Via Leiter Reports, I checked out a recent NYT feature called ‘Room for Debate’ (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/8/19/x-phis-new-take-on-old-problems) in which smart people weigh-in on questions of general interest/social importance. In the latest installment, six eminent philosophers (one, I hate to admit, younger than me) offer responses to this question:
Do experimental methods offer new horizons for philosophy departments, which have come under attack for being impractical?
I found the panel’s answers to this question disappointing. It wasn’t what they said when addressing the question directly, but rather their asides about the various ways in which studying philosophy at the college level can be of ‘practical value’ (where this means help people eventually earn money, I suppose). None of them–unless I missed something in my very cursory reading–brushes the old ‘impracticality’ charge aside and reminds readers that ‘impractical’ or not philosophy departments are still the only place where inquisitive young men and women can learn how to think clearly and rigorously about such fascinating and important questions like what is justice? what is the relationship between mind and body? what are we? what is knowledge? Is belief in God reasonable? why be moral? where do moral rules come from? and so on. If you’re the kind of person who’s tempted to respond, “Yeah, but what’s the practical value of thinking about those questions?” then, sorry, you’re just a Philistine.