Curiosity in Philosophy

For those with a more philosophical bend, the New York Times as re-started their philosophy column/blog entitled The Stone.  To kick things off, Justin E.H. Smith asks whether specialization to the exclusion of curiosity is really all that beneficial a trait in philosophers:

This is a project, I believe, that philosophers ought to recognize themselves as having in common with the other human sciences, and most of all with anthropology, as well as with newer disciplines such as cognitive science, which takes the substantial interconnection between philosophy and the study of the natural world as seriously as it was taken in the 17th century. The new “experimental philosophy” movement is also returning to an earlier conception of the inseparability of philosophical reflection and scientific inquiry, though curiously “x-phi” advocates describe themselves as breaking with “traditional” philosophy, rather than as returning to it, which is what in fact they are doing.

But for the most part philosophers prefer to keep their distance from the world, to do philosophy of this or that, and to disavow any interest in reckoning up the actual range of ways in which people, past or present, have explained the world. For some historians of philosophy, this makes things difficult, since we find we cannot live up to the expectation of our colleagues to show the immediate “philosophical” pay-off of our research, by which of course is meant the relevance to the set of issues that happen to interest them.

Read this all the way through.  Smith mentions Leibniz as an excellent example, but alas this is an instance where philosophers and scientists were considered one in the same.  Thomas Jefferson, perhaps, was the last in an instance of great minds where the hard sciences — physics, engineering, and chemistry — were still bound together by the penumbra of the classical tradition and its philosophical perspective on the natural world around us.

Interestingly enough, the kickoff post for The Stone by Simon Critchly touches on the topic that binds the hard sciences to what philosophers do and should try to foster, that being a responsibility to culture:

But philosophy is more than a profession. Philosophy is that living activity of critical reflection where we are invited to analyze the world in which we find ourselves, and to question what passes for common sense or opinion in the particular society in which we live.

This activity is not some optional addendum to a culture, but should form part of that culture’s life. It should be integral to how a culture converses with itself, understands itself, talks to other cultures and seeks to understand them. Philosophy can provide a method for debunking the many myths and ideologies that haunt the present, as well as proposing alternative frameworks for thinking about the concepts we live by.

Philosophy, one might say, is an essential ingredient in the enactment, enrichment and excitement of something like freedom. Through its relentless intellectual inquiry and argumentative rigor, philosophy can perhaps reach the parts of ourselves that other humanistic disciplines cannot reach.

Philosophy as the bedrock of culture?  Most certainly… and most assuredly if those who pursue the “queen of the sciences” keep in mind it’s many, many facets.

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