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Is philosophy everyone’s turf?

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• Is the world eternal? YES
• Do humans have contra-causal free will (i.e., can humans do otherwise)? NO
• Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? YES
• Do humans have souls? YES
• Are there natural rights? YES
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• Can a computer have a mind? YES
• Can humans know reality as it is in itself? YES
• Is hell other people? YES
• Can art be created accidentally? NO
• Can we change the past? NO
• Are numbers real? NO
• Is it always better to know the truth? YES

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There’s an interesting discussion over here on Brian Leiter’s philosophy blog.

What got it all started was this: the National Endowment for the Humanities set up a grant for professors to create courses which address life’s enduring questions (How should I live? What am I? What are my obligations to others? and so on), since it seemed to them that no one was asking these questions anymore. Philosophers said, “Huh. I thought that’s what we were doing.” So people began to wonder: are philosophers dealing with these topics? Should non-philosophers deal with them? Is the NEH just stupid, or are they dissing philosophers?

Anyway, it’s interesting to read the posting, and all the comments.



  1. Clay says:

    How should I live?


  2. source says:

    Philosophers are dealing with these questions, but not in a way that always pleases people. On the one hand, you’ve got the person who can’t see why philosophers have to complicate everything. I get this reaction a lot when I try to explain the “point” of one of my classes. On the other hand, you’ve got artists and writers who are as able to address these questions as philosophers are. For example, I just finished watching “Ikiru.” It’s a movie that is very pointedly about how to live.

    Of course, there’s a philosophy behind every work that asks a philosophical question. Philosophy’s biggest advantage in asking these kind of questions is that it can cross disciplinary lines. I read a paper once that called Derrida a “bricoleur.” I liked the idea, because I think philosophy does best when it is bricolage: a philosopher can and should take the best of everything that is available, and use all of it in addressing human questions. There’s nothing that stops a scientist or artist from becoming a bricoleur, of course, but I think that scientists and artists sometimes learn to think only like scientists and artists and forget that when you ask questions about science or art, you have to use something other than your usual tools.

    Philosophers seem to me to be better at this kind of open-handed examination. I suspect that we owe it to our tradition, which consistently questions itself.


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