Friday, January 22, 2010

What philosophy is

Recent editions of two Cambridge student newspapers print comments by Cambridge alumnus, Alain de Botton, on the nature of philosophy. Here is his essay in Varsity and here is his interview in The Tab. I wonder what people make of them. As far as I can see, philosophy is a varied and complicated thing. Quarreling over the name is not particularly important.

Here is part of the interview:
RC: So, it’s the most obvious question to ask really: what exactly is philosophy?

AB: 99% of people who call themselves philosophers are employed by universities, in the UK. And they’re really employed to teach the history of philosophy or the theory of philosophy but they’re not philosophers as such, they’re commentators on philosophy that other people have done, on the whole. My handy definition is just a commitment to logical thinking and reasoning, and that can be directed towards any subject on earth. But it’s all fairly shaky ground, and whether someone is or isn’t a philosopher is always going to be a bit of an ambiguous question.

RC: Do you think it has something of an image problem, concerned with just asking pointless questions?

AB: Yes, a terrible image problem! Most academic philosophers would say that philosophy is pure enquiry into certain abstract questions and we have no responsibility to do the kind of thing that Joe Public expects of philosophy, which is, ‘how do I live?’ Somehow philosophy should be a repository of wisdom and that it should be particularly concerned with the great challenges of life but it doesn’t seem that this is the case.

1 comment:

Peter Smith said...