I’m curious about what academic philosophers take to be the point of academic philosophy. Just a little question, that’s all.In a future post, I’m going to ask a version of that question in a poll.
Here, let me clarify some things about the question, and then ask for your help in laying out the possible answers.
First, the clarifications:
- The question is about the point of philosophy as an academic discipline. What kind of thing should we be after?
- By “point of philosophy as an academic discipline”, I mean the point of philosophical research, not, say, the point of teaching courses in philosophy.
- The question is not asking you to provide a sociological analysis of the discipline, or even an account of what you think most other philosophers are in fact up to, or what the discipline as a whole is doing. Rather, it’s asking you what you think is the proper aim of the discipline.
- I understand that some people will say there is no single aim or point to philosophy, that philosophy is supposed to do many things. Fine, but for the purposes of a workable poll, I’m going to be asking: if you had to choose just one, what is either (you pick) the overarching or organizing goal of philosophy, or the most important aim of philosophy, or the thing without which philosophy as an academic discipline wouldn’t make sense, or…?
- I’m not looking for cynical answers, like “to keep up wages in the fast food industry”.
Now let’s turn to the answers.
Below is a list of answers I’m considering for the poll. I know the list doesn’t include all the possible answers, but “include all the possible answers” is typically not a criterion for a good poll.
I’ve aimed to include answers that I’ve read or heard people sincerely offer, to flesh out the answers a little for the purposes of explaining them and distinguishing them from the others while still keeping them short enough for a poll, and to prevent incapacitating overlap among the answers.
If you think I’m missing an answer that should be on such a poll (again, given the practical constraints of a poll) or have suggestions for improving any of the answers, please say so in the comments.
Here are the answer options I’ve come up with so far:
- There are correct and incorrect answers to some big philosophical questions, and ultimately the point of research in academic philosophy is to determine what the correct answers are and why they’re correct.
- There are incorrect answers to some big philosophical questions, and there may be correct ones, too, however, we are unable to identify the correct answers (for whatever reason). We can identify incorrect answers, though, and the point of research in academic philosophy is to determine these incorrect answers and why they’re incorrect.
- Whether or not we can come to conclusively correct or incorrect answers to big philosophical questions, the point of philosophical research is, to the extent possible, to determine what it is rational to believe and why (for example, by determining which sets of beliefs are coherent).
- The point of philosophical research is to provide an organized, extensive, detailed, and informative account of what we do not know (for example, through the creation/discovery/articulation of questions, distinctions, and arguments).
- The aim of philosophical research is “therapeutic”, that is, well-being for either the researchers or others, in terms of self-understanding, or reconciling oneself with the world, or addressing natural human curiosity, etc.
- The aim of philosophical research is ultimately good philosophical teaching; philosophical research is like exercise which maintains or improves some of the skills philosophers need in order to be good teachers (and this is not circular because, we can assume, the main aim of philosophical teaching is not the production of philosophical researchers).
- The aim of philosophical research is cultural preservation. Having philosophy around as a discipline means maintaining a part of the population that keeps alive texts, ideas, skills, traditions which themselves play various important roles in the successful functioning of a culture. (While this may seem most applicable to research in the history of philosophy, it applies to today’s non-historical research, too, which is a sorting mechanism for works of future cultural significance.)
I did not give these answers labels, nor did I name the philosophers who may be associated with them, in part to avoid influencing the choices of those who will end up taking the poll. In setting out options you think I’ve missed, or in fixing up some of my options, I’d ask you to do the same, if it isn’t too much trouble.
Thanks for your help with this.