Is Philosophy Obsolete? – The Chronicle Review

Rebecca Goldstein appears to be on a campaign to defend philosophy.  In this essay, she defends its ability to make progress, and questions whether it should be lumped in with the humanities.  (I wonder what the humanities folks will think of that.)

Philosophy was the first academic field; the founder of the Academy was Plato. Nevertheless, philosophy’s place in academe can stir up controversy. The ancient lineage itself provokes dissension. Philosophy’s lack of progress over the past 2,500 years is accepted as a truism, trumpeted not only by naysayers but even by some of its most enthusiastic yea-sayers. But the truism isn’t true. Both camps mistake the nature of philosophy and so are blind to its progress.

via Is Philosophy Obsolete? – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I do think philosophy has enormous value.  Much of what I discuss on this blog is philosophy.  And it does make progress.  Unfortunately for philosophers, that progress is typically measured across centuries, and it appears that ground breaking philosophers are rarely celebrated in their own time.

I do think the field suffers from tolerating too many kooks in its ranks.   It seems to share this problem with economics, although they arise for different reasons in each field.  In the case of economics, it comes from politics.  In philosophy, it may be an unavoidable consequence of being open to new modes of thought.  But in both cases, it gives critics ammunition to question the entire field.  If philosophy is really about making things more coherent, then the incoherent should be excluded.

5 thoughts on “Is Philosophy Obsolete? – The Chronicle Review

  1. The problem with philosophy is that it has never revealed a single truth, and therefore lacks all empirical means to demonstrate its worth. Scientific philosophy is, in my mind, vital, but i won’t shed a tear if i never seen any Christian “philosophy” ever again 😉


    1. Well that’s just silly. Philosophy gave rise to math and syllogistic reason, and word on the street is that science uses those on a regular basis. And frankly, there’s no simple way to be an empiricist without raising ultimately philosophical questions about certainty and causality. And there are a lot of Christian and Islamic philosophers to thank for those tools and questions!


      1. Numbers don’t exist, but the axioms do, and syllogism is just a method of knowing; a tool we can use to test an approximation of truth. Useful, sure, but ultimately just a synthetic description of something that might, or might not, be real. Propositions can be either true or false, but there is no such thing as raw “essence of truth” unto itself. You might as well ask if “Absolute Bigness” exists. Don’t get me wrong, though; I’m not anti-philosophy by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a good sounding board, but ultimately just an old-fashioned ombudsman who (to-date) hasn’t quite been able to make the leap into the counter-intuitive world of QM.


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