In John Searles 'Making the Social World" (2010), the chapter 'the purpose of this book' starts with declaring the following question as a fundamental question of contemporary philosophy:

How, if at all, can we reconcile a certain conception of the world as described by physics, chemistry, and the other basic sciences with what we know, or think we know, about ourselves as human beings? How is it possible in a universe consisting entirely of physical particles in fields of force that there can be such things as consciousness, intentionality, free will, language, society, ethics, aesthetics and political obligations?

What other questions are regarded as fundamental (nowadays*) by contemporary philosophers?

*Since this particular question is new in the sense that neither philosphers in the antiquity nor middle-age philosophers addressed it.


There are quite a few really interesting and fundamental problems being actively researched today. I'll give a selective list of just some problems in metaphysics that are particularly important.

One such problem is the Problem of Material Constitution. The problem is a generalization of the ship of theseus problem: the challenge is to explain how it is possible for a thing composed of parts to survive the change of its parts.

Another really fundamental problem is to explain laws of nature. What are they? Is it necessary that they be what they are, or only contingent?

Another hot topic is research on dispositions, like a glasses fragility or an HCl molecule's solubility. These are interesting properties that are absolutely central to the philosophy of chemistry, but understanding them requires a very sensitive analysis in modal logic and from what I can tell much of that work is still underway.

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The question I would choose is: "What makes people live?" It was written about by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and built upon by Derrida in To Speculate--on "Freud", (in his book The Postcard). The concept also connects with Nietzsche's Will to Power.

Similarly, the phenomenon that Heidegger placed in this central role is Sorge (Care), however Derrida's refined 'Life Drive' is deeper and more unconscious than Sorge.

"For Heidegger, it is Sorge that signifies a man's existence and makes it meaningful. To be-in-the-world in an authentic existential pretext is to be 'careful'. Heidegger concluded that 'care' is the primordial state of Being as Dasein strives towards authenticity (Steiner 1978)."

quoted from: What Heidegger Means by Being-in-the-World

Here is a pertinent quote from To Speculate--on "Freud". It's rather difficult to put Derrida's thesis in a nutshell because in the essay he has built up a multithreaded framework by the time he draws conclusions. Nevertheless, some flavour :-

"Now, if such a drive for power exists, if it sees itself attributed a specificity, then it indeed has to be admitted that it plays a very original role in the most "meta-conceptual," "metalinguistic," precisely the most "dominant" organization of Freudian discourse. For it is indeed within the code of power, and this is not only metaphorical, that the problematic is lodged. It is always a question of knowing who is the "master," who "dominates," who has "authority," to what point the PP [pleasure principle] exercises power, how a drive can become independent of it or precede it, what are the relations of service between the PP and the rest, what we have called the prince and his subjects, etc. The "posts" are always posts of power. And power is exercised according to the network of posts. There is a society of drives, whether or not they are communally possible, and in the passage to which we have just referred (chapter VI), the dynamics of sadism are dynamics of power, dynamics of dynasty: a component drive must come to dominate the entirety of the body driven, and must subject this body to its regime; and if this suceeds, it is with the aim of exercising the violence of its domination over the object. And if this desire to dominate is exercised within as well as without, if it defines the relation to oneself as the relation to the other of the drives, if it has an "original" root, then the drive for power can no longer be derived. Nor can postal power. In its autoheterology, the drive for postal power is more originary than the PP and independent of it. But it equally remains the only one to permit the definition of a death drive, and for example an original sadism. In other words, the motif of power is more originary and more general than the PP, is independent of it, is its beyond. But it is not to be confused with the death drive or the repetition compulsion, it gives us with what to describe them, and in respect to them, as well as to a "mastery" of the PP, it plays the role of transcendental predicate. Beyond the pleasure principle—-power. That is, posts. But even so, we will not say, despite the transcendental function to which we have just alluded, beyond the death drive-—power—-or posts. For it is equally the case that everything described under the heading of the death drive or the repetition compulsion, although proceeding from a drive for power, and borrowing all its descriptive traits from this drive, no less overflows power. This is simultaneously the reason and the failure, the origin and the limit of power. There is power only if there is a principle or a principle of the principle. The transcendental or meta-conceptual function belongs to the order of power. Thus there is only différance of power. Whence the posts. Beyond all conceptual oppositions, Bemächtigung indeed situates one of the exchangers between the drive to dominate as the drive of the drive, and the "will to power.""

(The Postcard, 1987, pages 404-405)

One might ask how Life Drive, Death Drive and Will to Power can be the same thing, and how they can be likened to Sorge (Care), but fundamentally this is what drives beings: a facility to be careful; gain mastery over environment; antisocially, to dominate. Hence Life Drive can become Death Drive. Problem solving tenacity can also be frustrated into repetition compulsion. This drive fundamentally lies at the heart of existential phenomenology, and at the core of individual and social creativity and destructivity.

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  • Generally, "read this book" belongs in a comment, while "relevant quotation from this book" belongs in an answer. People want to get an idea of whether they should read a book and often want a bit more than just the bare suggestion. – labreuer Jan 8 '14 at 16:11
  • Oh. The OP just asked what questions are regarded as fundamental by contemporary philosophers. My answer is: What drives people to live? I might see about adding a quote later. I don't have The Postcard to hand. – Chris Degnen Jan 8 '14 at 16:22

I would agree with all the above questions to be contemporary philosophical ones.

But in my opinion (without any philosophical education except reading and thinking ;) ), the list would not be complete without the whole technological change.

First of all, what impact does the internet have on the lives of individuals. Not only on privacy, but also on opportunities e.g. learning.

Moreover there is a lot of discussion about biological patents (e.g. are you allowed to sell self grown food without paying somebody for the right to grow and sell that plant?)

And last but not least I would like to mention the robotic / singularity discussion. In short it is about what societal impact will intelligent robots have and what happens, if robots become so intelligent, that they could construct event more intelligent robots. Good reads on this topic are in my opinion Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is near" and Stanislaw Lem's "Summa technologiae".

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  • And do you know some contemporary philosophers working on them? – ChristopherE Jan 10 '14 at 22:36
  • there are a lot of philosophical thoughts in many written works by people with no philosophic education - and in my opinion you get a better view on a topic if you do not focus on the profession of the writer. Therefore: a) internet: julian assange - cypherpunks, in general the talks from the chaos communication congresses b) if I find where I read about it (in german), i'll post it c) artificial intelligence / singularity next to the mentioned Kurzweil and Lem, I'd suggest Hubert Dreyfus or Coenen's 'Die Debatte über [Debate about] 'Human Enhancement' – user5207 Jan 12 '14 at 2:04

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