Why are so many philosophers German?

Philosophers - professional seekers of meaning

"There is no other subject that has such a strong finger on the pulse of the times as philosophy." That said a few years ago Julian Nida-Rümelin, himself a philosopher, but above all known as the former Minister of State for Culture in the times of the red-green federal government under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Students are not impressed by this praise and verbal medal of merit. In 1996 almost 24,000 students were still enrolled in philosophy; today there are fewer than 15,000.

Thinking has to be learned.

But this is not only due to the lack of prospect of a well-paid job, but also simply to the fact that philosophy, like other humanities subjects, has been used as a park course for a long time in order to get cheap health insurance. With the introduction of bachelor's, master's and tuition fees, the wheat was separated from the chaff. Those interested in philosophy stayed, the pro forma students disappeared. What has remained is the reputation and reproach that many philosophers all too often sell incomprehensibility as profundity.

Inaudibility was yesterday

"Of course it is not true that profundity is incomprehensible," emphasizes the 30-year-old and extremely passionate philosophy professor Markus Gabriel from the University of Bonn. However, there is a certain tradition of philosophical fog-throwing in Germany. Schopenhauer had already scoffed at this and called all German philosophers "Schleiermacher" after the philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher, whom he liked and often criticized. But Gabriel sees today's problem elsewhere. Today, a lack of content would be hidden behind a shallow surface intelligibility. It is about rapid consumption: "Today, philosophical thoughts, if they are presented at all, have to be represented in Wikipedia form." And that is not appropriate to the philosophical idea. Because that demands complexity in order to do justice to a complex living environment.

Theodor Adorno on the radio

In any case, philosophical thoughts are rarely presented. Gone are the days when great social philosophers such as Horkheimer, Adorno and Markuse could lecture for hours on radio and television. That was in the late 50s and early 60s of the 20th century. The presence of today's philosophers in the media is low, but they exist in niche areas. For example, since 1999 in the small, fine radio program "Das philosophische Radio" on the WDR and on the Second German Television since 2002 with the "Philosophical Quartet".

Philosophy as a way of life

The philosopher David Precht showed how realistic and, above all, how successful philosophy can be. His book "Who am I and if so how many", published in 2007, was on the bestseller lists for months. People no longer seek meaning in life from psychologists and therapists only. Philosophical advice, which was still exotic 20 years ago, is available in every major German city today. The fact that the Centraltheater in Leipzig has hired its own house philosopher for its staff is only stringent.

Philosopher Markus Gabriel

The basic questions of philosophy "Who am I - where do I come from - where do I go" have become even more acute today, says philosopher Markus Gabriel. Since the end of the 18th century we have found ourselves in a kind of permanent revolution in the living world with increasing speed of upheaval, lately mainly due to the Internet and technical products such as the iphone. Shall we want everything we can? The philosophy is there to ask the right questions and provide guidance, from the stem cell debate to the discussion about euthanasia or the current debate about the integration of foreigners.

Author: Günther Birkenstock

Editor: Klaus Gehrke