RELEVANCE OF PHILOSOPHY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Associate Professor
Department of Philosophy
D.C.B. Girls’ College, Jorhat

This twenty first century is such a period in the history of human civilization in which immense and rapid development of Science and technology takes place. No doubt Science has made tremendous strides in various ways. Space and time appears to be conquered. In various fields like medicine, transport and communication, education, information technology etc. man is immensely benefited. Life has been made very easy and very much comfortable. As a result our way of life, our way of thinking, appears to be completely changing. Quite naturally, therefore most of our traditional ideas, ideals and customs, traditional way of thinking have become absolute. In the system of education, traditional subjects have been replaced by the modern subjects. Students are also lessening gradually in those subjects. Under such circumstances we have to analyze the practical utility of the traditional subjects like philosophy.


But in spite of tremendous development on Science and technology; and subsequently standard of living of being uplifted, we have seen around crisis in our social life and social unrest rampant everywhere. We observe Fruits of new scientific inventions and discovery are enjoyed not by the people of all status but a small sections of people. The gap between rich and the poor increases day by day. Two different pictures in our society become evident. One is the picture abundance; another is the picture of poverty. As a result terrorism, extortion, robbery and violence of any kind become rampant in our social life. Poverty, unemployment, exploitation, oppression, crimes and corruption, atrocities on women are going to be burning problems of our social life. We have also confronted in every step of our life the problems like discord, disunity, distrust and insecurity of life. Value of human products- industrial and agricultural increases rapidly. But the value of human life decreases day by day. So there is a rapid deterioration of human values.

Such a social predicament makes us believe that development of Science and technology is able to give us enjoyment and comfort but it is quite unable to give us peace and happiness in the true sense of the term. In this context the statement of great ideologist S. Ramakrishna (1981) is very significant “Science has glorified the external man. In the process, it has disintegrated the inner man. This has spurred men and women to a neurotic pursuit of external pleasures and generated grisly greed for rights without duties.” Thus Science has made us mechanical, absolutely selfish and made us greedy for material comfort. As a result crimes and corruption in our Social and political life increasing day by day.

But such a predicament confronted by us is to be overcome, it is to be remedied. And this can be to a great extent remedied by a holistic approach to philosophy, by a philosophy of humanity. Muirhead (1981) remarked thus: “Man can no more live without a philosophy than they can live without the atmosphere which surrounds them.” Philosophy in general and Indian philosophy in particular teaches us that the external world alone is not the reality. Besides this there is a more important dimension of reality –the inner world, the spiritual aspect of our life. According to idealistic philosophy man is not simply a psycho-physical being. Man is a spiritual being. So this aspect of man, the human life is to be developed. According to Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, this is the inner Culture (Antah Sanskriti). Due to the negligence of this aspect of life, there arise the crisis of character, the crisis of values.

It is beyond controversy that scientific and technological development is very much useful and indispensable for the modern man. But it has to be supplemented by spiritual and guided by the philosophy. Here in this context the role of philosophy in general and Indian philosophy in particular comes.

Some philosophers are going to criticize the role of contemporary western philosophy for making philosophy the handmaid of science and linguistic analysis. Such approach is one-sided. Because it has contributed to divorce philosophy from life.

In India, philosophy is considered to be Sarva-vidya pratistha (foundation of all knowledge) philosophy has to be developed and adopted in the interest of humanity. It is well-known to us that philosophy in India is not an intellectual luxury but it is a way of life. According to some Indian thinkers, Indian philosophy is practical while western philosophy is theoretical. Indian philosophy originates from sufferings of human life. So how to make human life free from suffering is the goal of Indian philosophy.

Buddhism has highlighted that by adopting the eight fold path the unbounded craving or greed for material comfort can be overcome, which is the root cause of all maladies of modern man and which is the cause of all crimes and corruptions. While modern science has contributed much in exciting the craving for material comfort philosophers have very rightly suggested to control such cravings.

Jainism in the traditional philosophy has propagated five vows of life- truth, non-violence, asteya, aparigraha and brahmacharya as the way to emancipated human life from suffering.

Mahatma Gandhi highlighted Non-violence as a way of life, as an ideal of both individual and social life. In his view, Satyagraha the practical application of non-violence is the only means by which solution to all social and political problems can be sought. As an undisputed leader of Indian freedom movement Gandhi has adopted the ideal of non-violence and the attainment of freedom was made possible. In Gandhi the statement that Indian philosophy is a way of life and not a way of thought finds a worthy illustration.

Although scientific inventions and technological advancements have converted this world of ours into a global village this distance of heart and mind, between man and man, between one nation and another nation, between one community and the other increases. Dr. Karan Singh has also relevantly remarked these, “Peace and harmony have been sought by the humanity ever since the dawn of civilization. And yet the whole of human history, from the very earliest times, is replete with wars and violent conflicts from the tribal right up to the international level. ...............science is supposed to help establish peace, but it has created deadly weapons of mass destruction.”1 The result we have seen is the tragedy like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this regard Gandhi’s statement that “knowledge without love is dangerous” bears great significance. All conflicts in our social and political life are said to be rooted in the violation of the principle of non-violence and love. Gandhi clearly says: “if the world has to be having peace, non-violence is the means to that end.”2 Gandhi has very successfully shown that all kinds of violence and conflicts can be solved only through the ideal of non-violence i.e., Love of humanity.

Modern man is enormously benefited by the gifts of science and technology and therefore he does not realize the other side of the picture. Spiritual and moral dimension of man is completely ignored.

Therefore from the foregoing analysis and discussion it can be stated that in the present scenario it appears that human life is more or less guided by this one-sided mechanical view. The modern man also appears to ignore higher and sublime values like truthfulness, non-violence, chastity, simplicity, kindness, sympathy, sacrifice, service to humanity and such other allied ideals. As a result, we have seen all-round discord, dis-harmony, distrust, insecurity of life, conflicts and struggle, exploitation, corruption, terrorism, war like situation and such other allied social, political and global evils. Thus man has become so much self-centered and selfish that he is more concerned with his personal comfort and happiness. In fact to-day man is suffering from moral and spiritual sickness.

Our observation is that the lack of moral and humanistic approach is the root cause of all these maladies which have jeopardized the human life. The remedy of such a predicament of humanity lies in the spiritual, moral and humanistic approach as developed by Buddhism, Vedanta, Jainism in traditional Indian thought and Radhakrishnan, Tagore and Gandhi in contemporary Indian thought and Karl Marx in western thought.

Notes and References
1.Singh, K. Peace, a Multi-dimensional quest, in Quest of universal peace, p.1
2.Gandhi, M.K., Non-violence in peace and war, Vol.1,p.9

S. Ramakrishna (1981).  “Science and spirituality: Need for Synthesis.” Bhavan’s Journal, Annual Number, Aug 16, p.24.
J.H. Muirhead. The use of philosophy, London: George Allen and Unuin Ltd., 1928, p.16


About the Author: Ms. Kamala Dutta Bora is the author of the article titled “Relevance of Philosophy in the 21st Century”. She is serving as an Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Devicharan Baruah Girls’ College, Jorhat, Assam, India. She published many articles in the various esteemed journals, magazines and edited books etc. Further she has participated many national level seminars, workshops, symposiums, etc. She is also associated with many professional bodies...[Read more]


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