Bark! Grrrrrrrrrr! Bark! UPDATED

Apparently good old Barney doesn’t like teddy bears. He may not even have know this until he was supposed to guard a collection of highly prized ones. And then he did what a good dog has to do.

There may be times when a human being too wants to tear into prized icons, though hopefully not quite so literally.

Have a look at Leiter’s comments on a round table on modes of philosophizing in EurozineYou can tell it’s really weighty stuff from BL’s title:  “Four Philosophers Answer Questions about Philosophy: Its Purposes, Nature, History.”

Well, the guys (of course!) take up the big issues.  My favorite observation comes from Jonathan Barnes, who addresses the question of whether philosophy is relevant to real life:

But surely, you will cry, moral philosophy must impinge on Real Life? After all, we do ethics – as Aristotle says – in order to become good, don’t we? And surely logic must impinge? Isn’t it the science of reasoning? And don’t we all want to reason as sharply as we can? – Well, glance about at our colleagues. There’s Professor W, who has written some brilliant pieces on ethics: Is he more honourable in his philandering than my neighbour Bernard?

Not, I have to say, the example I would use. When thinking about whether working on ethics produces morally improved people, I think of the ethicists I know who are completely ignorant of how exclusionary their highly privileged pursuits really are. And who, quite frankly, do not seem to give a damn.

On the other hand, two women philosophers are mentioned in the article.

O, let’s just go to a library and consign some volumes to the flames.  Or tear them apart.

(Thanks to Calypso once again.)

UPDATE:  It is possible that this post was written in a fit of pique, but, thanks to Calypso, some more substantial issues arise in the comments.  Come join in the discussion!

12 thoughts on “Bark! Grrrrrrrrrr! Bark! UPDATED

  1. A) Is philosophy relevant to life?
    B) Should philosophy be relevant to life?

    The discrepancy between the two answers (if there is one) might be a hint that something isn’t right.

  2. There are so many issues to be raised both about the original interview and about Leiter’s odd treatment of it (focusing only on the Analytic/Continental issue) that I hesitate to begin to list some. But, here goes.

    1. Do you think that philosophy as pursued by philosophers has something to say which is, or should be, of some relevance to the way non-philosophers think about the world and their life?

    Imagine asking this of a feminist philosopher? I suppose to some that will be an indictment of feminist philosophy. To me, it’s an indictment of this question.

    2. “Although the history of philosophy – despite what many historians like to say – is no more a part of philosophy than the history of mathematics is a part of mathematics, nonetheless you can’t do anything much in the history of a subject without having some sort of acquaintance with the subject itself.” (J. Barnes)[1] Do you agree?
    This strikes me as a rather deep question and it elicits some interesting responses. It’s also followed up by the question whether people can do philosophy without knowing its history. I imagine many more readers would say yes to this latter question than to the former, and more firmly than the people interviewed on the site. For feminists this question is also a telling one. I would point to the Nancy Tuana-edited series Re-Reading the Canon as one response. It’s surprising to me that this question didn’t appear to interest Leiter in the slightest.

    3. Throughout the history of philosophy philosophers have used different forms of expressing their views such as dialogues, letters, poems, questions and answers, commentaries, aphorisms. It seems that we have long stopped experimenting in this area and most philosophers choose to write articles and books of a standard form. Does this standardization involve a loss?
    Again this is a question Leiter touched on but only in passing, to quote from Stroud. I think many feminist philosophers would deplore the loss of alternate modes of expression and of what for lack of a better word I would call the relevance of style to subject matter. I am thinking here of writers like Le Doeuff and Irigaray who have fairly complicated views about the role of metaphor, imagery, and style to the content of a philosopher’s view.

  3. Great points, Calypso. Let me add another which is connected to the question of style. This is the question of specialization. MB remarks, in a curiously passive way, that

    There was a whole series of central books we had not only read, but much more important, had debated together. Those days, sadly, have gone. We are all impoverished. It is no good asking, “What can we do about it?”, because the institutional pressures under which university staff now work impose a scientistic model on which specialization is the norm. Let us not deceive ourselves, however, that this is a uniquely modern corruption of the academic enterprise.

    Specialization of the sort that he describes is going to affect style as well as content.

  4. Another thing, just to mention: The study of the mind that is going on in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology is having a significant impact and a lot of people seem fascinated by it. Just look at the NY Times science section, Time, Newsweek, etc. Or books such as Gladwell’s Blink. Since philosophy can be – and sometimes is – involved in these areas, there may be some hope for philosophy’s more austere areas.

    This is also an area which feminism sometimes incorporates. I’m thinking here of Alcoff and her use of Steele’s work on the stereotype threat.

    In addition, the relatively new experimental philosophy movement is questioning a lot of philosophy’s framing of its questions on the grounds that supposedly deeply entrenched features of concepts are close to philosophical inventions.

  5. Anonymous #3 expresses something the spirit of which I totally agree with in theory, if we’re talking about philosophy as a field of inquiry. However, I struggle with this in conversation often: If we’re talking about philosophy, the *profession*, and we want to say something truly descriptively accurate about the state of the profession, then indeed there is a discrepancy.

    In fairness to Brian Leiter, by the way, I would’ve focused on Barnes’ “bizarre proclamation” too. I often plead guilty to finding one particular bone to worry rather than considering the body of a story… Is this bone-body analogy getting a little icky? Yes, it is. Anyway, I must say that to hardly read any “continental” — and what exactly is he considering that to be, I wonder — and add that it’s all bad, across the board, is just bizarre. I really like to think philosophers don’t ordinarily say such illogical things as, “I’ve hardly read any of it but it’s all bad.”

    Plus, I consider myself an analytic philosopher, so this offends me as a logic-worshipping, narrow-minded, typical Analytic.

  6. I know Barnes, and my suspicion is that this is perhaps very tongue-in-cheek. But who knows. He’s an awfully smart and erudite fellow.

  7. Hmm. “I’ve hardly read any of it but it’s all bad” does sound problematic. But what about “I’ve hardly listened to Rush Limbaugh’s show but it’s all bad”?

  8. It’s been a very long time since I’ve read any philosophy but, when I did, it was because it was relevant to my life and what I wanted to do with it. And still is. So, yeah womyns, I think that philosophy “can” be relevant to “life”. GEEz.

    I think it could be a lot more relevant to a lot more lives if more academics were enabled to take seriously their role in larger communities. Or maybe that’s just no longer the case and it’s no more the fault of philosophers than anyone else.

    Which leads to “should” philosophy be relevant to “life”. Who would be speaking the “should”?

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