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Joseph BH McMillan reviews Philosophy is not Dead by Dr Steven Yates

The biggest problem I had with this book is that it is only available on Kindle, and I like to scribble my thoughts in a book as I go along.

But that small inconvenience aside, this is certainly a book worth reading.

The picture it paints of modern society, diseased with mindless materialism and suffocating political correctness, while sacrificing freedom for indentured slavery to corporate tyranny, is reminiscent of Albert Schweitzer’s The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization (available through Amazon as The Philosophy of Civilization). Of course, Yates does not refer to Schweitzer, because the philosophical ‘establishment’ determined some time ago that Schweitzer was not one of them – perhaps because he blamed “the suicide of civilization” on “philosophy’s renunciation of her duty.”

It is sobering to see that the deficiencies of civilization and philosophy (or philosophers) identified by Schweitzer almost a century ago are much the same deficiencies identified by Yates in 2014.

It is not surprising then that Yates admits that, from the outside at least, philosophy “may look dead – on life support, perhaps.” For some time now, my own view has been that philosophy is in danger of becoming nothing more than an ‘extravagant academic indulgence’ – and from what Yates says about academic philosophy, for those ‘blessed’ with tenure to this exclusive club, philosophy is certainly not dead – the party is in full swing; even though no one is really interested in what they have to say.

This book does not purport to be a definitive work, but rather sets out some preliminary issues that Yates believes need to be addressed if philosophy is to play any significant part in determining what ‘civilization’ may look like in the future. Yates devotes the last three sections of the book to giving some of his preliminary thoughts on the issue.

But for me, it is this statement from the section Materialism or Moral Agency? that holds the key: “Morality absent an authority transcending culture, reason, the quest for happiness (and to avoid unhappiness), commercial gain, etc ., cannot hold.”

Such a morality can only have freedom as its defining principle. And that happens to be the theme of  A ‘Final Theory’ of God – which is my modest attempt to awaken the human spirit to its true moral purpose, and its true moral destiny.

Yates sees philosophers as being “most qualified to serve” the cause of the revival of civilization, but insists that they would need to assume a more prominent place in the public conversation in order to carry out the task. He does acknowledge, however, that the current state of academic philosophy is not particularly well-equipped to assume that role, and that non-academic, or specifically non-tenured philosophers, simply don’t have the funds to indulge in such a luxury.

For me, it matters not who initiates a fundamental reappraisal of the way we live, only that it happens. But I am inclined to think Schweitzer was right: “Civilization can only revive when there shall come into being in a number of individuals a new tone of mind independent of the one prevalent among the crowd and in opposition to it, … It is only an ethical movement which can rescue us from the slough of barbarism, and the ethical comes into existence only in individuals.

I look forward to seeing what Yates concludes philosophers can do, and how, in what, no doubt, will be a more definitive exposition of the preliminary issues he has identified in Philosophy Is Not Dead.