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Philosophy And The Two-Sided Brain by Carol Nicholson

In books, humanities, philosophy, science on October 29, 2012 at 22:15

From: Philosophy And The Two-Sided Brain by Carol Nicholson, Philosophy Now, philosophynow.org

In two New York Times columns, ‘Does Philosophy Matter?’ (1 August 2011) and a week later ‘Does Philosophy Matter? (Part Two)’, Stanley Fish argued that philosophy does not matter to people’s everyday lives. He claimed that most people don’t have philosophical convictions, and for those who do have them, it is what he calls ‘the theory mistake’ to think that their philosophical views have any effect on the way they act outside of the classroom. He writes, “Philosophy is fun; it can be a good mental workout; its formulations sometimes display an aesthetically pleasing elegance. I’m just denying… that its conclusions dictate or generate non-philosophical behavior.” Hundreds of readers posted comments in disagreement with Fish, pointing out examples of ways in which philosophy has influenced the course of history and continues to make a difference to people’s ways of life.

It seems to me that there is truth on both sides of the argument. This is possible because Fish and his critics are operating with different definitions of philosophy. Fish is using a very narrow definition, according to which the function of philosophy is exclusively the analysis of abstract issues, such as whether there are absolute moral truths. In this thinking, the discipline of philosophy is not related to religion, ethics, politics, science, history, literature, art, or any other aspect of human experience. This severely limited view of the role of philosophy was dominant in English-speaking countries during the latter half of the twentieth century, but few philosophers today hold such an extreme position. The medieval view that philosophy is ‘the Queen of the Sciences’ is no longer widely held, but most philosophers think that studying their discipline can make a difference to one’s life outside the seminar room, although they may disagree about exactly what kind of difference. Many would argue against Fish that even if philosophy cannot give access to truths that are somehow more ultimate than scientific or historical facts, it can offer self-knowledge about the most basic assumptions and values that govern our thinking and action, and a clearer understanding of what we are doing that can help us to do it better. This links with a tradition going back to the ancient Greeks and which gives philosophy its name, meaning ‘the love of wisdom’. It’s Plato’s phrase, and he meant by it curiosity about all aspects of knowledge and experience. According to this more expansive definition, philosophy aims to understand ultimate truths about the universe and human nature (metaphysics), the extent and limits of knowledge (epistemology), and the principles that can give guidance in how to live a good life (ethics).

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

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