This week we published the 200th edition of the Macroscope! In this special edition, we would like to show you how philosophy plays a key role in our efforts to understand everyday phenomena. In our research, we analyze present developments and decode the future by learning from past and contemporary philosophers. A brief glance at the history of philosophy shows why it emerged and why it remains relevant in our modern, digitized world.
In one of the most relevant cities in ancient times, Athens, Western philosophy emerged. People from different backgrounds with diverging opinions and professions had to live close with one another. This gave rise to philosophical questions on how to live together in harmony (ethica). How can different values be served? How to make decisions that concern everyone? Cities became the breeding grounds of culture and innovation, complex forms of society from which politics, the judiciary, and business originate. Philosophy was practiced on the market square and in large academies as a vital part of public life in the polis. It also included questions on how to understand the world around us (fysica) and how to produce good arguments that are the basis of knowledge (logica). The reflection on these topics is the origin of scientific disciplines as we know them today.
During the Middle Ages however, philosophy disappeared from the public sphere. Life was increasingly organized in smaller communities and less centered around the polis. Intellectual activity was confined to the closed context of the monastery. Philosophical questions were answered by God and the Bible was mainly studied by monks. Philosophy was bounded to trace all insights to God with little room for alternative ideas and intellectual progress slowed down.
The Middle Ages were followed by the Renaissance. As the authority of the Church was increasingly challenged and the importance of the capacity of individuals to think for themselves emerged again. Later, during the Enlightenment or Age of Reason, philosopher Emmanuel Kant urged individuals to show courage, use their own understanding and challenge what is conceived evident. Human reason became the primary means of acquiring knowledge instead of turning to God. This initiated a time marked by an emphasis on rationalism and scientific rigor.
Modernity is the culminating point of rationalization in all domains of our lives. Rational institutions, rational technologies and rational sciences have shaped modern societies. Modernity’s rapid scientific and technological inventions and progress has had a transforming effect on the world we inhabit: our polis has turned into a global technopolis. Somehow, we have to find out how to understand this world around us, how to understand each other and how to live together. Especially over the past decades, digitization has created new virtual worlds and new ways to connect and interact with each other. How can we understand the virtual space? What does it mean that we are living in an emerging algorithmic reality? How do we interact in the online space? What is good behavior in the digital world? Philosophy helps us to ask relevant questions through which we can navigate today’s world and anticipate the future. In this 200th edition of the Macroscope, we discuss different philosophers and their relevance in understanding the world of today and tomorrow.
We hope you enjoy our reflection!