Maybe it started with Thales falling into a well, helped along by the trope of the absent-minded professor, and reinforced by, say, the difficulty of the “prof or hobo” quiz, but there is the general impression that philosophy is impractical. Yet, philosophy professors are often keen to emphasize the practical value of the philosophical skill set in navigating the world: logical reasoning, critical thinking, creativity and imagination, the ability to countenance alternatives and make needed distinctions, etc.
“Well,” the world might ask, “if philosophy is so practical, what has it done for us lately?” And so, a new blog idea–Philososplainin’–was born: take an issue that is being widely discussed by the populace at large and see whether philosophers can step in to help make progress on it. We’ll see if this goes anywhere.
Our topic for Philososplainin’ #1 is reclining airplane seats. Apparently, they are a problem. Most seats in commercial airplanes recline (except, on some models, the ones in the very back row). Reclining the seat can be more comfortable for the person in the seat, but invariably invades the space of the person seated behind, giving him or her less leg room and sometimes making the tray table difficult to use (especially with a computer). What should be done? Should passengers try to work out an agreeable arrangement as they take their seats? Should a new social convention of not reclining be adopted? Should passengers go rogue and buy the “knee defender“? Ought we do away with reclining seats altogether? Have reclining and non-reclining sections? I don’t know, people. But perhaps, together, we philosophers can figure it out. And save the world. From this problem. “Problem.”