Sometime back I received an interesting question from Philip Atkinson, who seems to already know the answer to the question he asks:
“Please forgive the impertinence of my question, but as there is no useful accepted definition of philosophy, how do you know you are a philosopher?”Philip Atkinson
Actually, we are all philosophers, just as “we are all scientists” as the good book (“The Scientific Worldview”) says with its first sentence. The rest is just detail. My definition of philosophy is: The study and understanding of how the universe works. Thus, even infants begin their studies and understandings probably even before they are born. Of course, most folks are too busy subsisting: gathering food, shelter, and clothing just to stay alive. Their philosophies are unlikely to cover much more than their immediate surroundings and day-to-day concerns. More fortunate types like you and I have free time that avails us the opportunity to contemplate the universe in more detail.
Upon doing so, I think of philosophy as the “conclusions” part of life. When we write a scientific work, we are always asked: What do you conclude from all that you have discovered? After 40 or so years of living, one should have some conclusions. Younger folks may want to know what they are.
Unfortunately or not, as humanity reaches out to explore ever-increasing portions of the universe, the philosophic job also becomes ever-more complex. We have at our disposal the millions of volumes prepared by previous philosophers and scientists. We have the benefit of their speculations and prognostications. We have the benefit of the history of what worked and what did not work. As data accumulate, our pronouncements about how the universe works invariably are challenged—they eventually need revision. Nonetheless, certain laws of nature appear to be immutable. For instance, the Fifth Assumption of Science, conservation (Matter and the motion of matter can be neither created nor destroyed), will never fail us, despite what the cosmogonists proclaim. That is why I started my work with a firm foundation: “The Ten Assumptions of Science.” Without such a consupponible beginning, anyone who attempts grand conclusions and what it all means for humanity will most certainly be wrong.
Today’s philosophers have to be scientists as well. They have to be able to answer the big questions in physics such as: What is the universal mechanism of evolution? Is light a particle or a wave? Are there more than three dimensions? Is the universe infinite or finite? Is the universe expanding? Does dark energy exist? Is the equation E=mc2 valid? Does aether exist? And the big questions in sociology: Is there free will? What is the meaning of life? Will humanity become extinct by its own hand? Why are there wars? What is the evolutionary purpose of religion? Is there life after death? Is there a god? What is the P-C gap and what does it have to do with global population growth? Are there contradictions in your work? And on and on… Answer one question incorrectly, and you have to go back to the books.
Another primary concern for philosophers is knowing their place within the determinism-indeterminism philosophical struggle. I hinted at my place by using the word “consupponible,” which, according to Collingwood, means that if you hold several fundamental assumptions, they should not contradict each other. That puts me on the deterministic end of the struggle. Contradictions are an abomination for scientists. That is why I oppose much of today’s physics and cosmology, which is fraught with contradictions and flat-out paradoxes more in tune with religion than science. Today, the frontier in philosophy includes the resolution and removal of the indeterministic speculations that have become rampant since 1905.