4521_186068One of the things I like most about Badiou is his thesis that the goal of philosophy is to think the present, or to grasp the compossibility of those truths that are both eternal but are the essence of the present. Is it a mistake that philosophy seems to flourish most in periods of profound scientific, technological, artistic, and political transformation? In this spirit, here are a few things characteristic of our present that seem unique to our time:

* We live in a period during which developments in mathematics dwarf all prior cumulative developments, yet philosophers are still talking about how we know that 7 + 5 = 12, as if this understanding of mathematics were in any way relevant to topology, set theory, category theory, and lots of other forms of general abstract nonsense that I can scarcely even imagine.

* Evolutionary theory has overturned the idea of fixed and eternal species, instead producing a picture of the world characterized by endless variation and the production of classes through the accumulation of individual differences, yet philosophers still seem to think in terms of essences and individuals.

* We are unlocking the genome, fundamentally transforming the very nature of how life is conceived, yet again we still seem to think in terms of species and individuals despite now being in a position to play “Magister Ludi’s glass bead game” with life.

* We have a physics that has both revealed that space and time are interlinked and curved in terms of mass, and that has revealed a world of subatomic particles that behave in ways that no a priori reasoning would have ever expected, but we still think of causality in terms of regularities among impressions.

* We have new sciences such as systems theory, complexity theory, and chaos theory that also reveal significant shortcomings in how we conceive causality, yet we still think of causality in terms of necessary succession.

* We have a neurology and cognitive science that are transforming our understanding of the nature of cognition and mental functioning, yet we philosophers still seem to think that folk psychological concepts like “belief”, “love”, “desire”, “will”, “intention”, etc., are adequate to discussing the nature of mind.

* We have new forms of media and communications technology that are transforming the very nature of our cognition by virtue of being fields of individuation, yet we still privilege the book as a model of media.

* Our economic and technological processes have produced the first genuinely global form of social organization, yet we rely on political models unconsciously premised on social relations organized around rather small populations.

The list could be multiplied indefinitely. The issue is not one of abandoning the tradition or ignoring philosophy that has come before, but of doing philosophy in a way that is directed at the present. There is a vast difference between philosophy that is about another philosopher, and philosophy that is directed at its present and the problems and questions posed by that present, drawing on a tradition to think this, while also creating concepts adequate to this present and its own problems and cultural texture.

About these ads