Does Philosophy Need A Reboot?


Philosophy is a bit like a computer with a memory leak. It starts well, dealing with significant and serious issues that matter to anyone. Yet, in time, its very success slows it down. Philosophy begins to care more about philosophers’ questions than philosophical ones, consuming increasing amount of intellectual attention. Scholasticism is the ultimate freezing of the system, the equivalent of Windows’ “blue screen of death”; so many resources are devoted to internal issues that no external input can be processed anymore, and the system stops. The world may be undergoing a revolution, but the philosophical discourse remains detached and utterly oblivious. Time to reboot the system.

That’s Luciano Floridi in a brief post at the OUP Blog, using that great analogy to argue that philosophy is needed “to make sense of the radical changes brought about by the information revolution.”

UPDATE (7/16/14): “Echoing the always popular sentiment that philosophy is ‘detached’ from something important (politics, history, life, etc.), and riding the wave of cultural optimism about information technology, this analogy sounds smart and relevant. Just what philosophy may need-–except if you have any knowledge of actual computer systems, Floridi’s analogy falls flat.” — a reply at Not Philosophy.

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An anonymous philosopher
An anonymous philosopher
7 years ago

To be perfectly frank, I find it a little revolting when a single philosopher smugly and summarily passes negative judgment on the vast majority of mainstream philosophical research (with little or no argument), and then claims that the only topics worth our efforts are…the niche topics he or she just so happens to work on, how convenient!Report

Interested Grad Student
Interested Grad Student
7 years ago

Hear hear!

I’m not at all averse to the idea that it is a perfectly reasonable project for philosophers to help humans make sense of changes in their lives, society, and relations to their environment, including changes due to technology.

I am strongly averse to the idea that this is the *only* project worth engaging in, or that every area of philosophical inquiry somehow risks compromise unless its practitioners stop everything else they’re doing and spend a great deal of time thinking about technological change.

These considerations — and, more generally, “turning points in our history”, even the most radical ones — are simply not relevant to the sizeable part of philosophy that is fundamentally non-anthropocentric in subject matter.

That part of philosophy is not, nor should it be, the only game in town; but it is an important and perfectly respectable enterprise, and those who engage in it have no need to apologize to anyone for refusing to reorient their work around some external conception of what the important questions of the moment are.Report

thitherward (@thitherward)
7 years ago

To be perfectly frank, I find it a little revolting when a single philosopher smugly and summarily passes negative judgment on the vast majority of mainstream philosophical research (with little or no argument), and then claims that the only topics worth our efforts are…the niche topics he or she just so happens to work on, how convenient!

Why would someone work on something they don’t think is important?Report

Who Is It
Who Is It
Reply to  thitherward (@thitherward)
7 years ago

Personal interest and appeal, natural talent, desire for employment, happened to have a few good ideas there, it’s a faddish area that people are talking about, grant money, …all kinds of reasons.Report

An anonymous philosopher
An anonymous philosopher
7 years ago

thitherward:

Both you and Luciano Floridi are making the same mistake of confusing the (usually fairly innocuous) claim that some topic *is* important to work on versus the (usually indefensible) claim that some topic is the *only* important one to work on. Interested Grad Student and I were both ridiculing Floridi’s unjustified jump from the first claim to the second claim.Report

guymax
7 years ago

Regardless of what it would be best to work on, there seems no doubt that a reboot would be a good idea. A return to beginner’s mind is always good for progress.Report