Agitating for Munificence or Going Out of Business: Philosophy’s Dilemma

  • Susan T. Gardner


Introduction: Philosophy has a dirty little secret and it is this: a whole lot of philosophers have swallowed the mechanistic billiard ball deterministic view of human action—presumably because philosophy assumes that science demands it, and/or because modern attempts to articulate in what free will consists seem incoherent (e.g., that free will might somehow be found in the indeterminacy of subatomic particles2). This below-the-surface-purely-academic commitment to mechanistic determinism is a dirty little secret because an honest public commitment would render virtually all that is taught in philosophy departments incomprehensible. Can “lovers of wisdom” really continue to tolerate such a heavy burden of hypocrisy? For it is maximally hypocritical, is it not, to teach ethics, or existentialism, or political philosophy, or critical thinking, or indeed to teach anything at all if one views the bodies of humans as entities determined by forces that are describable entirely under the auspices of physical/chemical laws. The only option, it would seem, to avoid such hypocrisy is to go out of business. After all, either base metal can be turned into gold, or it cannot. We found out long ago that it cannot, and so alchemy was rightly banished into the dustbin of history. Likewise, either philosophy can enhance the wisdom quotient of its disciples as its name implies, and thus override billiard ball mechanics, or it cannot. And if it cannot, it deserves to follow alchemy to an ignominious end.