Philosophers are underappreciated. To most of us, embroiled in the intense competitions of the present to make a living, raise children, and root for the Chicago Bears, philosophers are too droll, write boring stuff and write in a dense, laborious style. However, it is philosophers who set the stage for what we believe, what is moral, what the value of life is, and invent the glue that makes sense of human culture. As a new era of history begins, it is philosophers that set the compass.
If one went to college or had an excellent history class in high school, one is aware of the Age of Enlightenment. References set the dates of enlightenment between 1650 and 1800 AD. Notable names of the era, philosophers all, are Bacon, Descartes, Hume, Voltaire, Grotius, Rousseau, Spinoza, Hobbes, Newton, and many more; check Wikipedia or your library for detailed contributions.
We should note that the philosophical burst previous to the Age of Enlightenment lasted over 700 years from about 650 BC to the time of Christ and included Xenophanes, Socrates, Plato, Euclid, Aristotle and others; again reference Wikipedia for more detail. From the time of Christ until about 1500, authoritarians, pragmatists and utilitarians took over to form the Holy Roman Empire and the Dark Ages. The philosophical growth during this time leaned more to the standardization of religious philosophy and practice. Little profound technical or economical change occurred except for mechanical improvements to daily life such as improved water and sewage and the beginning of practical medicine.
As mentioned, religious practices also are cyclic. Comparing historical cycles, Saint Augustine and the Nicene Council occurred in the third century AD; the Holy Roman Empire was established in 800, the Reformation began to emerge in 1500 and today religion worldwide of every spiritual inclination is under duress as pantheism grows in popularity.
Back to the Age of Enlightenment, toward the end of that Age, the Industrial Revolution emerged, throwing labor-based economics to the wind. Needless to say today in similar times, the underlying progress of science, technology, communication, relatively improved education and a newly discovered spherical world led to a hodge-podge of government theories, economic models and disruption in social class stability that cyclically reoccurs across all of human history.
Assuming a harmonic cycle of history, lasting about 600 years give or take, history indeed repeats itself. Comparing cycles (the last one started around 1550-1600), we today are at the point of the Luddite labor rebellion in 1811, the food shortage/population explosion during the Napoleonic wars in 1803-1815, and the Civil War in 1860. In other words, there is cultural turmoil among the masses. Old values, particularly related to human values versus economics, have shifted sufficiently that previous behaviors seem unproductive.
It often is difficult to make sense of the evolution of cultural value because we can’t see the forest for the trees. Events occur every day around the world that shift philosophy, religion and culture tiny bit by tiny bit. A simple example is moving from marriages arranged by families to sacramental marriages to freewill marriages to homosexual marriages to increasing numbers of legally-based marriages sanctioned by the State. Shifts occur event by event, conflict by conflict, official recognition by official recognition. Change is not a consistent path: there are ups and downs, movement is forward and backward.
With a little distance in time, however, one can identify the evolving harmonic cycle. Today, it may be difficult to identify the current harmonic cycle because of all the trees but there are signs – as confusing to us as signs for early H. sapiens during the Iron Age, Baal worshipers 600 years before Christ, Dark Age serfs, the Luddites, and the Reaganites.
Further, there are many similarities between recent lifestyle improvements and those lifestyle improvements that occurred during the Roman Empire. It may be an intellectual reach but in terms of improved daily life, radio, television, air conditioning, plastic and the invention of the combustion engine may be comparable to an easier life in Roman times. Also similar is the lack of a tour de force of philosophers during the Roman era. Noted a few paragraphs ago, the occurrence of a philosophical era did not happen from the time of Christ until the Age of Enlightenment. Daily comfort easily displaces the need for a new philosophy of life. Fortunately, cage boxing, baseball and curling have replaced savage entertainment at the Coliseum.
Will we, in this modern cycle without a philosophical era, suffer the lack of philosophic discipline? As we shift from technical reality to Artificial Intelligence as reality, will we have a new philosophy to hold together unfamiliar ethics, economies, human values and a new harmonic cycle?
Understand that futurists are not philosophers. Futurists predict events and conditions; philosophers interpret and create ideas. Lacking a philosophical groundswell to guide us in this harmonic cycle, will we suffer corporations as we suffered the authoritative behavior of the Holy Roman Church? Will we be forgotten like serfs during the Dark Ages? Many educated and respected futurists, including the renown Yuval Noah Harari, fear that as corporatism separates from humanism as a reason to sustain profits, the wellbeing of ‘useless’ humans will suffer simply because they aren’t needed. Sadly, this is normal behavior throughout history. Today, marketing to more humans means more profits. In the future, it is likely that profit will be built into the corporate model because corporations will control human value without human preferences.
So it is, without a bond of philosophic interpretation, that our next generations must deal with rootless perceptions of what is right, what is moral, what is just. It is the wild, wild west all over again. Oh, for a philosopher’s recipe.