Things were much simpler in the old days. The ancients didn’t categorize everything into the many fields and specialties that we have today; they didn’t even have the scientific method. There was just the unknown and the people who investigated it. There were supernatural explanations (religion) and rational ones (philosophy). “Natural philosophy” later became all of the sciences that we know and love today: physics, astronomy, mathematics, etc.
For a fascinating look at how this happened, check out this video:
Many say that we have no need for philosophy today–that science, the son, has far exceeded philosophy, the father, and will one day answer all of the meaningful questions. But before we dismiss philosophy as obsolete, let’s take a closer look at the special relationship between philosophy and science. Will Durant described it best when he wrote:
“Science seems always to advance, while philosophy seems always to lose ground. Yet this is only because philosophy accepts the hard and hazardous task of dealing problems not yet open to the methods of science – problems like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, order and freedom, life and death; as soon as a field of inquiry yields knowledge susceptible to exact formulation it is called science…Philosophy seems to stand still, perplexed; but only because she leave the fruits of victory to her daughters the sciences, and herself passes on, divinely discontent, to the uncertain and unexplored.” The Story of Philosophy, p. xxvi
Philosophy is always on the cutting edge, always grappling with the difficult and seemingly impossible. But just like science fiction has become science fact, perhaps one day philosophy will give birth to new sciences. Some would argue that this is already happening with string theory, free will, and consciousness. The rapid advancement of science and technology is also creating tension as society struggles to keep pace. Philosophy can help people connect the dots, give them a roadmap, and with it, a sense of direction and purpose. Having pondered such concepts for centuries, perhaps philosophy, the old man, can still be useful after all.