How likely is it that someone will solve philosophy as a whole within our lifetime?
Answer by Geoffrey Klempner
I have a distinct memory of being told by a fellow Oxford graduate student some time around the late 70s that no less a philosopher than David Wiggins — later to become Wykeham Professor of Logic and Fellow of New College, Oxford as well as Fellow of the British Academy — had expressed to him the view that most of the problems of philosophy had been solved through the application of analytic techniques. All that remained was mopping up a few details or side issues.
This is strongly reminiscent of the statement by a noted physicist Albert A. Michelson, famous for the Michelson-Morley experiment that led to Einstein’s discovery of the Theory of Relativity, that,
“The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote… Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”
(Speech given in 1894 at the dedication of Ryerson Physics Lab, University of Chicago, quote taken from an answer on Quora)
How wrong he was! Ironic indeed that he was responsible for one of the experiments — the Michelson-Morley experiment disproving the existence of an ‘ether’ — that overthrew the classical understanding of physics and mechanics bequeathed by Isaac Newton.
The time is ripe for a paradigm shift in philosophy, but I fear that such a change will not come for a while yet. Academic philosophy, for all its seeming variety, has found itself entrenched in ever more well-worn paths and now seems incapable of even addressing the really fundamental questions.
As I’ve noted before, academic philosophers are ‘busy, busy, busy’. You’d never guess that they were in reality stumbling in the dark, blindfold. Their arrogance is truly astonishing.
No, Jose, it is not likely that philosophy will be ‘solved as a whole’, now, or indeed ever. Unless, of course, you mean that human beings will get over their impulse to ask philosophical questions, be ‘cured’ of the impulse to philosophize. That’s still an all-too present danger.
Why is there anything at all? And, given that something exists, why am I here, experiencing it (whatever ‘it’ is)? You’ll find those two questions on the first page of my book Naive Metaphysics. The first question is well known, the second — the one I call the ‘idiotic conundrum’ — is the controversial one. Someone ever-so like me would not be me. ‘I might not have existed but someone exactly like me might have existed in my place.’ (Not a lot of people have seen this — yet. I keep trying. And that was a quarter of a century ago!)
Sometimes I like to watch detective programs on TV or NetFlix. One I quite liked from over 20 years ago is ‘Jonathan Creek’. Locked door murder mysteries. The cupboard was carried up three flights of stairs and it was empty. Then how come five minutes later it had a dead body in it?! You drive yourself mad trying to think of a plausible explanation. And then, when the explanation comes, you say, ‘Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?!’
Hard as I try, I cannot imagine what an answer to my conundrum would be. It’s just impossible. But I know myself, and my limitations (following the advice of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry). I could be wrong and probably am.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing to do but keep thinking, keep looking — keep hoping, maybe, that light will come.