Machines Expand, Philosophy Contracts

1998-05-18

I see (or perhaps sense) a connection between the shrinking realm of non-mechanized human life and the shrinking realm of non-scientific intellectual endeavor, more specifically philosophy. Once upon a time we had no machines and we needed to do everything through unaided human labor (whether physical or intellectual); over time we have created more and more machines to help us, so that we stand perhaps on the threshold of creating machines that will assist us or even surpass us in that which we consider most fundamentally human, namely thought. During this evolution, although starting somewhat later in history, philosophy (in the broadest sense, including religion), has shrunk; whereas it once included areas like astronomy, cosmology, economics, psychology, and so on, philosophy today contains very little because each of these areas has become a separate discipline, either a science or a science-in-waiting. One ambition of objectivist philosophers, both inside and outside the Randian version of objectivism, has been to establish a firm foundation for philosophy and, in the words of Kurt Godel, to "do to metaphysics as much as Newton did to physics" -- in other words, to make philosophy scientific. Whether or not this is practicable is another story, but it seems to me that there is some connection between the ever-broadening scope of machines and the ever-shrinking scope of philosophy (or to look at it another way, the ever-broadening scope of science).


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