The Title of this book is intentionally ambiguous. On the one hand, it may designate an inquiry about what is presently happening in philosophy. This means giving a description of actual contemporary philosophic work. On the other hand, it may designate an investigation of what is presently happening to philosophy. And this means analyzing the role that philosophy today plays in society and in various fields of human endeavor.
Since I plan to carry out both lines of investigation, I feel it necessary to maintain the ambiguity of my title. I do not think it proper, however, to add confusion to ambiguity. Before embarking on a philosophic journey, it is befitting that we unfold some kind of chart ahead of time. Occasional deviations from the course marked on the chart may prove inevitable (if not refreshing), but they must not make us lose sight of the definite ends of our journey. These ends may be characterized as answers to the following questions:
No one of these questions, taken by itself, is fully meaningful. The kind of philosophy prevailing today reflects the kind of society we live in. This society, in turn, may be described as presently split into segments attached to ultimately opposed philosophic creeds. Such creeds, however, are themselves explainable in terms of the various relationships holding between philosophy and religion, philosophy and art, and philosophy and science. The familiar image of an animal gnawing on its own tail is, therefore, the inevitable one as soon as a complex intellectual inquiry like ours is set in motion. Nevertheless, we need not be haunted by the image. It will suffice to acknowledge once and for all that each one of the aforementioned themes is implicitly outlined against the background of all the others. Describing chaos—if it is chaos—is not equivalent to producing chaos. One of the few things in which I firmly believe is that the linear order of thought must be capable of reproducing the pictorial order of reality.
As a philosopher I cannot avoid talking the philosophers' language. But I would be disappointed if this book happened to be read only by professional philosophers. It has not been written only for them, and sometimes it has been written against them. The "common reader" and the "cultivated reader"—common or not—may find in this book something more than a philosopher's brooding over the problems of his particular discipline; they may find in it an attempt at facing some of the intellectual puzzles which beset many of our contemporaries.
The fact that the "philosophic current events" we shall refer to again and again do not usually—if ever—make headlines does not prevent them from being sometimes as significant as those reported in our favorite newspapers. A probe into contemporary philosophy may then yield more than day-to-day reports, whose interest and validity vanish as soon as their last word has been uttered.
No talk on what is happening in philosophy today can dispense with a certain historical dimension. First, events occurring between, say, 1945 and 1960 make little sense unless the hectic period between the two world wars and perhaps the whole twentieth century be seen as their background. Second, there has often been, at least in the course of Western civilization, a considerable interest in the problem of the nature, meaning, and function of philosophy. Thus, if the expression 'philosophic current events' can still be used, its meaning must be considerably enlarged. The subject matter of my inquiry will often be a whole historical period possessing a unity of its own, and not an arbitrarily selected fragment of an epoch. Furthermore, it will be placed against the background of the entire history of Western philosophy. Our subject belongs then to history rather than to journalism. I have no contempt for the latter, but I am convinced that its significance depends upon whether or not it can contribute to the former.
This book originated in a series of lectures given under the auspices of the Council of Humanities and the Department of Philosophy of Princeton University. I wish to express to both my appreciation for the opportunity they gave me to submit some of the thoughts contained in this volume to the constructive criticism of a very select audience. I wish also to express my gratitude to the Columbia University Press, and in particular to Mr. Henry H. Wiggins, its executive editor, and Mr. William Bridgwater, editor in chief, for encouraging me to carry my project to completion.
In addition, I wish to thank these publishers for permission to quote from the following copyrighted works: Basic Books, Inc., for Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery; Bowes & Bowes, Ltd., and Hillary House, Inc., for Marjorie Grene's Heidegger; Victor Gollancz, Ltd., and Dover Publications, Inc., for A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic; Meridian Books, Inc., for Walter Kaufmann's Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (copyright 1956 by Meridian Books, Inc.); The Newman Press, for Frederick Copleston's Contemporary Philosophy; W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., for Jose' Ortega y Gasset's Toward a Philosophy of History; and Sheed & Ward, Inc., for Jacques Maritain's A Preface to Metaphysics (published 1939 by Sheed & Ward, Inc., New York).