The Philosophers of Today?

A while back, I was speaking with my retired MD friend, who is in the process of writing his memoirs.  From his description of what he was trying to accomplish, these memoirs are going to be sort of a combination of a biography and a philosophical treatise. He was bemoaning his view that the young people of today don’t have a clue what is coming at them in the future. He also suggested that there are no philosophers out there today helping to shape thought.

That’s an interesting observation, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Is it true? I just don’t know. I recall back to my own time at Jesuit Loyola of Chicago, where I was required to take 9 hours of philosophy and 9 hours of theology. (I sort of cheated on the philosophy hours – “Logic” counted as a philosophy credit, and I had it in MATH in high school, and was good at those equations. So I took it and aced it. Didn’t feel much like philosophy to me, though…) Who did we study? Well, there were guys like Hume and Kierkegaard, and there was a guy named Mortimer Adler, who wrote the main book we studied, a volume titled The Difference Of Man and The Difference It Makes. Adler may or may not have some association with University of Chicago, and I think he’s still around and still writing.

I’m removed from the academic arena by over 30 years now, and I don’t know what is taught in a philosophy course today. And should philosophy be just about reading what the old thinkers wrote? Or should it be about developing your own philosophy? Learning what that means? Learning how to critically look at an issue and decide what is important about it?

I tend to think that perhaps the pop philosophers of today and of recent vintage are writing fiction as much as they’re writing non-fiction. After all, where else can a thinker work out the issues, speculate on the outcomes if one course of action is taken, explore options, even look at past events in a different light? “Speculative Fiction” is a name I’ve heard applied to some science fiction, and what is that if not an almost philosophical exploration of choices and outcomes?

The trouble is, this sort of “philosophy” isn’t considered serious. It’s ‘just’ genre fiction, it’s just made up stuff.

Still, I think some important thinking can be found in SF books. We’ve often heard the description “a cautionary tale” of a particular story, and that to me is at least a form of practical philosophy.


2 thoughts on “The Philosophers of Today?

  1. Steven M. Moore

    Inre your last paragraph: Might I suggest that while sci-fi can be more philosophical and society-probing, mysteries and thrillers can contain interwoven themes that approach philosophical discussions. I believe fiction in general should go beyond entertainment and provide food for thought. Dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi certainly do that, of course. But mysteries and thrillers might treat things like gun control, sex trafficking, drug interdiction, and what not, themes of more immediate consequence. Of course, I’m biased as a fiction writer, so let me say that histories and biographies can affect readers the same way. That’s why books are so important.

  2. Scott Dyson Post author

    I wouldn’t disagree that philosophical ideas can be explored in other genres of fiction. I think a lot of literary fiction does just that. I think mysteries and thrillers can do so as well. I just think that SF does it almost routinely. It’s almost like it’s required in order to write a speculative fiction novel. (I’m not talking about space opera — I think it could sometimes take an important idea and explore it on the way to describing whatever space adventure it’s about, but a lot of them don’t really do so, in my limited experience with the genre.)

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