Written By: Marshall McCreedy
For many, the term “philosopher” brings up images of elderly men with long gray beards or statues of Greek figures with their heads thoughtfully resting on one arm, but, in a way, everyone must take on the role of a philosopher at some point in their lives in order to make sense of the world around them. This is especially true in today’s postmodern age with the rate of people who identify with a specific religion rapidly decreasing and scientific advancements spurring younger generations to adopt more materialist perspectives. These younger generations are uniquely qualified to experience existential crises due to their having instant access to practically infinite amounts of information, yet often lacking the crucial ability to separate fact from fiction. It is understandably perplexing to grow up in a time when new technology has allowed scientists to make astounding discoveries about the very nature of reality, yet also when misinformation and ignorance are expected social norms.
Where do people turn for truth when “fake news” abounds and many of the authorities seemingly cannot be trusted? They turn the only place they can, within themselves. In order to navigate the world and develop their own thoughts and opinions, people, whether consciously or not, must develop their own basis for truth. They must construct a method of approaching reality; they must philosophize. In the past, people were faced with were far fewer options in regards to possible bases for their worldview. This explains why older generations tend to rely significantly more on the local religious doctrines of their time as bases for their worldview. The younger generations of today however, who live in a drastically more connected and consequently diversified world, are presented with a much wider variety of possible bases. This often leads them to view “truth” in a starkly different way that of their predecessors; they tend to regard it as a subjective phenomenon. This explains the increased popularity of phrases like “personal truth” and “what is true for you might not be for me.”
The millennial generation was the first to grow up with the capability of instantly connecting with different countries, cultures, and communities with different ways of thinking and seeing the world. This global connectedness can foster a greater sense of empathy for other individuals and groups, but it also reveals the extent of life’s relative nature. Those who grow up being constantly reminded of the fact that there are people all over the world with contrasting beliefs and perspectives tend to find it understandably difficult to place as much faith in the accuracy of their own opinions regarding what is right or true. It is a humbling, yet unnerving epistemological journey and whatever unavoidably philosophical conclusions are reached as a result of it form the basis of one’s worldview.
It seems likely that Generation Z and future generations will be faced with this same existential dilemma only at progressively younger ages and with increasing intensity due to the impact rapid technological advancement will continue to have on global connectedness. Perhaps, if they were to sit down with members of the Millennial generation who have found some insight as how to deal with this tension, they would be better equipped to face the impending crises. In a sense, everyone is a philosopher, but it is the Millennial philosophers born during a time when much of the world was being shrunk into a machine on a desk who will mark a shift in the way western society sees the world and them who will play a crucial role in the formation of the next generation’s perspective.