What is Philosophy and Where Should It Happen?

Worth considering: Philosopher Scott Soames argues that [1] philosophy’s recent history has been much more impressive than its critics would have you believe, and [2] philosophy is best done in a university setting, rather than in the public square.

Soames is generally irenic (so long as the grumbling parties are fairly connected to the Anglo-analytic methods he favors). He does not take too seriously the fad of logical positivism in the 20th century, and he does not limit legitimate philosophical interest to any one are of exploration (e.g., he does not dismiss moral philosophy as a going concern). On the contrary, he argues that real advances have been made across the board, and that this is mainly thanks to philosophy’s having been disciplined by the modern research academy. This is no argument, however, for philosophy’s being arcane or divorced from concerns of non-professional philosophers. There is much to consider in this essay.

The impetus for this piece was another that appeared in the NYT “The Stone” philosophy column by Bob Frodeman and Adam Briggle, which argued that philosophy lost its way when it morphed into just another academic discipline (one with science-envy). I confess, I’ve seen it in much the same way as Frodeman and Briggle, and having just re-read their piece I generally still do.

It makes me wonder: Is there just *one* thing that philosophy is? Or  is term “philosophy” like term “religion” — a blanket term that (legitimately?) covers widely divergent practices? Is the philosophy for the public square (or philosophy-as-a-way-of-life) “the same thing” as the philosophy done in academic settings and disciplinary practices? If not, is there at least a possibility for a mutually enriching intersection or overlap? Philosophers themselves have been notoriously argumentative about what counts as philosophy at all (for instance, the Derrida affair). Often they divide up their “orthodox” and their “heterodox” and their outright “heathen dogs.” Maybe that’s just part of the game.

But I know I do more than one thing as a philosopher…or maybe I am more than one thing as a philosopher. What and how I teach (and to what end) is not the same (exactly) as what I do when I write a journal article or a book review on a technical issue in, say, ontology. And I don’t think, as a philosopher (not as a philosopher professor), that I am ever “off the clock.” Perhaps I am large and contain multitudes. But why not be large and why not try to contain multitudes? Frodeman/Briggle and Soames. Why not?

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