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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Will Philosophy Have a Future?

Philosophy is the discipline which explores the most abstract portion of intellectual space. As our intellectual space expands, there will be new abstract areas to explore. Therefore philosophy will always have a future.

Randall Collins offers an interesting perspective on philosophy’s future in his book The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Here's an excerpt (Page 856 - 857):

To say that philosophy is coming to an end is tantamount to saying that the abstraction-reflexivity sequence is coming to an end. It is to say that there are no more deep troubles to drive oppositions, no more law of small numbers dividing the attention space, no more rearrangements of the networks in reaction to shifts in the organization bases of intellectual life.

It is a partisan theme which announces that the era of foundational questions is over, a move within the normal oppositions of struggle over intellectual attention space. The call for the end of philosophy is recurrent, a standard ploy in intergenerational rearrangements, usually a prelude to a new round of deep troubles and new creativity. The version popular in the 1980s and 1990s is couched in the terms of heightened reflexivity of this era. It fails to take sociological reflexivity far enough to perceive the nature of philosophical turf. The search for permanent foundations is another recurrent ploy, the standard terminology of staking a claim on a certain region of the intellectual battleground. Neither side perceives that philosophy is the terrain of struggle, and that deep troubles, not permanent solutions, are the treasures which are the implicit focus of the struggles for possession of the attention space. Philosophy is the turf of intellectuals who perpetually re-dig their conceptual foundations. Foundations are their terrain, not because they are bedrock, but because they are the ever-receding apex of the abstraction-reflexivity sequence—receding not upward to the heavens but downward and inward. This endless digging no more dissolves philosophy into nothingness than Leibniz’s infinitesimal calculus made an unreality out of the continuum. 

The same can be said for the diagnosis that philosophy becomes exhausted as its contents eventually split free to become empirical sciences. This conception rests on dim awareness that there are branching paths of the abstraction-reflexivity sequence, a polemical awareness that identifies philosophy with the cosmological sequence alone. This misperceives the character of the philosophical attention space, and fails to see that sciences find their niche at a lower level of abstraction. The social practices of modern rapid-discovery natural science are not those of intellectual networks in philosophy, and their niches in attention space to do not supplant one another. The end of philosophy was proclaimed yet again when the modern social sciences split off from philosophical networks. As we have seen, there have been substantive repercussions of both these breaks within the contents of modern philosophy. It would be the wrong inference to see in this anything more than the energizing flows that happen in intellectual networks when their surrounding material bases are changed, opening up the factional space for creative realignments. 

Most recently, the organizational revolution of the modern university made it possible to expand the number of specialized disciplines, and each new alignment provides new topics for argument on the most abstract intellectual space. Philosophy is more than the womb of disciplines, and there is no danger of its emptying out to find nothing left of its own. On the contrary, the splitting off of specific empirical disciplines has laid bare the core topics and deep troubles of the abstraction-reflexivity sequence. 

As long as there are intellectual networks capable of autonomous action to divide their own attention space, there will be philosophy. If we but knew the social structure of the intellectual world from now until the end of human-like consciousness in the universe, we could chart as long a sequence of future generations of philosophers.

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