Significance of Philosophy During a Crisis

Much like how Martin Heidegger speaks of “being thrown” (geworfen) into the world, mankind is thrown in an unprecedented state of affairs where the world is faced with a global crisis affecting the globe putting to test the systems that mankind has been chiseling through the ages. The systems – economic, social, or political – are a testament to the knowledge building process throughout the history of mankind. How well these systems have handled a global crisis is one of the most important parameters of its effectiveness, if not the most. Amid such a crisis, there lies the opportunity for a more evaluative approach to understanding the workings behind the knowledge building system itself vis-à-vis epistemological analysis, which is part and parcel of the philosophical endeavor of the search for truth and seeking its validity.

Since the pandemic has triggered countries to declare a lockdown and consequently a period of quarantine accompanied by social distancing norms, the questions of philosophical significance have the opportune moment to appear in the mind of individuals more than ever. The questions of “what is life?”, and the “what is the purpose of life?” admittedly are some of the primal questions that philosophy seeks to answer. The quarantine provides individuals with the time to explore and be introduced to the wonders that lie beneath the seemingly daunting sphere of philosophy. It can be comforting to read the words of great thinkers that have lived in the past, and who have faced similar circumstances of peril. In the era of hyper-connected social networking, it is easy to lose sight of oneself and being true to oneself. As a part of such a structure, individuals tend to participate in what is the easiest route to pleasure seeking, and not necessarily even seek that which provides a more prolonged pleasure. In terms of the internet, there are ample avenues to explore when it comes to entertaining oneself. There are social media influencers who intentionally or unintentionally guide your likes and dislikes of commodities presented to you by corporations for profit-making, and thereby masking what you would have liked or disliked hadn’t you seen your favorite social media star sponsor it or vouch for it. Often, it is relatively harmless, but the power of social media and the internet exceeds merely influencing your purchase decisions for commodities in the market. The internet possesses the power to influence one’s lifestyle and even shape your opinion on issues of national or international significance. Understanding the specifications and the contents of a product from a person who purchased it and used it does not have negative implications for one’s life except for the purchase of a misrepresented product, perhaps. When it comes to opinions shared by social media influencers who are well known due to the social media clout they have accrued due to the content they have made which are not necessarily intellectually enriching or worthwhile for an individual’s life, an avid follower of the social media influencer takes that shared opinion without further scrutiny into it. In this case, the opinion of the social media influencer is taken by the avid viewer as knowledge, and as such forms an opinion similar to the social media influencer. The point here is not to generalize and claim that this always holds true, but the potential exists for it to happen, and the less critical minded individuals fall prey to having their opinions shaped by some ill-informed influencers. The source of knowledge, therefore, is of primary importance when deciding upon matters of life and death, or even pondering upon political and social issues. That is not to say that the internet is the harbinger of fake news and misinformation. It is only to point to the fact that consumer discretion is more important than has ever been. To that end, philosophy and that the critical equipment it provides is a step in the right direction.

As pointed out earlier, hedonistic tendencies of individuals are met much easier with access to the internet and the advancement of technologies. Rather than a qualitative hedonistic pleasure as propounded by the utilitarian thinker J. S. Mill, the tendency is towards a more quantitative hedonistic approach. With an introduction to the philosophical underpinnings of such a psyche, an individual would choose more wisely when it comes to the entertainment consumed even in the instance of a hedonistic pursuit. Apart from the nuanced segmentation of hedonism, the knowledge of what hedonism is and what it entails gives an individual a better perspective to decide for the life choices to be made. The case for hedonism can be made if one so wishes and feels it justified to do so. It simply means that it opens the world to be seen as a mosaic of ideas and theories rather than a binary of this and that. Understanding hedonism as a concept and having the ability for reasoning about it could raise self-awareness and aid in building an individual’s personality traits. Having an instance of practice of the aforementioned hedonism supplements the understanding of the concept of hedonism itself. It is necessary to keep in mind that both praxis and theory must accompany one another. The lack of either one makes it difficult to discern as a consumer of public opinion when trying to synthesis what one hears.

Immanuel Kant says, “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play. Immanuel Kant.” Experience is one of the most effective modes of practice when it comes to the relation between theory and praxis. Hence, one of the cornerstones of the hyper-connected world is the idea of relatability to the consumers. Be it social media, or larger corporations selling their products, one of the most important criterions that assists the sale of products or viewership is the criterion of relatability. If one takes for instance – YouTube, which has an estimated amount of roughly two billion users, the most subscribed channels and some of the most common channels are that of gamers who stream themselves playing games. It is quite simple, the people who plays certain games like to watch people playing those games to entertain themselves or learn to play as well as they do. There is nothing inherently wrong with relatability, but this brings to the fore a peculiar question. Why do videos or contents of philosophical significance not do well on the internet, and is mostly a niche consisting of consumers who are aficionados who read philosophy and/or are in academia? It may be argued that philosophy is one of the most relatable domains for any individual since it pertains to questions of how one must live a good life, or it could direct individuals to behave and act in a certain situation, especially in times of peril. It is possible that individuals are driven to such philosophical questions without ever realizing that the answers they are looking for may be found in one the innumerable treatises in philosophy. Often, people are driven to the supernatural forces in the pursuit of the questions pertaining to life. The object of philosophy is to kindle wonder in the mind of individuals and develop a discerning mind in the process of learning new concepts. It is upon the academics and philosophers to make it more accessible to the masses so that they can take advantage of the wealth of knowledge philosophy has to offer. The knowledge of plurality of knowledge is one that drives individuals to a more reasoned and open approach to facing criticism and opposition. In the face of adversity, having the wisdom to understand that there are a myriad of possible outcomes provides a solace that no other means of gratification may be able to provide. For instance, in a pandemic, it is possible to see it as a grim and desolate situation from which mankind may perish, or the pandemic could be seen as an opportunity to learn new skills, and new subjects while in quarantine. There is a spectrum of possible outcomes of the pandemic.

As John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1863) said, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.”

This polemic illustrates that one must try to know as many sides to a question as possible. There is certainly no prescribed approach to how one deals with a crisis, but the existence of a multiplicity of ways of dealing with a crisis must be known. Seeing a particular way of dealing with a crisis work for one individual does not necessarily mean it will work for another. The idiosyncrasies of everyone are impossible to be accounted for by a particular work of a particular author. Hence, it is of utmost importance to expose oneself to a variety of knowledge accumulated by thinkers over the years and a variety of points of view.

Soren Kierkegaard (1844) writes, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” While the pandemic remains, and most of the population remains under lockdown in quarantine. It gives the more privileged a time to reflect upon the collective past as well as the individual past in order to shape a future that the lesser privileged amongst the population can look forward to, and someday they have the time to reflect upon the questions in life that are philosophical in nature.

-Ronald Lallienthang (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 25-44 Years Age Group)

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