Science and Truth
If there was a man or woman who knew every scientific fact ever recorded would you consider that person knowledgeable? In a great New York Times article by Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle the relationship of science to knowledge is pondered in light of the study of philosophy. By the end of the article the authors submit, “The point of philosophy now is to be smart, not good. It has been the heart of our undoing.” I recommend this article, it is illuminating.
Socrates is famous for being a gadfly. He took it as a compliment that he was disliked by just about every sector of society at one time or another. He didn’t adhere to social norms, but instead made it his business to adhere to what was good. That was his raison d’etre, his modus operandi, the reason for his existence, the point of his life. The philosopher wasn’t to be a mere repository of information, but ought to be, as Joseph Priestley said, “something better and greater than any [other] man.”
Philosophers were meant to be good. And they weren’t supposed to be specialists, set apart and away from the scientific people or the “religious” people. They were to produce such people. They were, in a most simple kind of way, what we should all aspire to become.
But today, in our institutions of higher learning, philosophy, not unlike religion, has become an odd appendage. It sits on the edges of academic life, out there railing about some obscure issue, out of range of the “facts”, oddly relegated as a wasteful, non-wage garnering profession. It is useless. Like “religion” people have trouble understanding what it is for.
I’d like to say clearly in this blog that philosophy is what happens to people when they realize that life is nothing like a collection of scientific facts. Philosophy is what happens to people when they wake up and see that their reality transcends the facts of their reality. In this sense, philosophy is religion. In this sense philosophy is knowledge, and knowledge is awareness of truth. Truth, there’s the rub, you see. Scientific facts, demonstrated using the scientific method, have nothing to do with knowledge and truth. They simply inform us about things. Philosophy is what human beings do to make sense of things. It is the one activity that makes us unlike the animal kingdom, and the only thing that can save us from being animals in that very, very violent kingdom.
Our philosophy at First Things Foundation starts with this: Human beings act truthfully when they love one another. When we love our neighbors we exercise the truest of all philosophies. When we are humble and listen to those in pain we become what we were always meant to be. This is a fact, and one that sadly eludes all the fact finders in all the fact worshipping academies dedicated to higher learning. As Frodeman and Briggle remind us, “Having become specialists, we have lost sight of the whole.”