Why philosophers should engage in public life

Psychologist Tania Lombrozo uses three recent events in the news to show how philosophers can and should contribute to discussions of issues. “When a political issue concerns the economy, we often turn to economists — they’re quoted in news stories and interviewed on air. When a policy issue concerns the environment, we sometimes hear from ecologists or biologists of an appropriate ilk. But when it comes to the kinds of issues we’ve confronted in a single week of news — issues about race, identity, moral responsibility and more — we rarely hear from philosophers. I think it’s time we did.”

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Revenge of the philosophy nerds

In “That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket,” George Anders explains that “[t]hroughout the major U.S. tech hubs, whether Silicon Valley or Seattle, Boston or Austin, Tex., software companies are discovering that liberal arts thinking makes them stronger.” Take Stewart Butterfield, for example. He is “Slack’s 42-year-old cofounder and CEO, whose estimated double-digit stake in the company could be worth $300 million or more. He’s the proud holder of an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Canada’s University of Victoria and a master’s degree from Cambridge in philosophy and the history of science.” You don’t have to major in one of the humanities, but it appears that some philosophy can make a difference.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

There is a link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the “links” page of this blog. An interesting article on the 20th anniversary of Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains why it is a very useful and reliable resource for students of philosophy: “Quite a few people in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States are looking online for information about Kantian morality. And the relationship between education and philosophy is piquing the interest of web surfers worldwide. How do we know this? The data comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the web’s oldest and arguably most credible open-access source of philosophical information. Launched two decades ago, years before Wikipedia existed, the site led the way in academic information sharing. It now includes 1,478 authoritative and vetted entries about all manner of philosophical topics. It is updated almost daily, thanks to about 2,000 contributors. The encyclopedia averages more than a million Internet hits per week. Users include students, scholars, librarians and even military officials.”

Cheeseburger ethics

Are professional ethicists more moral than others? Apparently not. According to Eric Schwitzgebel, many professional ethicists tend to be “cheeseburger ethicists.” A cheeseburger ethicist is someone who reasons that it is morally wrong to eat meat and nevertheless enjoys a cheeseburger because everyone else does it. “In most cases, we already know what is good. No special effort or skill is required to figure that out. Much more interesting and practical is the question of how far short of the ideal we are comfortable being.” And professional ethicists seem more or less as comfortable as everyone else in falling short of their moral ideals. So … what is the point of philosophical reflection about how we ought to live? “Genuine philosophical thinking critiques its prior strictures, including even the assumption that we ought to be morally good. It damages almost as often as it aids, is free, wild and unpredictable, always breaks its harness. It will take you somewhere, up, down, sideways – you can’t know in advance. But you are responsible for trying to go in the right direction with it, and also for your failure when you don’t get there.”

Philosophy of play

In “Reclaiming the Power of Play, Stephen Asma notes that “play is also a crucial part of the full life of the human animal, and yet philosophers have said very little about it.” And yet philosophy is a kind of play: “What would, and what should, we do with our free time? After the world of work, will we have the time, energy and ambition to do philosophy, make art, study history, master languages and make craft beers? Will we play creatively as ‘holy yea-sayers,’ or will we just watch more TV?”