Previous Page/Table Of ContentsNext Page

I include this section as a reminder that all other branches of knowledge can be viewed as being within the purview of Philosophy. For example, one of the ongoing debates here in the United States concerns the question of whether or not Creation ought to be taught in schools along with the scientific theory of Evolution. The view that Creation is just as valid of a concept as the science of biology is a philosophical view. In essence, the many proponents of that idea assert: 1) the epistemological concept that science is an imperfect vehicle for obtaining knowledge because science is subject to being misled by false clues planted by God for reasons known only to God, and as a consequence of this, the only true source of knowledge comes from reading the Bible; 2) the metaphysical concept that God is the "supreme truth," and that any scientific knowledge which is at odds with the Bible must, of necessity, be erroneous; and 3) the religious and ethical concept that it is very wrong to teach a fundamentalist Christian child erroneous scientific knowledge which goes against the religious training which the parents and church of that child are trying desperately to have that child believe. If you buy the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, the conclusion is inescapable. If you attack those philosophical assumptions, you are asserting a religious prejudice.
So, even in mundane political debates over the curriculum of our schools, it is not possible to escape Philosophy. In point of fact, Philosophy is more basic than that. Do you obey all of the laws imposed upon you by our society? Whatever your answer is, it is an expression of your own sense of ethics. Are there some forms of art and music that you like while there are others you do not like? Those are expressions of your sense of aesthetics. On any occasion, if you think a thought which an animal would not think, you are thinking a thought which is grounded in Philosophy. No matter what your aspirations in life might be, those very aspirations are grounded in your own philosophy.
The truly sad part is that, while this is clearly a universal truth, we no longer make any real effort to teach Philosophy to our children. The only reason which I can ascribe to this is that Philosophy makes our children independent of the thoughts which we (as their elders) seek to impress upon them. If we truly teach them to think and organize their thoughts for themselves, we should not be surprised to see them discard many of the thoughts which we ourselves hold dear, and which we have tried to pass on to each of them as part of their education.
In essence, the failure to teach Philosophy becomes a sort of tyranny over the minds of the young; they cannot discard the value system which we impress upon them if we do not give them the tools with which to empty their minds of the false assumptions upon which that very value system is based. Out of our own arrogance that our own beliefs are "right" for our children, we impose those beliefs upon them without their informed consent, and fail to even give them the tools with which to execute the consent form. It is an unfortunate truth that this has been going on for as long as mankind has been around.
Thus, while all people are controlled by Philosophy, only a few will accidentally discover the tools required for us to manipulate Philosophy and bend it to our own will. The few of that few who then set out to systematize all of human knowledge, and to then pass that system on to our young, are all among the greatest philosophers of all time. It is truly unfortunate that the vast scope of human knowledge has grown to such an extent that our view of the "forest" of Philosophy has been lost because so many of the "trees" of scientific knowledge block our view.

Any serious study of Philosophy will invoke the names of many of the great philosophers whose beliefs have been committed to paper and preserved down through the mists of time. We can probably recognize many of these great names due to our early schooling: Socrates,27 Plato,28 and Aristotle29 were among the great Greek philosophers. We may even have heard of Aquinas30 or Kant,31 but most likely cannot identify with any certainty what any of these five are best known for, at least in a philosophical sense.
Spengler and Durant both asserted that these philosophers come to the fore in response to the needs of their particular times. In Will and Ariel Durants' 1968 book, The Lessons of History, Chapter XII, on page 93, they write:

The above is a fairly definitive (not to mention, accurate) portrayal of where Western Civilization stands today. There is no doubt that Spengler would agree, as would Toynbee or any other serious historian of the great breadth of History.
The importance of the above assertion lies in the fact that the particular people who will assert any particular philosophical point of view are fundamentally irrelevant; it matters not whether we are listening to a speech by Democritus or Hobbes. What matters is that someone (almost?) always arises at any particular point in any given Culture or Civilization in order to espouse the proper Philosophy of the times. It is for that reason that Ayn Rand becomes the defining philosopher for the United States during the middle of the twentieth century; it was because she best espoused the views which were "destined"32 to be popular during that period of our history! Now that her time is past, we are enabled to see the errors of her assertions, and a new vista of philosophical inquiry opens for us. However, if we are not careful, we will end up trudging down the same well-worn path used by the Classical and Arab scholars before us. In other words, we may well fail to break out of the pattern defined by Spengler, and it is my most fundamental contention that we must discard that pattern and design a new one to replace it.
This is the true meaning of the term "philosophical side show," which I use as the title of this segment. My main assertion is: a continuously evolving Philosophy is anti-survival; what we need is a process of continuous refining of our basic ideas of philosophical principles in the same manner in which we continuously refine our basic ideas for any science. Only in this way can we arrest the continuous cycles of human Culture and Civilization which Spengler predicts are the destiny of mankind.
Because Philosophy deals with subject matter which is so lacking in concrete manifestations, it is far too easy to discard the entirety of any given Philosophy because it becomes apparent that one aspect of that Philosophy is clearly erroneous. Thus, the "God-intoxicated" philosopher, Spinoza, has lost influence after 1800, as God has equivalently lost influence in the lives of mankind. But this should in no way imply that there is nothing of value in the Philosophy of Spinoza merely because it is permeated with the God-intoxication of Spinoza. In other words, Philosophy is not merely a fashion which mankind puts on or takes off according to the particular phase of the cycle of Culture and Civilization in which they exist. That would be the case if we are to give full credence to the cyclical theories of Spengler as an immutable "destiny" for mankind.
Instead, as with the development of all branches of science, Philosophy should be seen as an evolution towards the end-goal of a "perfect" Philosophy which we should instill in all children through their educational process. In other words, Philosophy should not be an elective subject for only the most motivated of abstract thinkers in a college environment, but instead, Philosophy ought to be taught to our children as soon as they have the intellectual capacity to begin to soak up the subject, just as we do for mathematics and science. As Will Durant points out, Philosophy is really the most basic of sciences, and I feel that the failure to instruct our children in this most basic field of knowledge can only be a manifestation of the desire of our governmental leaders to leave the bulk of our children in a state of abject ignorance.
Mankind must never again recycle around through these same old concepts so that a third set of names becomes associated with the philosophical "twins" which are enumerated by the Durants, above. In other words, we have had both Hobbes and Democritus, so why do we need another person to espouse essentially those same views? Mind you, we should never discard the writings of either of these; in essence, part of what I am complaining about is that we are all to ready to discard an entire Philosophy due to some error in part of it. But, instead, we should now go in an entirely new direction, as dictated by our exercise of reason based on knowledge, and thereby choose an entirely new path to the overall enlightenment of all mankind.
Considered abstractly, there is really no reason we should not have some sort of Epistemology Department in our universities, along with Psychology, Geology, and the other branches of science. The reason that we do not really has more to do with the fact that the forces of Religion, State, and Industry each have so much to fear from Epistemology that none of them would allow such a thing to occur. If you teach a child Epistemology, you teach that child the methodology of defining his or her own version of Truth, which automatically and axiomatically leads to a rejection of the Truth handed down by the "powers that be." So, to protect themselves, these "powers" drown Epistemology in a mountain of meaningless gibberish, and ensure that those who teach Philosophy do so by forcing each student to read so many of the previous "great" philosophers that they will quickly become bored and lose interest.
In other words, all modern courses in Philosophy really teach us a History of philosophers. Nowhere have I seen someone actually teach the subject matter which actually comprises Philosophy. The merely average student will be so lost in this huge mountain of reading that they will never actually find the Truth. Only "the best and the brightest" will find Truth, and these will become true philosophers. They will do so in spite of the teaching of Philosophy much like a circus side-show!

27 Lived about 470-399 b. c., and is difficult to distinguish as a historical persona from the character immortalized in the early dialogs of Plato.

28 Lived about 429-327 b. c., and many details of his life are the subject of scholarly debate.

29 Lived about 384-322 b. c., and is most famous as the tutor for Alexander the Great.

30 Lived about 1225-1274, and is a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

31 Lived about 1724-1804, and is considered to be the greatest philosopher of Western Civilization.

32 By "destined" I imply the sort of destiny foretold by Spengler.

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

Please send us your feedback!

Previous Page/Table Of ContentsNext Page