Which philosopher best describes the human condition?


Status: 08/07/2020 1:11 p.m.

The much-vaunted crisis such as the corona pandemic as a burning glass, catalyst and opportunity - it exposes system weaknesses and strengthens them. At the same time, however, it offers the opportunity to draw conclusions and initiate social change. In his new book "Moral Progress in Dark Times", the philosopher Markus Gabriel describes not only social grievances, but also wants to give us an instrument to solve them.

Mr. Gabriel, after you devoted yourself to "fictions" in your last book, "moral facts" play an important role in your new book. Would you like to explain what you mean by that?

Markus Gabriel holds the chair for epistemology, modern and contemporary philosophy at the University of Bonn.

Markus Gabriel: In general, a fact is something that is true. For example, it is true that Berlin is currently the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. Moral facts are truths about what people, insofar as they are people, should or should not do. So the idea is that it is objectively certain what we should and should not do, just as it is objectively certain which city is the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The view of what is moral is very different and is subject to constant social change. You write that there are "moral guidelines for human behavior" that are universal, cross-cultural and objective. You went looking for it in your book, right?

Gabriel: Exactly. The confusion between values ​​- what we should do - and values ​​is very widespread in human thinking. It is true that different groups of people, sometimes called cultures, have different values. With the Hindus in India, for example, arranged marriage is a completely normal process and is sometimes considered to be necessary. We think that's hideous. So there we have different values. But that doesn't mean that not one of us is right. Either it is that the arranged marriage is morally reprehensible or it is not. The aim of my book is to give us a set of tools, a moral compass, how we learn in everyday life as individuals or as decision-makers of an institutional nature, for example in our professions, to determine what we do for objective, moral, cross-cultural reasons should do or not. And unfortunately we continue to shy away from the wrong idea of ​​what cultural difference is.

VIDEO: Markus Gabriel: "We have to think ahead" (21 min)

In times of corona gained in importance. Many see this as something positive and hope that this development will improve the conditions for studying and working at home. You are definitely critical of digitization and are less positive about it - can you put it that way?

Gabriel: You can actually say that. Based on a thought by Jürgen Habermas, who spoke of the "colonization of the lifeworld" in a classic, I speak in my book of a "coronization of the lifeworld". Digitization is gradually replacing privacy in favor of permanent work. This includes the intrusion of the smartphone, the constant availability, the impossibility to go on vacation and the destruction of our private household by the intrusion of companies. This is a very suspicious process, and it is no coincidence that it is related to the gradual undermining of liberal democracy through social networks - especially US-American, but recently also of Chinese and Russian origin, without which we probably would not have experienced these conspiracy-theoretical meetings in the corona pandemic .

"Moral progress in dark times: Universal values ​​for the 21st century" has been published by Ullstein Verlag and costs 22.00 euros.

The biggest problem is that at home in the home office and homeschooling we essentially produce data for US companies and are completely monitorable. That is also a security problem. Everything that we have produced at home for "Zoom", "Teams" and so on in the last few months can be monitored and leads to value-added production on US accounts. I don't understand why we Europeans enjoy working for American companies without even receiving the minimum wage. This is a self-inflicted digital proletariat. This is not generally critical to digitization, but rather a call for formats of desirable digitization.

Another development caused by Corona is that scientists, especially from the field of medicine, are having a very strong influence on politics these days. How is philosophy at this point? What is your role in the crisis? Should it be heard more?

Gabriel: Philosophy, as the most general science which, in the case of ethics, deals with the question of what we should and should not do, is of course one of the most important voices in a crisis. If we do not understand that, then we are undercutting the standard level of the 18th century, i.e. the Enlightenment. We would not have had a democratic constitutional state, no separation of powers and no French Revolution if thinkers like Rousseau or Montesquieu had not formulated this idea of ​​the separation of powers in their philosophical treatises. And it is similar now: In a state of massive turning point that affects all of humanity, we of course need philosophers as masterminds of a new, better social order.

Virologists are not very helpful here - they are not born intellectuals, as we have seen in this media spectacle of virological controversy. There were also massive deficits. Incidentally, you should have asked the immunologists and not the virologists, because Covid-19 is above all an immune system problem - thank goodness the virus is well sequenced. I have absolutely nothing against scientific expertise and absolutely nothing against scientific advice from governments - that is a sign of a functioning democracy. A mistake, however, is not to understand that the humanities and social sciences are obviously at least as important for the self-advice of a democratic public as the actually marginal discipline of virology.

The conversation went on Alexandra Friedrich.

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NDR culture | Journal | 08/07/2020 | 7:00 p.m.