Tuesday, 2 March 2010

How can Philosophy Think the Contemporary?

At its best, philosophy tells us what is important and significant about the times in which we live.

Marx told us that the 19th century was the age of technological progress and political 'struggles from below'; existentialism and phenomenology told us that the 20th century was the century of the heroic individual's struggle for meaning.

How are philosophers to think the significance of the times in which we live? In many ways this a profundly difficult task, because technology and globalisation have now rendered the world complex almost beyond comprehension. As such, the world today seems to be opaque to philosophy and perhaps even to thought itself.

As a result, the only philosophical show in town in recent years has a been a relativism that is itself profoundly anti-philosophical. This has led many to believe that the contemporary period amounts to the 'end of philosophy' and the triumph of opinion (public relations etc).

What we need however is a bold and synoptic philosophy that attempts to grapple with this complexity and articualte its basic dimensions and trajectories. We need to contest relativism in the name of philosophy. This will in the end almost certainly require a new philosophical language of some kind.

Neil Turnbull