Our Debt to the Greeks: Pursuits of Wisdom
‘Vain is the word of that philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man.” By the lights of this maxim, taken from the fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher Epicurus, contemporary philosophy looks awfully vain. Upon opening the field’s most prestigious journal, one finds little that looks capable of healing and much that promises the opposite: an article titled “On the Supposed Inconceivability of Absent Qualia Functional Duplicates”; another that defends the “applicability of Bayesian confirmation theory to the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics.” Epicurus, by contrast, taught his followers how to eliminate anxiety and irrational desires in order to lead a life of happiness.
Critiques of philosophy’s obscurity, though as old as Epicurus, have become especially pitched of late. So much so, in fact, that the University of Liverpool offers a degree not only in “philosophy” but also in “philosophy as a way of life.” Students will presumably not spend their time investigating “absent qualia functional duplicates” but, like Socrates, studying how best to care for the soul.
They might also learn that it is Christianity that is to blame for ending philosophy understood as a way of life. Christianity crowned theology the queen of the arts and reduced philosophy to her helpmate. The discipline’s sequestration was only confirmed when philosophy moved from the real Gothic arches of medieval cathedrals to the neo-Gothic towers of the modern university.