The Perspectives of Philosophy


Ivan Sviták

People find it natural today to think about what society should look like 20 years from now. Scientists calculate economic trends for a hundred years ahead, and the fact that people are the agents of enormous social changes is a part of the modern man's everyday consciousness. The transformation of the world and the permanence of change no longer surprise anyone; nor do the extraordinary consequences of the application of these phenomena to the old forms of thought, to social relationships and to the human condition. So philosophy, too, as a view of the world derived from this transformation of the world and from the trend of evolution is subject to radical change and raises a number of questions. Let us try to formulate them and to suggest the possible lines along which they could be answered, revealing hypothetical changes in the evolution of philosophical thinking.

Will philosophy exist at all in the future? It is generally recognized today that in the course of history the subject of philosophy has changed even within one single social order, in other words, that the subject of philosophy is susceptible to changes in time. And the historical character of philosophy can also be seen in the fact that philosophy as a specific form of consciousness is itself subject to the laws of change. In this conception, the traditional clash between philosophical idealism and materialism turns into a clash between scientific and unscientific conceptions, and philosophy falls back among the retreating forms of social consciousness. It is said that these forms of social consciousness will take over the classical problems of philosophy. The tendency to give philosophical problems a scientific form, to quantify qualitative phenomena and to introduce these techniques into the sphere of social science cannot do away with the simple truth that man does not form his views about the world on the basis of the findings of science and of the concrete representations of art; that what has always been, and will always remain, decisive for him is his own experience of life; and it is this, in confrontation with the objectivity of science and the subjectivity of artistic expression, that over and over again creates the need for a world view, a philosophy. It is just as likely that the importance of philosophical material in relation to the role of science will decline as it is unlikely that the philosophical problems of man's opinions about himself, the world, society and the place of the human race in the universe will disappear.

If philosophy goes on existing as a special form of social consciousness which cannot be reduced to science and art, can we expect further development to bring new philosophies? We can formulate the question more precisely: Will the history of future philosophy be continuous or discontinuous with the present tendencies? As soon as we accept the idea of the historical character of the subject matter of philosophy, then it is more likely that in the continuing process of the differentiation of its subject matter the evolution will be discontinuous with the present trends. We can foresee in particular that an end will be put to the present-day tendency to break up philosophy into ontology, gnoseology and anthropology, which used to assert their claims to wholeness though they always reduced either man to a perceptive being or the world to a world of essences or else again man to a unique form of existence. Meanwhile there is a clear trend in world philosophy which suggests that anthropology, which has the support of several basic realities, will be victorious in the conflict between the ontological and the gnoseological orientations. Science is swallowing up steadily growing sectors of classical ontology and gnoseology and making the traditional problems of the relationship between subject and object or the concept of matter more and more exact; the anthropological branch is least affected by this process, if for no other reason than that man's personality cannot be swallowed up by science, it is unique. Science can operate with unique phenomena only when it subjects them to general laws, that is, when it removes their uniqueness and emphasizes their universality. It can demonstrate the various kinds of dependence to which man is subject as a social being, but insofar as man is conceived as a unique, unrepeatable and for that very reason valuable personality—which is the tradition of antiquity, Christianity and humanism of Europe in contrast to other cultures—then science, to describe man exhaustively, would have to reduce him to a particular variety of machine and deprive him of his subjective reality. Man is not only the sum of his social relationships; he is also the sum of a unique experience of life; man is a phenomenon with no analogy. The permanent validity of philosophical problems derives from this specific aspect of the human species, and this also suggests that the anthropological elements in philosophy will grow.

How will the future philosophies be created? This is really a question about the changes that accompanied the rise of qualitatively new systems inside the immanent development of philosophical material. The history of philosophy shows that the basic processes which predetermine the shape of future philosophy take the form of discoveries of new antinomies, of the growth of certain contradictory points of view, of an antithetical development. At the same time we can always notice at least five basic processes, which may also hold good for the future: (1) the process of shaping an ideology of a higher social order (and a wider cultural compass), transforming the lower ideology (without destroying it); (2) the process of changes in the image of the world and the conception of the world which is subject to qualitative changes ensuing from the transformations of society; (3) the process of the structural changes in the mutual relationships and conditions of individual forms of social consciousness; (4) the process of changes in the conception of man and in the ideas about the value, meaning and goal of his existence; (5) the process of structural changes inside philosophy itself, changes in the relationships between its disciplines. If we accept the view that certain mutations in the consciousness of the human race have been brought about by the transformations of the economic structures of previous societies, we cannot affirm that the same thing will not happen in the future. At the same time there is certainly still no agreement whether we shall come first to a series of local polycentric ideologies or to an ideology of the whole unified world, whether the image of the world will be derived from the pattern of present tendencies, to what extent the growing field of scientific knowledge will change the structural relationships between social and individual consciousness, whether philosophical immanence will go on oscillating between objectivity and subjectivity, which aspects of human existence will be emphasized in the future conception of man.

What will be the role of future philosophy in society? What will its functions be? Just as the foregoing question of the immanent evolution of philosophy can be answered by projecting the existing trends into the future, so in the question about its social roots we can fruitfully consult history. So far every philosophical system has always developed at least four main social functions: (1) It was created as the personal experience of life of a man who expressed the consciousness, the conceptions and the social feeling of his time in a single generalized form; (2) in a popularized, often distorted and perverted shape it served as a mass ideology, proposing certain values as binding norms; (3) it performed the function of a knowledge of the world, of society and of man, with various degrees of accuracy and faithfulness; (4) it was an instrument for interpreting the world and giving people their concrete orientation in life. These social functions will also be included in the philosophy of tomorrow, which might be able to reconcile the scientific cognitive aspect with mass ideology and the personal experience of man. This form of future philosophy would correspond to the growing complexity in the pattern of all forms of social consciousness. The isolated aspects that we have known hitherto (mass ideology, the methods of scientific inquiry, personal experience of the world, the normative view of the world) have a tendency to unite, to synthesize. Philosophy is now an instrument for learning about and changing the world, an instrument of man's personal orientation, a method of scientific inquiry, a class weapon, the theoretical basis for state politics. Whatever the synthesis will be, it is still very probable that it will be the infinitive universe of man's personality, into which the thinker will send out his anthroponautic research satellites.

Who will be engaged in this philosophy, how and why? Universities, institutional organs, institutes? State-approved professors, licensed experts, supervised officials in philosophical institutes? Will the means and methods of the pursuit of knowledge come rather to resemble the methodology of exact science, the techniques of art or the contemplation of essences? The people who will be productively engaged in philosophy will be those who, whatever their professional occupation may be, are preoccupied by the question of what their own life means and who seek in philosophy their own meaning, the meaning of man. As the form of the basic questions of philosophy has kept changing in the course of time and constantly taking on a new time coloration, so the final cause of philosophical creation, Job's struggle with the meaning of the existence of society and of man as an individual personality, remained unchanged. The significance of philosophy could oscillate between parasitic ideology and the useless art of logical thought, between the excess of problems and such points as are best left to experts, between the meaningless fossils of bygone circumstances and the most urgent and world-shaping doctrine. The fundamental questions of philosophy may one day be reformulated in an unrecognizable form, the current problems will sink into profound insignificance and futility, perhaps even the wellsprings of philosophical creation will change and, after the reign of reason, methods of objectivizing the individual and emotional experience of man will be found. But it is not likely that the usefulness of the love of wisdom—which is the only true definition of philosophy—will be shaken. On the contrary, now that the special domains of knowledge about nature and then about society have broken away from philosophy, the field remains open for the dialectics of man.

What will be the place of philosophy in human life? While man was a hominized being, he had a view of the world, but of course it was never philosophical (still less scientific); and he built up this view of his out of various theoretical and practical sources, his personal experience, his common sense, his speculative metaphysical reflection, his religious faith, his subjective, incommunicable experience, out of the data of science. The world view has played, and probably will go on playing, in human life the role of a personal philosophy, of the poetry of thought, of the theory of one's own life; it will be the growing consciousness of the way man leads his life in practice, an omnipresent philosophy of human existence and the doctrine of man's own liberation from the forms of ever-possible alienation. That is one, intimate aspect of future science. The other will, on the contrary, be strikingly social, because philosophy will have to do more to ensure the cooperation between men that is called for by the growing complexity of technology. Philosophy as the sphere of values will have a much greater directing influence on the future of humanity; it will guarantee man's future, and that will be its main social function. So philosophy will go on dealing with the deepest questions of man's life, or it will be useless. It will go on strengthening unique man's inner resistance to the depersonalizing forces of modern technology and of the social relationships of industrial societies, it will derive from independent thinking and it will itself be independent thought, or it will pretend to social functions which it does not have and with which it cannot cope. "Philosophy must remind every man that he can be himself and that he ceases to be man when he surrenders this privilege" (Jaspers).

The philosophy of the future will not be a closed system but an open inquiry and nobody will ever take away from it those questions which follow from the very existence of man. People are obliged to solve the questions of their own meaning, not because they are under the influence of some ridiculous obsession, as when a psychopath asks why he has two hands rather than three, but because they must always solve the ageless problems afresh and in a different way. People ask questions about the meaning of history and of the world and endeavor to find the answers. The fact that it is man who shapes the meaning by his own decision distinguishes Homo sapiens from animals. Speculative self-will, which is often confused with philosophy, will, of course, go on generating illusions and deceptions in the human mind, perhaps in order to invite the human intellect to take part in the dialectics of the construction and destruction of ideological systems. Bad philosophy will go on taking only fictitious possession of the world, just as the murderer possesses the corpse, if people allow the fate of man in his uniqueness to bow before the glorification of the personality, the mechanism of impersonal forces or the apologetics of power. The negations of philosophy are undoubtedly necessary, just as its humanist mission, its own necessity, is. The wisdom of the Far East says that we make the path only after having trodden it in the earth, by walking along it. Philosophy has before it an open horizon of questions and an untrodden path to its future:

SOURCE: Sviták, Ivan. “The Art of Philosophy” (1956), in Man and his World: A Marxian View; translated by Jarmila Veltrusky (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 5-57. This extract, pp. 51-57.

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