Philosophy’s Role in the 21st Century

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘philosophy’? More likely than not, you picture Socrates, Plato or another famous ancient philosopher. Few, if any, people would picture a modern man (or woman) analyzing current issues by asking philosophical questions. That is why the Philosophy Club at UC Irvine held an event entitled ‘The Role of Philosophy in the 21st Century.’
The event was held last Thursday in Humanities Instructional Building 135. The club invited philosophy professors Allan Nelson and Bill Bristow to discuss philosophy’s modern role in our society. The event took the form of a roundtable discussion in which students were invited to ask questions and engage in a casual conversation about philosophy.
Natalie Djabourian, a fourth-year double major in English and philosophy, is the vice president of the Philosophy Club.
‘[The purpose of the Philosophy Club is] to extend the study of philosophy beyond the classroom, to see how it relates to the real world,’ Djabourian said. ‘Also to give nonmajors a chance to philosophize and to bring a group of people with the same interests together.’
The club holds events like the ‘Breakfast With Professor Kent’ and the club dinner at Sam Woo’s to eat together and philosophize. Djabourian recommends that anyone who has an interest in philosophy come out and join the club.
During the discussion, the two speakers addressed questions about what philosophy is and its role inside the university as well as in society as a whole. Both Bristow and Nelson stressed that philosophy is more concerned with asking questions than with garnering answers.
‘Philosophy, with its questions, is constantly pushing the boundaries of society,’ Bristow said. ‘[Its purpose is to] sharpen the analytic tool of reason.’ He added that one of philosophy’s classic questions is, ‘Why does anything exist at all? Why is there something rather than nothing?’
When addressing philosophy’s role in modern culture, Bristow suggested that, ‘[Philosophy] has become quite unengaged from culture at large due, perhaps, to the rise of fundamentalism which does not question itself.’
Nelson added that, ‘Without reflection [on values], this is what people in Western culture have come to value—more stuff.’
Both speakers also reflected on the value of studying philosophy in college.
They shared stories about their own decisions to major in philosophy, with professors advising them to get a Ph.D. in physics and pick up philosophy on the side. However, both Bristow and Nelson maintain that philosophic questioning will remain a valuable asset to society for centuries to come.
People will never stop asking questions of new technological advances or of the purpose of their own existence, and these questions make up what philosophy is.
‘Most people presume that philosophy has no role in the 21st century, and if [by holding this event] we show that there is a role, we can show that it is a worthwhile pursuit,’ Djabourian said. She hopes that those who attended the event leave with the understanding ‘that philosophy is very valuable and necessary in our modern society.’
Nhan Le, a third-year biological sciences major, was very excited to attend the event.
‘I have always been interested in philosophy but never saw fliers around campus for a Philosophy Club. I even thought about starting one myself until I saw the flier for this event,’ Le said. He really enjoyed the casual structure of the discussion. ‘The overall dialogue [and] throwing out various questions about society, I found it very stimulating,’ Le said.
Amie Weber, a first-year history major, also enjoyed the event.
‘I decided to go when I saw the poster on the bridge. I have an interest in philosophy and never really asked myself about its role in modern times,’ Weber stated.
After listening to the discussion, Weber said she ‘felt convinced of philosophy’s ongoing usefulness to society, and that it will still be present and prevalent in society for a long time to come.’
Bristow and Nelson left the audience with some reflections on modern society.
Bristow stated, ‘We live in a pluralistic society.