“There is something philistine in his demand that philosophy always answer to practical needs.”
There’s some appeal to that, but Setiya is concerned that emphasizing the potential practicality of philosophy distracts us from how philosophy is valuable in itself. Here’s an excerpt:
My principal objection to Kitcher’s critique, though, isn’t that he is wrong about the history or sociology of the discipline, but that there is something philistine in his demand that philosophy always answer to practical needs. Kitcher is inspired here by the pragmatist John Dewey, whom he calls ‘the most important philosopher of the 20th century’. (I suspect that Kitcher’s nostalgia for philosophers as public intellectuals is largely for Dewey himself, a singular figure in the history of American philosophy.) Dewey ‘claimed that intellectual work should conform to a social division of labour, in which the inquiries conducted should serve others outside the tiny coterie of those who undertake them’. To the charge of philistinism, Dewey and Kitcher would reply that philosophy, for them, involves more than applied ethics and contributions to active science, valuable as those are. They want a synthetic philosophy that provides ‘world-formulas’ – questions, concepts, analogies, ideals – that help us take a wider view of human life…
[I]t seems to me that the value of music doesn’t lie in its power to satisfy non-musical needs: it is valuable in itself. And the same is true of pure philosophy. It satisfies a need, but that need is philosophical and issues from a curiosity about fundamental questions that the natural and social sciences cannot answer. Pure philosophy isn’t for everyone, but neither is Philip Glass… It’s a mistake to demand that music be of use to those who are indifferent to it.
It’s difficult to argue that something is valuable in itself. But I’m not alone in finding the questions of pure philosophy both maddening and mesmerising. Against Kitcher’s plea for an end to pure philosophy, I would cite Dewey’s fellow pragmatist, C.S. Peirce, who made a rule ‘to be inscribed on every wall of the city of philosophy: do not block the way of inquiry.’
Read the full review here.