Agnes Callard’s List of “views that are considered controversial that shouldn’t be”


“There’s no such thing as being good or bad at philosophy.”

Agnes Callard’s office

That’s item #12 on a list of “views that are considered controversial that shouldn’t be” that philosopher Agnes Callard (Chicago) offered up in a new interview at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher?.

Interviewer Clifford Sosis (Coastal Carolina) asks, “How is it not possible to be bad at philosophy?” Callard replies:

You can be good at something either by having mastered it or having a talent for it. Philosophy is unmasterable—there is no body of knowledge that could ground a claim to expertise. As for talents, the ones I can think of—being quick with distinctions, being a good writer, being good at learning formal or natural languages—are double edged swords, because they make you easily divertible from the project of philosophizing. I think we project a talent for philosophy into anyone we respect as a philosopher to protect ourselves against the scary thought that it’s our own fault we’re not like that. In fact, nothing’s stopping us but ourselves.

Here’s her whole list:

  1. Socrates was not ironic.
  2. Plato wrote dialogues because that format is ideal for presenting arguments in premise-conclusion form.
  3. Aristotle’s enkratic person can (and, indeed, must) have phronesis.
  4. Aristotle’s pro-slavery stance runs deep into his ethics, not clear whether it can be excised.
  5. Kant’s ethics forms the basis of our strongest moral reactions.
  6. Nietzsche’s view of ethics as a way of justifying/sanctifying violence under the label of punishment is worth considering as a possible theory of punishment (and not just as Nietzsche scholarship).
  7. Fernando Pessoa was a philosopher.
  8. The idea of human rights is the most important achievement of humanity to date.
  9. It is not obvious that one should refrain from entering the experience machine.
  10. Reading literature can help you do philosophy, but only if you let yourself get carried away by the literature. Otherwise you just use the literature to dress up what you already thought philosophically.
  11. Philosopher is the best job in the world.
  12. There’s no such thing as being good or bad at philosophy.
  13. If you (truly, deeply) romantically love A you can nonetheless, while continuing to love A, fall (truly, deeply) romantically in love with B.
  14. We do not shape our children that much.
  15. It is good to have children.
  16. You haven’t really made a philosophical contribution until a caricatured, oversimplified version of your thought exists.
  17. Twitter is, all things considered, good for philosophy.
  18. When philosophers explicitly endeavor to chat non-philosophically, that is bad.
  19. Though it is true that pleasure is an activity rather than a feeling, no one really knows what that means.

She adds: “Of these, the one I believe most strongly is (12) and the one that comes closest to being something that should not be controversial at all is (3). The ones I would most like to persuade other philosophers of are (7), (17) and (18). The ones I would most like to persuade nonphilosophers of are (1), (12) and (13).”

The whole interview is here.

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