Introduction




I was passionate about philosophy from the moment I encountered it as a young student in Munich. This passion has shaped my life. It takes time to clarify the meaning of philosophy for oneself, because it is not a purely intellectual activity. Philosophy is a specialized academic discipline, but it should not just be practiced in relative isolation from the world. It needs to be an open dialog, because philosophers live in a world of accelerating scientific progress and rapid social change.

Philosophy is the activity of free thinking, and it culminates in intensive and more or less systematic self-reflection. It is also a critical examination of knowledge-creation and knowledge systems. How do we synthesize what we know into a view of the world? And how do we use philosophical thinking for ourselves? How do we make decisions in the complex environments we inhabit?

We are biological creatures, we have bodies, but we live in a world of speech and language, and we think and operate through abstractions. We transcend our physical existence through language, art, science, theology, and philosophy. Consciousness emerges from the concrete context of an individual human existence, it gets socialized, and it evolves over time towards more abstraction, and into a unique experience of life. Philosophy can also be a form of ethics (how should I act?) and its essence is the pursuit of wisdom. Our future is still unpredictable, and everyone has a unique history. These themes: loneliness and loss, temporality, freedom, relationships and sexuality, risk and anxiety, death, are common to all humans, hence my interests in psychoanalysis and existentialism.

Philosophical thinking is a critical tool, and in this sense, it is liberating. The engagement with philosophy frees us from misconceptions and various forms of ideologies. Philosophy clarifies ideas and arguments; it subtracts more than it adds, and it removes false beliefs rather than adding more knowledge. Philosophical reflection helps us to differentiate between information, knowledge, understanding and shared beliefs. It works with concepts, and it emancipates the subject from being caught up in objectifications and instrumental thinking.

Knowledge itself has become a variable in the dynamics of knowledge-production. We live in the age of "big data," the basic language is now computer code. Algorithms rule, Artificial intelligence is entering the mainstream, and these trends will further disrupt and revolutionize every aspect of our lives. The flow of history is accelerating. In this period of transformation, the ability to simplify our lives and to adapt to the changes around us is crucial for our well-being. I call it absorption speed: how do we assimilate new technologies, adapt to changing social and political landscapes, and find our place in the paradigm shifts occurring around us?

Philosophy gives us orientation - it is also the science of a good life. It includes ethics and political theory: what constitution of society is best for us, and will enable us to improve and humanize our lives? Academic philosophers pursue fundamental questions (like: what is truth? what is justice?) and they connect current debates to the history of ideas and to our intellectual roots. Their voices are more important than ever, because the power of human agency has grown faster than the power of human reason. Our collective actions have reached geological dimensions and we are now changing the ecosystem of the earth (“Anthropocene“).

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Jürgen Braungardt