Philosophy – what?

Philosophy would like to be perceived as broad and deep, in between the sciences and the humanities. In fact, philosophy is mostly regarded either as a particularly useless kind of abstract endeavor, or as something that just about anybody can do, closely related to self-help.

It has to be conceded that none of these perceptions is entirely off the mark. Philosophy certainly is very abstract, and even among philosophers there is a strong suspicion that at least some of the questions pursued might turn out to be pseudo-questions after all. To an extent, philosophy is indeed interested in improving our lives, by investigating what it means to live a good life, for example. What about being in between the sciences and the humanities, though? It seems that here philosophers should realize how different their endeavor is from that of the sciences as well as the humanities.

Philosophy is about justifying practices. This is sometimes obscured by the amount of analysis philosophers do, but in order to justify, you first have to carefully analyze what you are about to justify. Justifying practices does not mean that you always have to justify the current practices of the society you currently live in. Sometimes you might describe an ideal practice that can be justified, and you then recommend implementing that practice. In that way, philosophy can be critical and prescriptive. This prescriptive element is often considered the most annoying aspect of philosophy. After all, who are you to recommend the change of a certain practice? This is a legitimate question: who, indeed, are you, philosopher?


3 Responses to “Philosophy – what?”

  1. lawispresident Says:

    Philosophy does not seem so concerned with justifying actions as much as it is concerned with discovering the ‘right’ actions. The different forms philosophy takes all lead back to what can be considered ‘right’.

  2. madamechauchat Says:

    I don’t know whether I agree that all forms philosophy takes, lead back to what can be considered ‘right’, but I admit that most philosophers would say (or would have said) that what they do is discovering ‘right’ actions.
    In that sense, my point is more one of programmatic suggestion, and not an accurate description of philosophy as-is. The idea is to understand what has (or is) being taken as discovery of ‘the right course of action’ (or ‘the truth’ for other areas of philosophy) as an attempt to recommend a course of action (maybe because for this course of action can in fact be justified by principles the parties at hand already agree with?).

  3. kagurazaka Says:

    I don’t think you can generalize all philosophy this way. There’s a large gap between epistemology and Nietzsche.

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