Email inquiry: What does a philosopher do?

A ten year-old blog reader writes with this question:

Could you explain to me what a philosopher does? I like to write small theories about life, I want to know other people who do that. In the process I found this blog. So please tell me how this works! Thank you.

Hi! There is no single answer to your question, because philosophers can do many things. Some of them teach, some of them write, and some of them apply philosophy in other ways too. Most of them do some combination of these things.

It’s great that you like writing small theories about life, which is an excellent start on doing philosophy. Philosophy scholars who work in universities, colleges and other schools have a few different ways of doing philosophy: teaching, writing, and helping other people think through hard questions about life and the world. How should we live, work, eat, play and treat one another? What is the world like? What is it to have reasonable beliefs about things?

These questions can get complicated really quickly. They also lead into other questions about those questions, and about how we try to answer them. For example, suppose there are different answers to questions of how we should live. Should we try to decide which of the answers are better? How could we do that? What would make better answers better?

A lot of this philosophical discussion ends up being aimed at other philosophers. There is such a thing as philosophical expertise, and this expertise gets developed through some pretty specialized writing and speaking. But philosophers also work with non-philosophers, through their teaching, and through other kinds of jobs. For example, a philosopher might help the people who work at a hospital to make more thoughtful and ethical decisions about their patients’ health. That’s a specific job that many people have, and it often involves people with philosophical training. Philosophers do many kinds of public philosophizing — including blogging on Feminist Philosophers!

People who have been trained in philosophy do all kinds of jobs. Philosophy doesn’t have to be the job you do. Actually that’s pretty rare. It’s a lot more common for people to use philosophical ways of thinking and communicating in doing lots of other things. That is, philosophy can be the way you do things. I’d say a philosophical way of doing things is: reflectively, being open to new ways of thinking, with a particular sensitivity to hidden assumptions that are built into our lives and actions – and whether those assumptions are reasonable when you look at them carefully.

Having a practiced philosophical ability to just pay attention to stuff, in the broadest sense of the term, is a great way to find more transparent, more accurate, more effective, and more ethical ways of living and acting. I hope you keep writing and thinking, and finding value in philosophy!

You are very welcome to reply to this message by posting a comment. As you can see, I took your name out of your email. If you comment, you can make up a name to use, or you can just do it anonymously.

3 thoughts on “Email inquiry: What does a philosopher do?

  1. Thank you so much for the answers! I enjoyed reading them. It makes so much more sense now.Thanks again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s