ever, as a vast majority of people derive their sense of meaning in life from their vocation. Science cannot answer questions of meaning, but philosophy and a somewhat questioning of existence itself can lead to unexpected insights. The problem, however, is that although we desperately need more philosophy, we need the right type of philosophical thinkers.

As so eloquently put by my favourite philosopher, Alan Watts:

The current movement in philosophy is “logical analysis”, which says: you mustn’t think about existence, it’s a meaningless concept. Therefore, philosophy has become the discussion of trivia. No good philosopher lies awake nights, worrying about the destiny of Man, and the nature of God, and that sort of thing. Because a philosopher today is a practical fellow who comes to the university with a briefcase at 9:00 and leaves at 5:00. He “does philosophy” during the day, which is discussing whether certain sentences have meaning and if so what.

The problem is: he’s lost his sense of wonder. Wonder is in modern philosophy something one mustn’t have… it’s like enthusiasm in 18th century England: very bad form. But you see, I don’t know what question to ask when I wonder about the universe. It isn’t a question that I’m wondering about, it’s a feeling that I have. Because I cannot formulate the question that is my wonder. The moment my mouth opens to talk about it I suddenly find I’m talking nonsense. But that should not prevent wonder from being the foundation of philosophy.

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