Traditionally philosophy has been divided into four basic divisions, metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and ethics. These four areas have generally remained a common ground for philosophical propositions in every age and society. The history of philosophy reveals thinkers and philosophers in three major regions who have greatly contributed to the development of intellectual history, the ancient Greeks who made their impact in Europe and the Islamic world, the Chinese in the Orient, and the Indians of South and Southeast Asia. Western philosophy, on account of its dominant educational pattern, has mostly taken over philosophical discourse. However, a study of the philosophies of these regions shows that, although different thinkers and philosophers in different times emphasized one discipline of knowledge and neglected or marginalized others, there is a common strand of universal ethics and morality running through all of them. The depth and range of the thoughts and traditions of these three great regions reflect that “Of one Essence is the human race,” (Sa’adi Shirazi).
Today, as we are connected by a network of instantaneous exchange of knowledge, we are impelled to think and act globally. Philosophy is being understood through science, linguistic analysis, and phenomenology. Linguistic analysis attempts to probe through a systematic analysis of language what it means to “make sense” and to explain what is semantically structured in language. It tries to get at and to give a coherent account of the categorical structure of experience and thought and of the world as it is available to our epistemic powers. Phenomenology, the study or description of objects or appearances, strives to get at the essential structure of experience and thought and their objects by direct intuitive inspection. It is not characterized by argument, but intends to be descriptive and empirical without any presuppositions. The philosophy of linguistic analysis, viewed in broad perspective and with an understanding of its problems, seems more systematic, ingenious, disciplined, responsible, and useful method than phenomenological intuition.
In the long history of philosophy, philosophers have been arguing and writing mostly for intellectuals and other philosophers. But now we have arrived at an epoch in world history where there is a need to adopt and follow a philosophy to be read, understood, and practiced by intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike. Many complex conflicting arguments and multiple contradictions in this task need to be addressed to achieve a simple and clear intellectual vision for the common man and his civilization in today’s world. In order to facilitate this approach, the mesmerizing achievements of science and its amazing computer technology have opened for the modern mind a new appeal to philosophical studies. The shrinking of the global spectrum is no more confined to material inventions only; modern internet technology is making it possible that none of the traditions and cultures will be left apart. The domination of scientific education and research and the growth of intellectual consortiums have generated a new form of global interpretation.
In the present era of history the grand role of philosophy as the supreme form of intellectual life, the queen of sciences, the chronicler of time and eternity, and the guide of religious or worldly life, has been demoted to that of handmaiden of science. This should not be seen as a change in philosophy’s cognitive role as the subject matter of an intellectual discipline nor is it to be understood as a gradual alienation from man’s life in favor of science. Rather, it is an act of progressive transformation of philosophy actualized by the scientific revolution in the West, where philosophy has now attained a place in scientific areas. In scientific research the use of embryonic stem cells and matters regarding cloning are issues of a serious nature to be clarified and justified by philosophy as morally acceptable for the society we are living in today.
The modern period is day by day projecting the increasing authority of science over other cultural, religious, and social fields that fall under the jurisdiction of philosophy. Science and technology have succeeded on account of their practical utility, becoming more and more a series of easy techniques and less and less a complicated system. This is because science as a technique has presented in practice a different outlook from the one found in theoretical philosophy. Technology has conferred such a great sense of power that human beings tend to feel less at the mercy of the environment than they did in the past. The last decade of the twentieth century’s cutting-edge biotechnological research and the boundless frontiers of computer science have enabled the transfer of knowledge and power from the physically strong to the mentally smart, from the rich and elite to the common man. Research and successes in genetic engineering, neurobiology, and superfast communication systems are amazingly and progressively changing the levels of philosophy to a practical rather than theoretical approach, bringing it closer to science than ever. Consequently many unanswered questions of philosophy have been answered by science.
Histories of philosophy only serve to legitimize models of progress that are wholly ideological. Philosophy deals in questions that people in general hardly agree on. In science many answers enjoy a general consensus because people agree on the assumptions of questions and the application of concepts within that discipline. Science and logical reality are constructed by language, and many different constructions are possible. But it is impossible to know what to do with scientific discoveries in genetics or biology without a vision of what sort of society we want to live in and what duties we assign to each other or to our descendants. Such questions lie in philosophy’s jurisdiction because the answers are essentially based on our conception of ourselves as human beings and what we think is the best way for us to live.
This article is contributed by Mr. Mirza I. Ashraf