A question for philosophy and its teaching

I found the following video through a link to an issue of Nautilus on beauty and creativity on Daily Nous. It has long worried me that philosophy classes so often value the polished analytic answer, while creativity might not direct us there at first, or perhaps ever.

One example of the sort of thing that worries me. In some reading group, I think at Rutgers, someone said that Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism contained no good arguments. I think most people agreed, though one would be hard put to deny that it is full of important and highly influential ideas. Do we manage to teach, and to convey, that in philosophy ideas may be at least as important as good arguments and perhaps even more so? I wondered this just recently as I saw a group of young philosophers espousing working all the time on philosophy.

Anjan Chatterjee, the speaker in the video below, has recently published The Aesthetic Brain He holds a degree in philosophy, but he is head of Neurology at the U of Pennsylvania’s Hospital.

Anyway, see what you think:

2 thoughts on “A question for philosophy and its teaching

  1. The irony is that what we think of as the most paradigmatically ANALYTIC accomplishments require creativity. My own specialty within philosophy is logic, and I talk to other logicians. What we logicians praise in our intellectual heroes (people like Kit Fine, or the late Bob Meyer in Australia, or even the guy who wrote “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”) is NOT their totally focused, algorithmic, formality but precisely their CREATIVITY: their ability to define (formally in actual logic, impressionistically in epistemologists like Quine) new ideas that can then be used in analysis: think of Fine’s “arbitrary” objects, or Meyer’s “coherence” methods, or… the seamless web!

    Elementary logic teaching obscures this. The Freshman or Sophomore in “Introduction to Symbolic Logic” gets drilled in follow-the-rules methods (truth tables, or tableaux), and can get the idea that logical reasoning is a matter of following the rules of an algorithm, whereas real deduction (in, for example, serious mathematics) requires insight to (as Aristotle put it) find the middle term: a serious logical deduction (formulated in Principia Mathematic’s axiomatic system or in a system of “Natural Deduction”) can involve steps which are NOT found by breaking down the premisses or conclusion into their component parts. Seeing how to formulate the intermediate lemma that will allow you to complete the deduction is a creative activity.

  2. Allen, thanks for the illuminating comment. Sorry it took me so long to respond. There are a number of related things that can be very irritating. One is the idea that any logician must be dry and boring, with no sense of humor.

    I wonder then if our students who end up making genuine contributions are surviving more than learning.

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