Is Philosophy a Show about Nothing?

Peter Unger, author of Empty Ideas, thinks so. Read this interview with one of his former students. Here’s a taste:

Back to Empty Ideas, I guess you think people should just face up to that, instead of thinking that they’re doing something very important, or deep.

Probably. That’s what Wittgenstein concluded. I’m just not holding myself to be something like a quasi-mystical genius that he was supposed to have been. I’m just an ordinary schlub, who happens to have more perspective on things than other mainstream philosophers.

And I’m smarter than almost all of them. A few of my colleagues are smarter than I am. But except for Tim Maudlin, they all have much less perspective than I do, and some of them none at all. They have no idea what they’re doing, or very little idea of what they’re doing, or distorted ideas of what they’re doing.

One of them who’s much smarter than me is Kit Fine. His office is right over there next to mine. I discuss him in one of the chapters of Empty Ideas. He has no more idea of what he’s doing than Aristotle did, and in Aristotle’s day there was an excuse: nobody knew anything. Nowadays it’s less of an excuse.

Although he clearly is in love with himself, nevertheless Unger strikes me as something like a “self-hating philosopher,” one of those philosophers who tries to philosophize philosophy out of existence. They make for a comical yet pathetic figure. A question: what is the philosophical status of a book like Empty Ideas? Why, on its own terms, should I not take it to be just a bunch of hot air?

Note that Unger’s targets are all so-called analytic philosophers. It is not an uncommon criticism of analytic philosophy that it has, in large swaths anyway, lost touch with human experience (often due to its “science”-envy). But is so-called analytic philosophy – which, btw, is all I’m reading at the moment for a project I am working on – all there is to philosophy?


UPDATE: Here is the Maverick Philosopher’s take on this same interview. Key point: Philosophizing your way out of philosophy is like copulating for chastity. Right!

  1. #1 by Alex Jones on June 18, 2014 - 3:07 pm

    Too many sadly miss the point of philosophy which is wisdom. The philosopher is a lover of wisdom. The scholar is a lover of knowledge. Playing clever games with knowledge is something many scholars do, but this has nothing to do with philosophy. The philosopher takes knowledge and converts it to wisdom, it is the application of knowledge in an active experiential way to life that makes it wisdom, and thus the province of the philosopher.

  2. #2 by Spinning For Difficulty on June 19, 2014 - 9:33 am

    “We believe in nothing” – The nihilists (Big Lebowski)

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