The possibility of knowledge, by Eugenio Trías

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To what extent is contemporary philosophy unhurt by the split between science and humanities and by some philosopher’s ignorance of what science says about, for example, concepts such as space and time?

One of the great quests ahead of us is to recompose, within our possibilities, this lost unity. It existed at some moments: the Renaissance, through the new science, where it was impossible to distinguish philosophy from what was called natural science. I have mentioned Leibniz several times. To me he’s one of the paradigmatic figures, maybe the last one: he came up with a great synthesis of science, philosophy, theology and even epistemology. It’s true that science and humanities have been drifting away, but humanities, arts above all, have always had a great esteem for science, they’ve always looked there for inspiration. It’s the case of the modern movements, of traditions such as cubism, futurism, etc. There has always been some kind of -more or less rigorous, more or less imaginative- dialog between art and science. And philosophy has been more damaged by the split, opting often for one option or the other, but without losing that old goal. I think philosophy has to be very present in the knowledge and debate of scientific subjects, but it also has to deal with other areas: the area of moral conscience, which it has to elaborate; the area of sensitivity and, therefore, of the aesthetic forms which correspond to different times and styles; the area of literary theories. Philosophy, in this sense, has a global role. This adjective is very suited to it. What happens is that the dispersion and intensification of knowledge in many different fields makes it only a regulative idea. I wouldn’t call it utopia, just a regulative idea. It’s some kind of polar star which we need to follow in order to find our path. In a way, it’s a stimulus because philosophy feeds on a hunger for knowledge which, even though unattainable, can be distillated according to each individual’s capacity.

Isn’t this against current mainstream philosophy? Many philosophers argue it is impossible to build a global view of the world and go as far as claiming that there’s no sense in trying.

Yes, but I think what people have in mind is a total and crystallized vision. They think about what German idealism called “a philosophical system.” Back then it was a praiseworthy enterprise, but today it’s no longer possible. This doesn’t mean that, as the final verse in Faust says, “He who strives on and lives to strive can earn redemption still.” This is said by angels in a theological context. What I mean is that the effort of taking that direction yields much better results than the resigned acceptance that one finds too often in postmodern thinkers. This kind of final dispersion and fragmentation of knowledge has of course happened, but that doesn’t mean we need to give up recomposing it, within each individual’s capacity, always in a fragile, precarious manner, now the illusion of a total, transcendental unity of a transcendental character has been lost. It is possible to move towards some kind of recomposition of knowledge, where there may be connections between discoveries in science and developments in philosophy; between reflections in the field of knowledge and the elaboration of a moral conscience; in the elaboration of a new political conscience. There are many tasks and one feels baffled at their magnitude.

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