Category: Value of Philosophy

Cleese, Confusion, and the Toolbox Project

As Daily Nous and Open Culture both reported, the great John Cleese (of Monty Python and Faulty Towers fame, and so much more) recently recorded a series of public service announcements proclaiming the value of philosophy.

Daily Nous also included this video of Cleese acting as a philosopher in terrific bit of comedy. While funny in its own right, the clip brought to mind one other way that philosophy can be of value. And it’s something we do at the Toolbox Project. But first,  watch the video:

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Research Institute for Humanity and Nature

RIHN-posterMichael O’Rourke and I just returned from Kyoto, Japan, where we spoke and conducted Toolbox workshops with the environmental researchers at the national Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN).

On the first day, we spoke on problems of communication and collaboration in cross-disciplinary research. As a way of introducing the problem, I compared inter- and transdisciplinary research (collectively cross-disciplinary research, CDR) to the game Double Cranko, which comes from an old episode of M*A*S*H. The game is a cross between chess, checker, poker, and gin (both the drink and the rummy).RIHN2There are no rules; players make them up as they go along. The problem for CDR is much worse. Imagine 2 scientists from different disciplines working on a research project and 2 non-research stakeholders in that project (say one from government and another from business). Each knows one game only, and all the rules, terms, and objectives of that game. In collaborating on this project, they have to develop a way to integrate 4 different games (chess, checker, poker, and gin) into one game. But they don’t even speak the same game language. A point we emphasized over the two days with the RIHN researchers is the need for a co-creation of meaning of ambiguous terms or concepts for effective collaboration.

In the morning workshop of the first day, we facilitated dialogues among the researchers to begin that process of co-creation of meaning. They had to negotiate various ambiguous terms that we gave them in a set of prompts. In the afternoon session, the researchers broke into their research teams to produce a concept map of their projects from which to find project-specific ambiguous terms or concepts that will have to be negotiated with their projects’ non-research stakeholders.

[cross-posted at toolbox-project.org]

Philosophy in the Doldrums? Hardly

Brian Leiter recently shared this excerpt from Harry Frankfurt’s contribution to Portraits of American Philosophy:

Harry FrankfurtI believe that there is, at least in this country, a more or less general agreement among philosophers and other scholars that our subject is currently in the doldrums. Until not very long ago, there were powerful creative impulses moving energetically through the field. There was the work in England of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell and of Gilbert Ryle, Paul Grice, and Herbert Hart, as well as the work of various logicial positivsts.  In the United States, even after interest in William James and John Dewey had receded, there was lively attention to contributions by Willard Quine and Donald Davidson, John Rawls and Saul Kripke. In addition, some philosophers were powerfully moved by the gigantic speculative edifice of Whitehead. Heidegger was having a massive impact on European philosophy, as well as on other disciplines–and not only in Europe, but here as well. And, of course, there was everywhere a vigorously appreciative and productive response to the work of Wittgenstein.

The lively impact of these impressive figures has faded.  We are no longer busily preoccupied with responding to them. Except for a few contributors of somewhat less general scope, such as Habermas, no one has replaced the imposingly great figures of the recent past in providing  us with contagiously inspiring direction. Nowadays, there are really no conspicuously fresh, bold, and intellectually exciting new challenges or innovations. For the most part, the field is quiet.  We seem, more or less, to be marking time.  (pp. 125-126)

With respect, I think Frankfurt couldn’t be more wrong. Philosophy is hardly in the doldrums. This comment both misrepresents the contemporary status of our discipline and typifies an antiquated notion of what constitutes non-doldrum, energetic, thriving, and creative philosophy.

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Moving to Michigan State

I am happy to announce that this fall I will be joining the faculty at Michigan StateMichigan State University as a post-doctoral Research Fellow. I will be joining the NSF-funded Toolbox Project under Michael O’Rourke.
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Value of Philosophy in the News

We’ve been saying for some time now, but it is nice to see those outside Philosophy (or academia even) recognize the value of philosophy. Huffington Post just ran a piece on “The Unexpected Way Philosophy Majors Are Changing The World Of Business.” deptMuch of the news isn’t new. (Damon Horowitz, a PhD in philosophy, has been Google’s in-house philosopher for some time, for instance.) But the piece is a nice summary of many of the virtues of a philosophical educaiton. It can and readily should be shared with skeptical students (and family, if anyone still has some asking why you did get/are getting a philosophy degree).

For anyone interested, you can read my own three-part series on the case for philosophy.

Making the Case for Philosophy: Part 3 – Tweaking the Curriculum

In this series, I’ve been discussing how we can better make the case for philosophy in order to increase enrollment in philosophy courses and the number of majors. So far, the focus has been on how better to market philosophy and what the benefits of philosophy actually are. For the final entry in the series, I’d like to propose that we consider modifying the nature of the courses we offer to undergraduates to increase interest.  Continue reading

Making the Case for Philosophy: Part 2 – The Benefits of Philosophy

Of late, there has been a significant uptick in the attention people are paying to the decline of the humanities. (See the recent NY Times article summarizing much of what has already been reported elsewhere.) There are fewer and fewer students interested in majoring in the humanities, including philosophy. There are, justifiably, many who are worrying about who or what are to blame. Perhaps the Great Recession scarred many incoming students (and their parents) into the false belief that the humanities aren’t marketable and will lead to financial ruin. Lee McIntyre presents a compelling argument that, at least for philosophers, it our own fault. While there are likely to be a host of causes for the decline of the humanities in general and philosophy specifically (and not necessarily all of them bad), one of the biggest problems, I believe, is that for too long we haven’t done a very good job articulating the benefits of a philosophical education. If we’re to have any hope of improving our position in the modern academy (and ensure the continued existence of philosophy programs), we’d better fix this mistake and fast. Joblessness is no long just for philosophy majors. Useful people are starting to feel the pinch.

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Making the Case for Philosophy: Series Preview

(Originally published Oct 25, 2012)

My earlier post on Philosophy majors GRE scores has gotten me thinking.  We need to do a better job of selling our product, i.e., an education in philosophy.  That may be a crass way of putting it, but hopefully helpful.  While the climate for philosophy certainly varies from one university to the next, the general trend nationwide has been troubling.

So I’ve been thinking about how to change things.  What can we do as philosophy departments to attract more major, as well to make the case to skeptical administrators or bureaucrats to keep and support philosophy departments.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll have a series of posts on this topic.  (Today is just the preview.)  Here are the three topics I’ll be discussing in the upcoming posts:

  1. Marketing – How can we better market the great stuff we do already and how to attract more students?
  2. Benefits of philosophy – What new arguments can we come up with to explain and emphasize the advantages that come with studying philosophy?
  3. Tweaking the curriculum – How could we adjust the courses we teach to attract more students?

Challenging a Supposed Benefit of Being a Philosophy Major

(Originally published Sep 17, 2012)

At the risk of committing philosophical heresy, I want to challenge a popular argument for the relevancy of being a philosophy major. Recently, there was another presentation of the fact that philosophy majors have the highest scores on the Verbal and Analytic Writing sections of the GRE, which is supposed to demonstrate the relevance of philosophy majors (and so departments).  (Brian Leiter also picked this up and has linked to similar findings about the LSATs as well.) Unfortunately, there are two fundamental flaws with this argument. Continue reading

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