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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.

Playing is a form of philosophy


In order to acquire new ways of thinking, we have to permit ourselves the luxury of being curious without an agenda.

Forcing unfamiliar concepts to fit within our preexisting schemes stifles the emergence of creative breakthroughs and stunts the cultivation of paradigm changing insights.

If every new idea we encounter is met with a demand for an immediate demonstration of its practical relevance, the deeper potentialities within that idea will remain hidden to us.

There are forms of beauty and brilliance that cannot be seen unless one looks for them through the eyes of an imagination unencumbered by an obsession with pragmatism.

Certain ideas wish for us to flirt with them, to play with them, before they yield the secrets of their value.

All philosophy is not serious.

Playing, whether with games or abstract concepts, is not merely an act of recreation; it’s a mode of perception, a form of cognition in its own right.

When we immerse ourselves in interesting ideas, without requiring any form of instant payoff, we open our minds to vast new worlds and we experience a kind of magic that remains forever closed to those who are too busy to philosophize frivolously.

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