Why do we need philosophy – II

We call Ibn Arabi a philosopher. This is how we define philosophy. Can we classify Pythagoras, Shankara, Ibn Arabi or Suhrawardi or Sadra as pure “rationalist philosophers”? In the Islamic tradition, philosophy and tassawuf are two sides of the same coin. In our worldview, we don’t have rational academic armchair logic chopping up philosophy (for the sake of it), but rather define philosophers as “wise”/hukamaa. A true philosopher, as traditionally understood, needs both intellection and spiritual purification. The more the heart/us/ayn-al-qalb is purified, the clearer the higher orders of reality become. The kind of criticisms we find in Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyyah are largely criticisms of overambitious projects of speculative reason/ratiocination (rationalism) and not of wisdom/philosophy as it is traditionally understood. These two intellectual giants both subscribed to a form of intellectual/intuitive/noetic knowledge faculty in the form of “dhawq” or “fitra” knowledge. Philosophy is not the opinion of certain philosophers who can be found unorthodox, but rather philosophy is the mode of being which prepares for the encounter with God.

Traditional philosophy therefore has its own notion of “intellect” (aqli kulli) which should not be confused with simple “reason”; the rational faculty is a distinct faculty which helps us to survive; the intellect means “we” or “the eye of the heart”, i.e. the direct grounding of man in the sacred/consciousness – it participates directly in Reality so that knowledge intersects being – avoiding all epistemological fallout. An elaborate treatment of the traditional notion of “intellect” is not possible here. Please see William Stoddart’s chapter “What is Intellect”.

However, we must mention here that philosophy, even conceived as a simple rationalistic linguistic analysis, is not totally to be neglected either. It is not at all useless as most people mistakenly think. Philosophy as rationalistic linguistic conceptual analysis is an unavoidable necessity and cannot be avoided in any discipline. Philosophy as analysis is very important in crucial disciplines like the philosophy of science where one studies the “first principles” and theoretical presuppositions on which the scientific method is based. Great current physicists like Carlo Rovelli successfully react against naïve scientism (which postulates an anti-philosophy attitude), by showing how science is intimately linked to philosophy. Any basic book on the philosophy of science can cure scientism fever.

Likewise, there are literary theories, sociological theories, political theories which are conceptual philosophical investigations of the fundamental fundamental principles on which these physical and social sciences are based. Without philosophical analysis, we can never construct the edifice of a subject, that is to say its theoretical framework. Theoretical frameworks come first, then later “experience” is collected through them for interpretation. Conceptual frameworks are independent in themselves and it is philosophy that studies them. Scientists are not empty vessels, collecting data; there are antecedent theories which condition the collection of data, the acceptance or rejection of the data and then their interpretation. This brings us to our second question.

If there is Science, why do we need Philosophy?

First of all, we are reminded here of Wittgenstein who basically said that all the things that we can describe by language and science are not in reality those that are the most important in our lives; the things that really matter are beyond language and science. This is the whole criticism of Wittgenstein from the positivists who could not understand him. Ethics, religion, wisdom, art/aesthetics, joy, humility, meaning, beauty, etc. which are beyond total linguistic and scientific descriptions are in fact the highest ends of life which make our lives beautiful and worth living. These things depend essentially on his reorientation to reality rather than on the abstract discovery of truth as Dawkins mistakenly conceives; The conception of ethics, for example, in the works of mystical philosophers like Wittgenstein, Ibn Arabi, etc. easily circumvents Dawkins’ criticism.

Why is philosophy important? Why do we need it?

Well, the thing is, what’s going on in your “head” is far more important than the gadgets you have in your “hand”. It is philosophical ideas that turn the wheel of history. The industrial revolution and science/renaissance were themselves stimulated by philosophical ideas/perspectives, then later they became secondary tools for philosophies like capitalism, socialism, nazism, nihilism and so on . We need philosophy/thought/psychology in addition to mechanical robotic science simply because we don’t want people bombing themselves with atomic bombs. “Thought” is more important or dangerous (depending on how you look at it) than technology. Technology comes to the service of “thought” asking for its use. Moreover, science in fact is only a “technology” and not an “understanding” as Heidegger would say. Heidegger’s critique of “technology” must be treated separately.

People ask why do we need philosophy? What will he do?

Well, philosophy as hikmah is the wisdom that teaches the art of living. Traditional philosophy/hikmah, for example, says that selfish action invites misery; it is hikmah; it teaches us to live a life such that suffering is transcended and joy springs from one’s own being. What’s more urgent than that? Physics, chemistry, technology do not help us when we are most alone – at the lowest point of our lives – in the darkest pits of our lives; when life asks us questions of meaning & suffering; when we face inner turmoil; it’s the life orientation that helps, not the fancy gadgets. It is wisdom that helps us to live, not just mechanical science and technology. The world needs wisdom more than ever today. It is more relevant than today’s technology which has smothered both man and the environment with its pollution and insignificance.

People say we need science because it’s practical

Well, what could be more practical than the question of how to live life joyfully, how to minimize suffering, how to find meaning in life; No matter where human beings live, no matter how old they are, the ego energy is there, its tantrums, selfishness, greed, arrogance, insignificance, loss of joy, frustrations, etc. . are eternal problems of mankind. Hikmah has solutions. How unfortunate that the land of philosophy – Kashmir – where people from all over the world once came to collect pearls of wisdom, no longer has a philosophy department in its main university. If we can’t make brilliant discoveries in quantum mechanics or nuclear physics, etc. – which, anyway, the world is already engrossed in – we could have at least led the world in the cause of ‘clear thinking’. Kashmir, with its heritage of traditional philosophy and Islamic mystical and metaphysical tradition, has much to offer humanity, which can free countless souls from despair and meaninglessness. The recently organized seminar on “Kashmir philosophers” by the University of Kashmir is, however, a welcome step in this regard.


(The author is pursuing an MA in Philosophy at JNU, Delhi. Email: [email protected])