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November 28, 2019 / Congau

Prejudiced Philosophy

We are all biased, carrying a load of prejudice around with us that interfere with our judgments. We don’t start from afresh every time we observe something new but use our previous knowledge to understand and interpret what we see. It couldn’t be otherwise, but it is still unfortunate that we are not like small children seeing everything for the first time being able to wonder about everything without having been dulled by habits. Philosophy is the readiness to question everything and to do that we must constantly wage the battle against our own prejudice. It is there and unfortunately so.

However, there is a tendency in modern philosophy to make a virtue out of our bias. They say we live and experience life as a continuation of everything that has gone before us having learned from thinkers and philosophers of the past even if their imprint on our mind is indirect and subconscious. This is undoubtedly correct, and it does give us a warm and romantic feeling of connectedness with the past, but the implication is that whatever we come up with as our perception of the truth, it’s unique for our time. Every period of history then has its own potential conclusions, and accordingly whatever the ultimate truth is, it can only be found at one particular time in history. Given the long span of human history, it’s highly unlikely that we are living in the period most conducive to truth, and so whatever conclusion we arrive at about anything, it’s probably not the truth. Wouldn’t that make you want to give up? Why philosophize if we can’t find the truth anyway?

Philosophy is the search for truth. If we reached it, we wouldn’t know for sure that we were there, but at least there is a chance that we have reached it. If that possibility is removed from the outset, there would be no point striving towards it. There would no point in examining life, and an unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates says. That’s rather depressing, isn’t it?

We are certainly prejudiced by the time and place we happen to live in, and it’s extremely difficult to avoid it. But when we have such a grand task before us as the search for truth, we can’t let that stop us from trying and we must at least believe in the theoretical possibility of finding it.

The philosophers of the past should be an inspiration and not a restricting prejudice.

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