More Handwringing about the Value of Philosophy

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.

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2 Responses to More Handwringing about the Value of Philosophy

  1. David says:

    ON THE OTHER HAND, I guess it doesn’t do much good for philosophers to stubbornly refuse to sell their product or refuse to defend the importance of their discipline in terms that carry the most weight with administrative decision-makers. Lamentable or not, this seems to be the situation they find themselves in.

  2. Nates says:

    I agree that this particular discussion was a little uninspiring. That said, it’s great that the New York Times is including so much philosophy lately. I’ve added the RSS feed on the right for its blog, The Stone, which has hosted contributions from some big names: Timothy Williamson, Martha Nussbaum, Galen Strawson, etc. Some of it’s been very interesting.

    As far as experimental philosophy goes, I’ve been a little underwhelmed by what I’ve encountered so far, mainly because it’s not entirely clear to me how our surveyed intuitions are philosophically significant. As our old friend Murat once said (on the topic of zombies), you gotta have the right intuitions.

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