Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Pluralism, Invariance, and Conflict

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Pluralism, Invariance, and Conflict

Article excerpt

During the past two hundred years, uncertainty and suspicion about the philosophical enterprise have become acute. The educated public is confused about the intellectual and cultural importance of philosophy, and philosophers themselves are divided on its theoretical purpose and meaning. There are, to be sure, specifically philosophical sources of this condition. They include Kant's critique of traditional metaphysics, the logical positivists' debunking of ethics and theology, Wittgenstein's restrictions on the scope of meaningful discourse, Richard Rorty's call for an end to epistemology, and the deconstructionist attempt to envisage a postphilosophical world. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that the unease of philosophers is solely the result of an intramural debate. The practice of philosophy has always been responsive to the cultural context in which it occurs. The extended crisis of philosophy through the last two centuries is the natural reflection of an ongoing crisis in modernity.

Since the French Revolution, the enlightenment culture shaped by Galilean science and Cartesian philosophy has had to accommodate a new set of intellectual pressures. Foremost among these pressures are a profound and pervasive historical consciousness, an increasing drive towards specialization as cultural practices have become effectively autonomous, and a new appreciation of communal belonging as a formative influence on mentality and character. In conjunction these factors have undermined the early modern understanding of rationality and science. They have also weakened our confidence in the human capacity for objectivity and self-transcendence. This diminished confidence is reflected philosophically in the resurgence of epistemic and ethical theories that are skeptical or relativistic in character. Its influence, however, has not been confined to the philosophical community. Our common expectations of political and ethical life and our convictions about education and the worth of tradition have been shaken by this extended period of intellectual confusion.

In The Crisis of Philosophy,(1) I explored the effect of these theoretical and cultural changes on traditional conceptions of philosophy and defended the position that the permanent aim of philosophy is the integrated unfolding of the unrestricted human desire to know. That relentless desire is at the core of all theoretical inquiry and it prefigures the goal of unified knowledge which philosophy actively seeks. As human intelligence develops in the individual person and in the community of inquiry, the diversity of knowledge dramatically increases and the task of epistemic integration becomes more difficult. Philosophical strategies of synthesis adopted in an earlier stage of meaning no longer appear promising or plausible.

It appears that we stand at a decisive historical juncture in which development and decline are occurring simultaneously. The dynamic developments of modernity are the product of unprecedented specialization. The hard-won autonomy of science and culture has encouraged a dispersion of spiritual energy. The arts and the sciences have been transformed by this liberation, but the integrative practices like politics and philosophy have suffered. The human price we have paid for our centrifugal development is a loss of coherence and unity. There exists a justified fear among contemporary philosophers that the integration now sought will only be achieved through Procrustean measures. This fear has led to incessant reminders of our finitude, our fallibility, and our rootedness in history. As a check against philosophic hybris, these reminders are welcome; but at this time the love of wisdom needs tempering rather than repression.

If the invariance and unity to which philosophy aspires precluded multiplicity and change, or if the quest for integration were inconsistent with the fact of historicity, then the contemporary critics of philosophy would surely be right. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.