In response to an email, Philosophy Bro explains why philosophy is still important. Much of his answer applies to questions concerning the value of teaching how classical fiqh is done, and the value of looking at hypothetical and fringe cases.
One of the best parts of Philosophy Bro’s answer is where he writes that
people are going to do philosophy one way or another. When a politician argues that a bill unfairly impinges on our freedoms, he’s doing philosophy. When someone expresses a belief in God, she’s doing philosophy. If we stop teaching people how philosophy is done, we’re not going to get less philosophy, we’re going to get [crappy] philosophy, which leads to [crappy], incoherent policies. And the argument that contemporary philosophy works on ‘useless fringe cases’, that we have enough groundwork to function just fine from day-to-day, isn’t very convincing – sometimes, fringe cases are [highly] important….1
Contemporary practitioners of classical fiqh are often faced with answering the same question about why classical legal schools matter in an age where people can just look everything up for themselves. Paraphrasing the central message from Philosophy Bro’s quote, one answer about why classical fiqh matters is that
If we stop teaching people how classical fiqh is done, we’re not going to get less fiqh, we’re going to get crappy fiqh, which leads to crappy, incoherent rulings.
It is important to note that it is not just an issue of the quality of individual rulings, but the quality and coherence of the combined set of rulings.
Philsophy Bro’s quote also provides a partial answer to those who argue against classical fuqaha researching fringe and hypothetical cases – whether it be the fuqaha of the past or now:
And the argument that classical fuqaha work on ‘useless hypothetical cases,’ that we have enough groundwork to function just fine from day-to-day, isn’t very convincing – sometimes, fringe and hypothetical cases are important.
Many of our approaches to contemporary issues incorporate work from fuqaha who were looking at issues that were purely hypothetical in their own age. As knowledge, technology, and human experience grow, the so do the boundaries of what is imaginable but not yet applicable.
In spite of secularization, religious ethics still play a role in discussions on emerging technologies. Our fuqaha need to stay several steps ahead of what has immediate practical value in order to participate intelligently in these discussions. It’s not a question of whether to delve into fringe and hypothetical cases, but rather how far.