What’s “Core” and What’s “Peripheral” in Philosophy—and Why?


It’s pretty bizarre, when you think about it, that someone who spends their time wondering whether tables are real is considered to be working on a foundational area of philosophy, but someone who wonders whether races are real is doing something we consider a niche, ‘applied’ topic. Likewise, someone who tries to figure out how words like ‘might’ work is doing something core, and someone who tries to figure out how hate speech works is doing something peripheral. I don’t mean to denigrate the person thinking about epistemic modals or tables! People should work on whatever they’re interested in and whatever makes them happy. And I also don’t mean to suggest that esoteric topics are somehow not interesting to people from traditionally underrepresented groups. I think some of the best work being done right now in metaphysics and philosophy of language is being done by women and people of color, for example.  But I do think that the demographic makeup of philosophy has shaped our ideas of what is central, foundational, or ‘core’. It would be bizarre if it hadn’t, really. And I think that part of making philosophy more inclusive is addressing this – and, in particular, allowing people from a wider range of backgrounds to shape what we care about in philosophy, rather than only allowing people from a wider range of backgrounds to succeed in philosophy if they show they can advance the debates we already decided we cared about.

That’s “unapologetically geeky mutant” Elizabeth Barnes (UVA) in an interview at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher.

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