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Why Are There No More Great Philosophers?

By Veronica Letourneau

July 11th, 2022

Photo: Invaluable - Source

Philosophy is the love and pursuit of knowledge. It’s a practice that is centered around finding the truths of the universe. In today’s society, the search for knowledge has shifted mostly over to scientific endeavors; and while the ancient study of philosophy is not completely gone - then, where are all the philosophers? Where did all the great thinkers go? The problem lies in the fact that they aren’t gone, just hidden.

When the study of “Philosophy” began, it was practiced by well-off Athenians such as Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato’s student Aristotle (the only non-Athenian, as he was born in Stagirus). These men were well-off thinkers during a time of peace in Athens, and they created the foundations of ancient philosophy. Socrates' method was asking questions to find answers, Meanwhile, Plato had the ideas of the Forms and his allegory of the Cave, while Aristotle believed that excellence led to happiness. All these ideas are still taught today at schools and continue to be analyzed, and have influenced much of society and how countries govern. These peoples’ works were not only all written down, with Plato writing Socrates' work down after he died, but they were taught throughout the Roman empire and came back again during Europe's renaissance. Those men, or the “Big Three” as they’ve been referred to, influenced all those who came after and eventually triggered the analysis of morality.

When it came to the more modern thinkers, such as Immanuel Kant and David Hume, the focus was less on the laws of the universe, since science was emerging, and more so on the philosophies of “morality”. These men were more academic, with the emergence of universities and science starting to take off. They were academics who wrote several essays on their philosophies, which were studied by other well-off academics. All these academics were aristocrats with enough money to go to school and study these ideas.

In our times, there are still academics who are currently writing great theories, yet do we know their names? If I brought up the name Indiana Seresin and discussed her theory of 'Heterofatalism”, in her essay 'On Heteropessimis,’ most people wouldn’t recognize her name. Seresin’s ideas, stemming from her essays, serve as an example of the millions upon millions of essays and new emerging ideas we haven’t heard of yet. But what exactly is that? Is it because there are too many publications to consume during an era in which most people are glued to social media? Or is it because people are less interested in asking philosophical questions altogether? After all, people’s level of curiosity and attention span these days has waned, as people are becoming increasingly more occupied with the media than with critical, analytical thinking, and the use of “common sense”.

I brought up the old philosophers as examples to illustrate how they, as individuals, were able to stand out in their field during a time when the pool of knowledge was ironically less than it is now. In academia, the idea is to “add to others’ ideas”. Firstly, to become the next Plato, and discover a novel, revolutionary thought process, which hasn’t already been discussed, is not only a rarity, but it might sadly get lost in the shuffle as our brains continue to adapt to other sensory overloads that technology has provided at our fingertips. Secondly, since there are many more minds tackling complex ideas within academia, it appears that topics like morality, the laws of the universe, and sociology focus more on the ideas themselves instead on who discovered them.