What Philosophers Are Asking Today (for World Philosophy Day 2017)


“What is the meaning of life?” That’s probably the question that springs to mind when a non-philosopher is asked what philosophers study. And while some philosophers do in fact work on that question, like any single question it does not capture the extraordinary range and diversity of subjects philosophers are thinking and writing about. 

Today is World Philosophy Day. Created by the United Nations in 2002, World Philosophy Day is celebrated annually on the third Thursday of November. Its objectives, according to the UN, are:

  1. to renew the national, subregional, regional and international commitment to philosophy;
  2. to foster philosophical analysis, research and studies on major contemporary issues, so as to respond more effectively to the challenges that are confronting humanity today;
  3. to raise public awareness of the importance of philosophy and its critical use in the choices arising for many societies from the effects of globalization or entry into modernity;
  4. to appraise the state of philosophy teaching throughout the world, with special emphasis on unequal access;
  5. to underline the importance of the universalization of philosophy teaching for future generations.

In recognition of World Philosophy Day, let’s do our part to share with the world what today’s philosophers are up to.

Each day, thousands of philosophy professors and students (and others) visit Daily Nous. It would be wonderful if a good number of you could take a moment to write down, in a comment on this post, one question you are currently working on.*

The result could be an interesting and accessible snapshot of philosophy in 2017.

I’ll do what I can to promote the post widely (it would help if you shared it and encouraged people to post a question they’re working on). Together, we can try to raise awareness of what philosophers are thinking about today, and perhaps catch the attention of those who otherwise might have not realized they are interested in what philosophers are doing.

*Yes, just one each: don’t worry, we won’t think that the question you list is the only thing you’re interested in or currently working on.


Art: Image based on photos of “Question Mark” by Kumi Yamashita

Related: “Why Did You Go Into Philosophy?“, “The Intellectual Achievement of Creating Questions

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Richard E. Hennessey
Richard E. Hennessey
3 years ago

One question, among many, I am working on, and recurrently, is: How does one best introduce students and other non- or not-yet-philosophers to philosophy?Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Richard E. Hennessey
3 years ago

I’m with you REH! Part of my answer: it ain’t historical or topical surveys. . .Report

Richard E. Hennessey
Richard E. Hennessey
Reply to  Alan White
3 years ago

Listing two things you think it ain’t, you’ve whetted my appetite for one or more things you think it might be.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Richard E. Hennessey
3 years ago

I apologize to Justin for weighing in here more than once–and posing part of an answer–
Richard (if I may), we need to design 101 so it better represents how philosophy is actually done, pushing methods and skills over content. Distinguishing deductive from inductive arguments and then traipsing over a smorgasbord of people’s contributions or topic-area issues will only at best superficially represent what philosophy can do–and I’m very mindful that this course is the only philosophy course most students take. I have spent almost 30 years designing a single-topic course that takes students along on a semester-long journey through the free will problem, moving from issues in criminal justice to questions in philosophy of science and metaphysics about how minds work to conceptual management of the entire problem sorting out the logically possible positions to examining the major ones to finally see how they might impact our lives in revising the criminal justice system (thus closing the circle of the problem as a practical one). (I’ve many publications/presentations on this BTW though none recent.)
Again, I’m sorry Justin for betraying the spirit of your OP request. But not only do I feel strongly about this–it’s just a fact that the Intro course has the largest impact of our profession on higher ed in sheer numbers of students we serve This is a BFD for a day like PHI Day.Report

Australian Natural Spring Water
Australian Natural Spring Water
3 years ago

The relationship between moral Judgement and action.

Moral philosophers spend a good deal of time agonising over what it is we ought to be doing. That’s all well and good, but when they come up with answers such as ‘you should do this’ or ‘you ought to do that’ we might want to know what on earth the relationship is between judging that you ought to do something and actually doing it!Report

Krista hyde
3 years ago

How can we judge testimony justly?Report

Alison Reiheld
Alison Reiheld
Reply to  Krista hyde
3 years ago

I am working on an offshoot of this with respect to patient testimony. The more general form of it is extremely important, I agree.Report

Zac Cogley
3 years ago

Whether it makes sense to punish autonomous robots when they commit serious wrongs.Report

Liam Kofi Bright
3 years ago

How should we distribute resources among scientists so as to effectively promote various epistemic goals?Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
3 years ago

To what extent do we have control over our own minds, and how is that possible?Report

Eric Dane Walker
Eric Dane Walker
3 years ago

Questions: Is there anything distinctive about a formal symbolism that makes it apt for doing mathematics? What, if anything, distinguishes a formal symbolism from a written natural language?

My answers: Yes. A formal symbolism can show us things that written natural language can only tell us about.

Question: What things? And what does the difference between showing and telling amount to? And why is showing so much better in this context than telling?

Answer: [insert past and future years of anguished thought]Report

Jeff
Jeff
3 years ago

My current reading has me wondering

Is it better to serve yourself or to serve others?

Happy World Philosophy Day

JeffReport

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 years ago

Is biological memory a natural kind?Report

Alison Reiheld
Alison Reiheld
Reply to  Jonathan
3 years ago

Ooh, interesting!
One of my long-term projects is the ethics of individual and collective memory. Ontological concerns are not unrelated.Report

Jean
Jean
3 years ago

What does it really mean to say a category is socially constructed, and is age socially constructed?Report

Simon Rippon
3 years ago

Are there normative principles of justice that are specific to the European context? If so, what are they?Report

Ian Olasov
3 years ago

What makes something newsworthy?Report

Helen Daly
Helen Daly
3 years ago

What are insults, especially in relation to broader questions of politeness and jokes?Report

Alison Reiheld
Alison Reiheld
3 years ago

What drives health care providers’ dismissal of the testimony of particular kinds of patients about particular kinds of claims? Can epistemology help us to understand this and work with ethics to improve patient care?Report

Sam Clark
3 years ago

What is the good life?Report

David
David
3 years ago

In what circumstances, if any, may an agent justifiably punish a wrongdoer in those cases where the agent has fully forgiven the wrongdoer?Report

Michael Cholbi
Michael Cholbi
3 years ago

Why grieve the dead?Report

Tom Cochrane
3 years ago

What is an emotion?Report

Brian
Brian
3 years ago

Does God, or anything similar, exist?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 years ago

Under what circumstances, and why, are symmetry-related situations empirically indistinguishable?Report

Dylan
Dylan
3 years ago

What is the nature of unconscious information processing, and what does consciousness add to our processing capabilities?Report

Paul Henne
Paul Henne
3 years ago

How should we model omissive causation?Report

jack browne
jack browne
3 years ago

Why are people, in general, more offended by wrongs committed against animals than those committed against other people?Report

Christine Korsgaard
Christine Korsgaard
3 years ago

Why should we be concerned about species endangered of extinction?Report

Christine Korsgaard
Christine Korsgaard
3 years ago

Why should we be concerned about endangered species or their members?Report

John Fischer
John Fischer
3 years ago

Do near-death experiences support “supernaturalism”–the view (in part) that there is an afterlife in a heavenly realm?Report

Samuel Scheffler
Samuel Scheffler
3 years ago

What reasons do we have to care about the fate of future generations?Report

Katja Maria Vogt
3 years ago

What kind of values are knowledge and truth?Report

Bob Mabry
3 years ago

Is there only one structure of valid argument or is there more than one?Report

Alex Braud
Alex Braud
3 years ago

What kind of value is meaningfulness, and how do we experience it’s manifestation? I’m currently searching for an answer in the subjective experience of narrative.Report

Rick
Rick
3 years ago

One question: how should evolutionary theory be used in clinical research and practice?Report

Erica Shumener
3 years ago

What does it mean to say that the laws of nature “govern”?Report

Clement Loo
Clement Loo
3 years ago

How can scholarship be more inclusive in a way that generates more robust results?Report

Ralph Wedgwood
3 years ago

How can we compare the goodness of outcomes involving populations of different sizes?Report

Luis Rosa
Luis Rosa
3 years ago

How should we distinguish between good and bad reasoning?Report

anne jacobson
anne jacobson
3 years ago

Whence the conviction, for those who have it, that brain/neural events can have semantic properties?Report

guy
guy
3 years ago

Is voting hypocritical?Report

Damian Melamedoff
Damian Melamedoff
3 years ago

What does it mean to say that everything happens for a reason?Report

Trevor Hedberg
3 years ago

How does the environmental impact of adding an additional person to the planet affect the morality of procreation, especially for those of us who live in countries with enormous per capita ecological footprints?Report

Timothy Williamson
Timothy Williamson
3 years ago

How far do proposals to revise logic to solve non-mathematical paradoxes (like the Liar and the Heap) have unintended consequences for standard mathematics?Report

Rob Byer
Rob Byer
3 years ago

What are the basic ontological structures required for our current understanding of reality?Report

Jim
Jim
3 years ago

I’m trying to figure out what we’re actually talking about when we discuss the concept of toleration. I want to know what normative requirements the relationship between tolerator and the object of toleration places on each, the political implications of this, and the role that power plays in relationships of toleration, particularly in the context of political decision making and voting.Report

Chris Stephens
Chris Stephens
3 years ago

When and why is it prudent to be rational?Report

Barry Lam
3 years ago

Do property rights entail complete freedom of testation?Report

Gradstudent_ontheway
Gradstudent_ontheway
3 years ago

Do philosophers really talk past each other when they argue about what there is?Report

--bill
--bill
3 years ago

What is the role of practice in mathematical understanding and in mathematical knowledge?Report

David Hyder
3 years ago

What is time?Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
3 years ago

Who is replaceable?Report

Diane Michelfelder
Diane Michelfelder
3 years ago

How can machine learning algorithms promote autonomy rather than causing it to erode?Report

ejrd
ejrd
3 years ago

What new ethical challenges do virtual reality technologies impose on philosophers, psychologists, and the rest of us?Report

Xkapa
Xkapa
3 years ago

Is there a scientifically grounded “moderate” form of fatalism and if there is one – how plausible is it?Report

Preston Werner
Preston Werner
3 years ago

How do we come to know what is right and wrong?Report

Amy Kind
Amy Kind
3 years ago

How can we use imagination to learn about the world in which we live?Report

Simona Aimar
3 years ago

What’s the connection between modality and causation?Report

Simona Aimar
3 years ago

Is restorative justice a preferable notion of justice? Why?Report

Simona Aimar
3 years ago

What’s a disposition?Report

Anzela Niraula
Anzela Niraula
3 years ago

How do we decide whether to hold people accountable for their actions? For example, several people that go on to commit sexual harassment are people that were once victims of maltreatment, abuse etc. To what extent do should we consider the role of prior experiences (or genetic features) when holding people culpable for criminal offenses?Report

Jessie Munton
Jessie Munton
3 years ago

How long is “a” visual experience? Why does this matter?Report

Emma
Emma
3 years ago

What is the relationship between trust and moral obligation?Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
3 years ago

Why is knowledge valuable?Report

Paul Reid-Bowen
3 years ago

What belongs to the class of entities that can flourish in a non-metaphorical sense?Report

Anya Plutynski
3 years ago

Is cancer a matter of “chance,” and if so, in what sense(s)?Report

JM Arnold
JM Arnold
3 years ago

“How can David Hume consistently proclaim the reality of moral distinctions, whilst also denying that moral qualities are a feature of reality?”Report

philosopherofthefuture
philosopherofthefuture
3 years ago

What makes a human a human?Report

Regina Rini
Regina Rini
3 years ago

What would it mean to hold people morally responsible for microaggressions- small, sometimes unintentional acts of harm that nevertheless contribute to systemic oppression?Report

arnold
arnold
3 years ago

…whats up to me…Report

Alnica Visser
Alnica Visser
3 years ago

In what sense, if any, is conceptual change, including theory change, rational?Report

Avram Hiller
Avram Hiller
3 years ago

In what ways are things interconnected?Report

Matt
3 years ago

What is owed to people whose own states cannot or will not meet their basic needs, and how far does what it owed depend on the nature or source of the threat? (That’s a pretty abstract way to put some more specific questions I’m working on.)Report

Travis Timmerman
3 years ago

Are Epicureans and deprivationists involved in a merely verbal dispute about the badness of death?Report

Gary Bartlett
3 years ago

Are children routinely subjected to epistemic injustice (i.e. having the things they say prejudicially disbelieved, discredited, ignored, or generally not taken seriously)?Report

Nick Jones
Nick Jones
3 years ago

What does it mean/how does it help to conceptualize race as a technology?Report

Bernhard
3 years ago

How do social structures like ideology influence the meaning of what we say?Report

Elliot Carter
Elliot Carter
3 years ago

How is it that perception presents things as present and memory presents things as past?Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
3 years ago

I’m tempted to say “War, huh, yeah. What is it good for?”

But actually I’m asking to what extent, if any, war is related to chimpanzee inter-group raiding?Report

Adam Elga
3 years ago

How can we apply decision theory to agents who fail to be logically omniscient?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Adam Elga
3 years ago

If they’re not logically omniscient, that’s their problem. Stop making excuses for them, I say.Report

Hüseyin Güngör
3 years ago

To what extent is it possible to formally model natural language phenomena?Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
3 years ago

Why is consciousness essential for free will, if it is?Report

Nico Dario Müller
3 years ago

Can Kantians account for the moral standing of animals?Report

Simon Caney
3 years ago

What may those who are denied what they are entitled to as a matter of global justice (those who suffer the harms of deprivation, unjust trade regimes, unfair immigration policies and global environmental degradation) do to resist this injustice?

What do we owe future generations? And, what morally permissible options do we have for designing democratic decision-making to induce governments to honour their responsibilities to future generations?

[For the future: What are the normative implications of the automation of work? For example, what implications does it have for the distribution of work, leisure, the case for a basic income, and the ownership of resources?]Report

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke
Teresa Blankmeyer Burke
3 years ago

What does an argument look like in American Sign Language?Report

Justin Vlasits
Justin Vlasits
3 years ago

How should someone inquire into the essences of things?Report

Crispin Wright
Crispin Wright
3 years ago

What if any compelling reason there may be for setting a constraint of proof-theoretic harmony on systems of logic.Report

Robert Gressis
Robert Gressis
3 years ago

How do I know that someone is better than I am at philosophy?Report

Jerry Dworkin
Jerry Dworkin
3 years ago

When is free speech too costly?Report

Eric Schliesser
Eric Schliesser
3 years ago

What’s wrong with the mathematical assumptions that economists use to model uncertainty/ignorance, and how did it get this way?Report

Kian Mintz-Woo
3 years ago

How do experts fit into our climate–and other major social–policy evaluations?Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
3 years ago

Does a citizenry implicitly and perpetually ratify laws over time, and if so, how does this affect the interpretation conditions of those laws?Report

Alexus McLeod
3 years ago

On this World Philosophy Day, is it too much to ask that we start caring a bit more about World Philosophy?Report

Aaron Segal
Aaron Segal
3 years ago

What’s the relationship between the value of a practice and its ability to serve as a source of reasons for those who engage in it?Report

Sean Aas
3 years ago

Why do we have rights in our bodies, and their parts?Report

Kelby Peeler
Kelby Peeler
3 years ago

The relationship between what reasons we have or think we have and action/motivation. This is not to be confused with the relationship between moral judgement and action, but is related to it insofar as we expect moral judgements to imply reasons not to do something.Report

Alex Guerrero
3 years ago

Should we select our political representatives by lotteries, rather than elections?Report

Dillon Euell Pape
Dillon Euell Pape
Reply to  Alex Guerrero
3 years ago

I knew someone who proposed this and used the backlash to the idea to respond with the question, “So you’re saying that our educational institutions aren’t creating a sufficient upbringing to prepare our children to become leaders in our society?”Report

Dillon Euell Pape
Dillon Euell Pape
3 years ago

In what sense, if any, can philosophy be considered constitutive of humanity, such that every person can be considered a philosopher? But then how do we distinguish, if at all, this from “real” philosophers, those who truly live an examined life (not necessarily just formal students or teachers of philosophy)?Report

Trevor Pearce
3 years ago

What did the conversation between biology and philosophy look like in late-nineteenth-century America?Report

Andrew Lavin
Andrew Lavin
3 years ago

What are we up to when we judge that something is normal?Report

Andrew Sepielli
3 years ago

Does ethics require a foundation?Report

Jordan Dodd
Jordan Dodd
3 years ago

This thread is wonderful 🙂 Thanks for being inspiring, philosophers!Report

Chike Jeffers
Chike Jeffers
3 years ago

What role ought commitments to cultural preservation play in resistance by black people to anti-black oppression?Report

Shirzad Peik
3 years ago

What are the liberty-limiting/coercion-legitimizing principles as the moral limits of the criminal law? Is harm principle enough? What about offense principle or soft paternalism?
Can we exclude subjective harms from harm principle?Report

Holly Lawford-Smith
3 years ago

When (if ever) may we punish collectives? Should we punish them in the same way as individuals, and may we punish them if that will mean punishing their individual members?Report

George Gale
George Gale
3 years ago

Why are aesthetic concepts–elegance, beauty, symmetry, Leibniz’ principle of the optimum, etc–effective at all in physics (which they are), and in general, understanding the natural world?Report

Dean
Dean
3 years ago

Could an agent (e,g., God) be perfectly good and perfectly rational while confronted with a choice among options, each of which can be improved upon (e.g., an infinite number of better and better possible worlds to choose from)?Report

Matthew Jernberg
Matthew Jernberg
3 years ago

What is bad for you about death, if anything?Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
3 years ago

How does one become a thinking thing? How does someone learn to think for themselves? (Flip side of the question: How do you teach someone to think for themselves?)Report

M
M
3 years ago

How can you accept that a semantic theory for a natural language is at least a theory of truth-conditions, yet not accept that such a theory has authority when it comes to the metaphysical commitments of the speakers of the language (i.e. us)?Report

Holger Leuz
Holger Leuz
3 years ago

What are the meanings, or perhaps Fregean senses, of mathematical sentences?Report

Bruce Le Catt
Bruce Le Catt
3 years ago

Is there a way to codify when theories/principles in the sciences are useful even when they are not necc. descriptively accurate?Report

Daniel tippens
3 years ago

Do all actions have a moral status (supererogatory, obligatory, permissible, impermissible, etc.), or are some actions devoid of any moral valence whatsoever?

Inter generational ethics: what obligations to older generations have to currently existing younger generations, and vice versa (this issue I think will become increasingly relevant as life span increases)?Report

Jonathon
Jonathon
3 years ago

What is arbitrariness? What do we mean when we say that something is arbitrary? Do answers to these questions help us approach philosophical problems related to arbitrariness?Report

Nick Hughes
3 years ago

Are there epistemic dilemmas?Report

David Curtis Glebe, J.D., Ph.D.
David Curtis Glebe, J.D., Ph.D.
3 years ago

Why is it that many “professional” philosophers — who surely must have realized after their considerable years of study and training (i) that foundationalism is misguided (viz., “it’s turtles all the way down !!!”), (ii) that essentialism is misguided (viz., we can supposedly “discover” the underlying “reality” or “truth” of concepts like “justice” or “knowledge,” rather than inventing conceptual systems and testing them by their consequences), and (iii) that intuitionism is misguided (viz., routinely appealing for justification purposes to what “seems” to be the case, or what “seems likely,” or what is “apparently” the case, etc.) — still persist in formulating philosophical issues and questions (e.g., see responses above) using foundationalist, essentialist, and intuitionist approaches?Report