What's left of philosophy

by CarlD

In my little dreamworld the best thing this blog can do is cross-connect some questions and conversations that otherwise would miss each other. In that spirit please take a moment to visit Savage Minds, an excellent anthropology blog, to check out Chris Kelty’s post on experimental philosophy, a newish development that has some philosophers “exploring the possibility of actually talking to people.”

Philosophy used to include everything, and in its self-conception still does. In the history of knowledge-formation, however, over the last few hundred years philosophy has been getting whittled down by the spinning off of the sciences, history, law, economics, sociology, anthropology, politics, psychology and so on into separate disciplines. Each of those has some practical field of competence about real human relations in the world; indeed, it could be said (and was, by a defender of philosophy on that thread who may or may not have grasped the irony) that any time philosophy identifies a field of potentially-practical study about humans, it gets spun off into a different discipline. Cognitive science as the practical spinoff of epistemology is a recent example.

(I am being kind to philosophy here. In the last hundred years at least the sub-disciplining of the human studies has had very little at all to do with conceptual innovations in philosophy, and the reverse is increasingly true.)

What’s left for philosophy as such? Old unanswerable questions, abstractions, speculation, and no practical applications that can’t be better addressed by one or more of the successor disciplines. A playground for nerds, geeks, and bores.

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3 Responses to “What's left of philosophy”

  1. Um, Carl. Duh. You may not know this since you are a history/sociology person, but philosophers only talk to themselves and within philosophy there are clear dividing lines that dictate who you are allowed to talk to. Come on, anything else would be sheer barbarism…

    In all seriousness, I once was talking to a biology guy about ethics and suggested we “cross-pollinate” and either co-teach a class or minimally, invite each other as guest lecturers in our respective ethics courses. How naive I was, basically what he said was “well we like to keep our ethics at home.” Thank you, come again…

  2. Oh yes, Shahar, I like to keep it simpleminded. And thanks so much for not taking offense at my statement of the obvious.

    You’re right on the money about barbarism. Benjamin, right? My experiences with inter/cross/multidisciplinarity are similar. It looks like such a good idea in theory, since we’re all interested in aspects of the same thing. But in the practice of disciplining we’ve all invested years getting brainwashed into our own little cults and tend either to see the other ones as raw material for conversion (here, got a tasty dead vole for y’all) or ecumenically tolerate the damned infidels from afar, which was your biologist’s position.

    If we really wanted to talk with each other we’d have to learn new ways of thinking, and go back to scratch to do it, which is like, so not.

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