What role for philosophy in front of science?

Abstract: Of the two directions of thought, complexification and decomplexification, only one is necessary for the everyday use of science, while both are imperative for the more difficult exercise of philosophy.

A matter subject to reductionism

There are two directions of thinking: complexification and decomplexification, also called reductionism. These two directions are present in philosophy as in science. Complexification consists of achieving a desirable objective from correctly identified micromechanisms. Decomplexification consists of deciphering these micromechanisms using a theory. However, the efforts of philosophy and science in these two directions are not perceived in the same way.

Science focuses its efforts on matter. Revealing its privacy only has advantages. All humans bend it to their will, realize their desires, without even knowing how they do it. Enormous success of complexifying science, even though very few know how to use it to decomplexify matter.

Philosophical reductionism is less popular

Philosophy focuses its efforts on the mind. Revealing one’s privacy this time takes on the appearance of rape, because it is humans themselves who are the target. Their desires are exposed, analyzed, weighed. Based on which theory? That of a philosopher who explored her own mental universe. It’s tricky to make a universal theory out of it. Just as matter can protest a scientific theory by refusing to behave as expected, the human spirit rebels against a philosophical theory that does not correspond to what it experiences. However, as much as the rebellion of matter is rare, because its complexity is limited, the rebellion of the spirit is almost systematic, because a philosophy never corresponds exactly to a personality other than that of its author.

This fundamental difference has created very contrasting disciplines: scientists seek to unite around a consensus; philosophers seek to diversify into a constellation of leading stars of thought, around which the minds attracted by them can gravitate.

Scientists work to strengthen the collectivism that connects us all to matter. Philosophers work to strengthen our individualization. Inevitably the popularity of the two disciplines differs. The fundamental collectivism of science benefits everyone. A philosopher’s speech may only interest herself.

Complex science without knowing

Yet this is not the main reason why philosophy is less popular than science today. The real reason, you may have guessed from my introduction, indeed comes from these two directions of thought, complexification and decomplexification, and from where they start for science and philosophy.

Science becomes more complex from a perfectly common base. It doesn’t matter if a human understands nothing about atomic physics, she knows that she is made of the same atoms as her fellow humans. Regardless of her level of mental sophistication, she can use technology to communicate and bend the environment to her desires. Yes, Mr. Jourdain, you are doing complex science without knowing it!

Philosophical decomplexification is obligatory

Academic philosophy becomes more complex from a very unusual basis, and is devoid of “experiments” which would make it possible to verify that minds and society behave in the expected manner. The only philosophical “technology” consists of maxims with only contextual significance, which must be handled with caution.

In other words, when it comes to science, humans have no obligation to decomplex, to subject themselves to the difficult work of researchers. Whereas in matters of philosophy it is an imperative! However, philosophical research is demanding in terms of time and intellect. It is necessary to study at length authors whose language is often abstruse. To be interested in it requires having built desires similar to theirs, having already become much more complex oneself. In philosophy the cart comes before the horse. With its great authors, the school places a philosophical cart that is too heavy in front of juvenile minds, far from having built up the desire to push it.

All philosophers?

This has caused the rise of popular thoughts, to which great minds are reluctant to give the title “philosophies”, which bring together sayings, methods of personal realization, “slice of life” novels, comics, discussion groups. Their accessibility allows everyone to find a “philosophical theory of the world” that is close to their own.

Would everyone have become a philosopher, then? Unfortunately no, for three reasons.

Three failures of academic philosophy

1) First, the teaching of philosophy is, like that of mathematics, indigestible for far too many students. It confines the discipline to an elitist and inaccessible image. A gap has formed between popular thought and academic philosophy, as indeed between popular pseudo-scientism and science. But, as we have seen, the scientific gap does not prevent the use of technology while the philosophical gap prohibits taking advantage of great authors.

2) Second, the philosophical gap is not just a barrier to understanding. It is also used to elevate one’s desire. To force oneself to read a difficult text is to access the author’s desire and thus, to complicate one’s own. While a popular work is enough to satisfy a simple desire. No frustration. Free spirits actually tend to choose simple rewards. Great authors have always been tied up, tortured by their desires.

3) Media coverage today favors fast-food type information rather than elitism. By seeking to please, it locks individuals into stereotypical and static worlds. It compartmentalizes conflicts instead of promoting their constructive development. In this sense, network algorithms are radically contradictory with philosophy, which is conflict management.

What can we do to restore the luster to philosophy?

Point (1): As with mathematics, it is not a question of giving students “technologies” of thought derived from great authors, but of learning how to learn. Simply understand that the mind is a progressive complexification, that a variety of methods can be used, provided they allow this complexification to continue. Learn to identify the methods that cause stagnation and those that allow you to continue your personal development. Academic philosophy should focus on the personal history of the authors rather than their thinking, clarifying why, at one point or another, they began to stagnate. What great authors have in common with young people is their rebellion.

The philosophical gap, the subject of point (2), is easier to cross. A magazine like Philosophie Magazine (in french) does it very elegantly. On the one hand, it is about getting closer to our contemporary desires, that is to say, dealing with current events, and on the other hand, presenting the philosophical micromechanisms in a digestible way. No lecture on the thought of a single author, but a brief and accessible summary of famous thoughts on the subject. Each article thus produces a “cloud of errors” surrounding the personal truth that each person will conceive on this occasion. Complex and non-reductive truth.

Finally point (3) joins (2). Fighting against media fast food means using the same ingredients, facts and current concerns, but offering more elaborate cuisine, in language that remains accessible. Gastronomy without elitist prices…


1 thought on “What role for philosophy in front of science?”

  1. Of the contemporary philosophers I have read, and/or admired, there are several. Of the ancients, there are few because if it did not happen before, Thomas Kuhn, it was obsolete, soon after. Time, though ethereal, travels fast. There are two favorite quotes that arise from the ashes:
    *Sellars: philosophy is an attempt to see how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together, in the broadest possible sense of the term. Wilf Sellars was an alcoholic, who died for those troubles.
    *Nagel: (yes, the guy who asked about being a bat): reality is about how things probably are; not how they might possibly BE (emphasis, mine). Nagel is alive, so far as I know. His question about bats could have, as easily, applied to ghost crabs. But, the bat thing worked for Mr. Nagel.
    I will follow your blog, JeanPierre. Mostly because you make sense, *in the broadest possible
    sense of the term*—not because you and I are in agreement. Bon jour et, bon soir, mon ami.


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