eschatological obsession

Does philosophy have a future? I distinguish between science and philosophy this way: Science takes on questions that can be answered, at least in principle, and philosophy questions that can’t. And as science has grown in power, it has grabbed more and more of philosophers’ turf. Scientists are mounting an assault on the mind-body problem (see below), and they are probing the roots of morality, an endeavor that New York Times columnist David Brooks equates with “the end of philosophy.” But scientists, although they can (try to) tell us where our morality came from and how it works, can’t tell us how we should live. There is still a yawning divide between “is” and “ought.” Philosophers can stay busy working within the “ought” realm, trying to formulate moral rules. Of course there are no absolute moral rules; moral rules are always provisional, dependent on context, in a way that scientific laws aren’t. We don’t want masochists living by the Golden Rule, for example, and we all too easily find exceptions to the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The upside for philosophers is that if you can’t ever answer a question, you can argue about it forever. And that’s precisely what I expect philosophers to do. The late, great anthropologist Clifford Geertz once said that “progress” in anthropology “is marked less by a perfection of consensus than by a refinement of debate. What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other.” That’s even truer of philosophy.

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