Mort Kaplan’s Science, Language and the Human Condition

Mort Kaplan’s synoptic work, Science, Language and the Human Condition is now available as an e-book. His preface to the revised edition still points to the tragic nature of fragmented knowledge in the modern university. A excerpt follows:

At one time a graduate of a good university would have absorbed a synoptic view of the world and of the place of moral values in that world. Philosophy played a major role in that enterprise. Two developments helped to erode that state of affairs: the development of professionalism within disciplines and the rise of positivism in philosophy. In addition, the sharp split between the analytic and the continental philosophers has ruptured dialogue within philosophy.

I am a professional in a discipline other than philosophy and I both value and appreciate the power that professionalism has brought to the understanding of the various aspects of knowledge. However, I deplore the loss of our ability to place specialized knowledge in perspective, the devaluation of this task in the academy, and the failure of most professionals to understand what philosophy can teach them.

In my opinion, the increasing tendency of other disciplines to regard the philosophic enterprise as a quaint anachronism, except perhaps in the area of mathematical logic, stems in part at least from the tendency among philosophers to treat such subdisciplines of philosophy as the philosophy of science, episte­mology, language theory, and ethics almost without reference to each other. As a consequence, philosophy has become an arcane subject that plumbs a particular area of inquiry without showing either how it contributes to other areas of knowledge or how other aspects of knowledge contribute to the understanding of philosophy.

I believe that philosophy does have a synoptic subject matter, the under­standing of which can place particular academic disciplines outside of philoso­phy, and subdisciplines within philosophy, in a perspective that modifies them in important ways.

When Plato or Aristotle discussed ethics, they may not have derived their ethical position from their metaphysics but it was consistent with their physics, their concepts of essence, their understanding of language, and their episte­mologies. Although more than one system of metaphysics is consistent with a concept of natural law, for instance, there are understandings of the natural world that are, at least apparently, inconsistent with such a concept.

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