Contemporary Philosophy as the terms suggest refers to the philosophical trend that is current within our time. Contemporary philosophy can be understood in two senses: In a narrow sense and in a broad sense. In a narrow sense it means the problems and positions that are at the center of interest and discussion at the present time. In a broader sense, it refers to the major currents active in the 20th and 21st centuries and relevant for continued inquiries. We shall work with the broader meaning since this includes the significant prolongations of previous philosophies as well as the new approaches developed within these centuries. However, we must point out that studying contemporary philosophy presents a problem. First of all the process of selecting what is relevant enough to deserve the attention of philosophy and secondly, contemporary philosophy is still evolving, hence the consequences are not systematized.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- discuss ongoing ideas and discussions that are yet still developing.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 Life, Idea and Spirit
The theme of life has lingered on especially in the direction of man’s interior activities. Henry Bergson cited the difference between the physicalist meaning of time as discrete movement along a spatial line and the deductive human meaning of time as interior duration. This has opened to a metaphysical view of evolution. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gave a theistic and personalistic interpretation of the evolutionary character of life: it comes from God and is moving towards God in a community form, to the Omega Point, the divine spiritual goal of the entire universe. In the first part of the twentieth century, idealism flourished in Europe and America. Bernard Bosanquet wrote about the ideal and the absolute factor in art and the tension in practical life between the absolute standards and particular situations. F.H. Bradley argued that the absolute is the totality of experience but denied direct knowledge of the absolute reality as the union of all differences. The expression philosophy of the spirit is used to designate an association between some French and Italian thinkers who examined the life of the spirit apart from the Hegelian framework in order to preserve the integrity of the human person and his religious relationship to the personal God.
3.2 American Philosophy
This came of age with the impact of evolutionary thought, the interest aroused in scientific method, and the questions unanswered by the idealistic interpretation of evolution, science and morality. William James argued that a pluralistic and melioristic universe, complete with a developing God, is not only more stimulating to man’s moral fiber, but also closer to the truth about being. John Dewey’s naturalism on the other hand, aimed at being anti-dualistic in respect to the soul-body and God-world distinctions, and yet anti-reductionist in respect to the evolutionary levels of experience. He identified the knowable real with the totality of nature that can be investigated by the scientific method.
The Process Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead is a speculative theory combining cosmological and metaphysical features. In it, events or actual occasions are the primary actualities and things or the enduring substances are simply sequences or societies of these occasions, each repeating society’s common defining characteristic. Each occasion is self-creative. American realism is yet another philosophical movement that arose in the United States in reaction to the idealism philosophy and continued to evolve into various forms. Its main thesis is that things are independent of man’s experience of them: critical realist differ from new realists in that the latter affirm that things are perceived immediately whereas the former denies this position.
3.3 Phenomenology and Existentialism
Phenomenology is not a philosophy in itself, it is rather a method of philosophizing. As its etymology indicates, it aims merely to set forth or articulate what shows itself. It can rightly be said that Edmund Husserl is the founding father of phenomenology. He distinguished between the act of judging as a psychic phenomenon and the judgment content or structure of meaning itself. He sought to make philosophy a rigorous science. Max Scheler and Maurice Merleau-Ponty developed phenomenology in the moral-religious and the psychological spheres respectively. Scheler used the theory of intentionality to examine the religious believers’ ordination to God, as well as his self realization through prayer and love of neighbour. Merleau-Ponty on his part used the theme of the living body and man’s relation to his life in the world as a means of regulating the sciences and of vindicating the act of human visible reality.
Existentialism developed as a form of existential phenomenology, although it had its remote origins in the writing of Kierkegaard. The existentialists made their own return to the existent reality of man, partly to liberate him from being a moralized phase of the idealistic absolute, partly to discover the sense of freedom and moral decision, and partly to gain orientation for the study of being. Martin Hiedegger’s analysis of being (Dasein) in the world, being alone with others and being related to instruments and to integral things, are clues to the metaphysics of being for which he sought. Jean Paul Sartre on the other hand thinks that both the social and religious project of man are unavoidable and yet doomed to frustration. Gabriel Marcel and Karl Jaspers maintain a three-fold kinship.
They are highly critical of depersonalizing effects of technological civilization; they regard the free human existence as being related to transcendence as well as to the world; and they recognize the limiting effect of life situation upon the project of reaching God.
Marcel worked out a theory of recollection and participation in being whereby the human searcher is united to God, whereas Jaspers remains fundamentally ambiguous about this relationship.
3.4 Existential and Transcendental Thomism
After the Encyclical letter Aetrni Patris of Pope Leo XIII, there was a renewal within Scholasticism which was sometimes referred to as Neo-Scholasticism or Neo-Thomism. Jacques Maritain and Etinne Gilson have been at the forefront of this development. Jacques Maritain brought the thought of Aquinas into the market place of the modern world. His deepest and most lasting achievements have been in the area of epistemology, in elucidating the different degrees of knowledge and their inter-relationships, and more generally in his pursuit of the various degrees of integral, Christian humanism. His contributions to social and political philosophy, and to constructive critiques of modern culture and art, have also been substantial. For Etinne Gilson, one of his central thesis is that the philosophy of the Middle Ages in general is a Christian philosophy, by this he means a philosophy that, while keeping the order of faith and reason distinct, nevertheless consider Christian revelation as an inseparable auxiliary to reason. In Thomas, he found the metaphysics of existence that conceives God as the very act of being and creatures as
being centered on the act of existing. Transcendental Thomism can be traced back to the works of Maurice Blondel and Joseph Marechal. Marechal countered Kant’s rejection of
metaphysics by first distinguishing the representational from the existential character of knowledge and locating the latter in judgment as the intellect activity not of receiving of its object but of structuring it from sense data.Transcendental Thomism provides a knowledge of God in the tradition of Catholic theism, and by an act of intelligence, but one rooted in love. A viable alternative to this recent Thomism, both existential and transcendental has been worked out by Edward Schillebeekx. His theory of implicit intuition conceives knowledge as a dynamism also, but one
entirely objective in kind and not subjective in the sense of that inspired by Marechal. In this theory, a dynamism of the knowing subject gives way to the dynamism of the contents of knowledge. Thomism is the most extensively developed systematic philosophy in the present day, and possibly has the greatest number of adherents.
Philosophy is dynamic in character. The reason is that being which is the object of philosophy is itself dynamic and consequently, there is always a renewed understanding of the old ideas, or rather old ideas are colored with new understanding. The process is ongoing.
I am sure now that you are almost breathing a sigh of relieve. But you should know that there is no rest for the weary. We have brought philosophy to your own backyard. You have no excuse but to tell the world your opinion about your understanding of the events and reality around you. It is an interesting adventure.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- What are the senses in which you understand the terms Contemporary Philosophy?
- Do you think Philosophy has exhausted all discussions about everything?