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What is philosophy and does it have a future?

The question “What is Philosophy?” is itself a philosophical question that is not easily answered.

Philosophy is like a thief; much easier to catch in action than in analysis.

Nevertheless, any discussion on the nature and future of philosophy should involve an honest acknowledgement of the depth, diversity and disagreement that exists among professional philosophers about the discipline they practice.

Listening to, and contemplating, their answers will not only offer a wide range of insights regarding a seemingly confusing discipline, but it can also serve as an exercise in philosophical activity itself.

The Philosophy Bites podcast, which is made in association with the Institute of Philosophy, asked a range of academic philosophers and contemporary thinkers to define their personal take on Philosophy. It’s an interesting episode and I highly recommend it. To check it out, click here.

Now, here’s my take:

I define philosophy as the process of taking ordinary things and attempting to think about them in unconventional ways.

It is the exercise of thinking critically and creatively about all sorts of topics ranging from film, sports, and music to language, knowledge, and time.

Through conversation, introspection, conceptual analysis, thought-experiments, argument & debate, and any other tools of investigation he can find, the philosopher seeks out interesting connections, fascinating discoveries, overlooked insights, and unasked questions.

The goal of philosophizing, as I see it, is to explore the realm of ideas just as an astronaut explores the realm of outer space.

I regard the practice of philosophy (which is related to, but not dependent on, taking philosophy courses at a school)  as an essentially human activity.

People philosophize everyday whether they label their activity as “philosophy” or not.

Many discussions have been held about the future of philosophy as an academic discipline. For a teaser, see this panel discussion hosted by The New School on Does Philosophy Still Matter?

I have no idea how the future of philosophy as a university major in traditional academia is going to play out. But I am quite certain that the actual practice, or perhaps I should say Praxis, of philosophizing is here to stay.

We may call that rose by another name, but as long as we are taking the time to stop and smell it, the experience will continue just the same.

The value of philosophy


The pragmatist asks, “what is the value of Philosophy?”

The philosopher responds, “what standards do you use to determine value and what evidence can be offered for the justification of such standards?”

In the philosopher’s response to questions about the value of his discipline, we discover the following principle:

the very act of questioning something, no matter what it is, presupposes basic concepts and judgments which are themselves open to the same kind of questioning.

It is impossible for us to ask questions about anything without making use of certain fundamental ideas.

Concepts and judgments are the atoms and molecules out of which all our questions, even the most simple ones, are constructed.

If our basic concepts and judgments are flawed, fallacious, or hastily formed, then the questions that are based upon those concepts and judgments will yield answers that are characterized by the same limitations.

In philosophy, not only do we question reality, but we also question our own questions.

If there are things in this world that are truly important, then they can only be fully appreciated if we engage them with an open-mind that is willing to rethink its assumptions and refine its conceptual framework.

This vigilant effort to maintain an open-mind and a healthy sense of wonder is what lies at the heart of the philosophic enterprise.

The value of philosophy, then, is not that it offers us some tangible product of great worth, but that it invites us to think critically and unconventionally about what it means for something to even have worth and, moreover, it challenges us to be clear and honest with ourselves as to why we bother to care at all about the meaning, value, and importance of things.

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