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Hi, I graduated from college a few years ago and have since developed an

Hi, I graduated from college a few years ago and have since developed an extremely strong interest in Philosophy. Although I have read a considerable amount of Philosophy on my own, as an undergrad I studied History, Literature and Spanish but not any Philosophy (aside from certain concepts that were relevant to my other studies). I was wondering what I could do to have a chance to get into a quality PhD program in Philosophy. I went to a very well regarded school and my grades were excellent, but I don't have the Philosophy coursework (or recommendations from Philosophy professors). Thank you in advance for any advice.

One obvious way of getting into a really good philosophy PhD program is to do a master's first. The following website provides some good initial advice: www.philosophicalgourmet.com/maprog.asp

People often complain that, generally, philosophical writings are too difficult

People often complain that, generally, philosophical writings are too difficult to read. Taking this seriously, do you think one could say that it is in some respects immoral for a philosopher to -perhaps unthinkingly!- cast her thoughts in such a way as to make them difficult to apprehend? (Excluding very specialized philosophy, that is- where apparent abstruseness is simply a consequence of complexity. ie. surely all philosophy is not simply beyond the ordinary citizen.) I ask this because I enjoy reading philosophy but sometimes find that if the writer where more patient and deliberate with his/her presentation and structuring I wouldn't take so wretchedly long to understand the ideas. So...do you learned men and woman think that you have a duty to write concisely, laying out your thoughts as accessibly, systematically and neatly as possible? (In a gentle voice:It is after all tax payers money you're spending, and as readers we have finite time and much to do!) Kindly.

Do we have a duty to write concisely and as accessibly, systematically and neatly as possible? It would take a very long time to bring a philosophical essay to the highest feasible level of accessibility -- perhaps a lifetime. Had I subjected myself to this standard in earlier years, I would be long out of the profession by now. And were I to subject myself to this standard henceforth, most of my contributions would arrive years after interest in some issue has faded. Obviously, we have to make a trade-off here. We want to get things published in real time -- presumably also a goal that the taxpayers funding a system of higher education want to see achieved. But we certainly should be willing to accept some reduction in our publication rate for the sake of making these publications more accessible.

How these two desiderata are to be traded off depends a bit on the case. Some philosophical work is read pretty much only by philosophers -- but in some cases this is, you might rightly point out, a consequence of inaccessibility and thus not a good excuse for it. It's really wonderful sometimes to see a gifted writer who can make an esoteric subject matter accessible and even exciting for people outside professional philosophy. But many philosophers, and even excellent philosophers, lack this gift and could achieve wide accessibility only at the cost of producing much less. Isn't it better, then, that they write mainly for philosophers and hope for someone else who will communicate their thoughts in a way that's more accessible to the general public?

So this is then my proposed compromise. As a profession, we do indeed have a duty to communicate our work clearly and accessibly to the general public. We should all be mindful of this duty -- for example by not being dismissive of, or easily dismissing from their jobs, "popularizers" who manage to convey the essence of a philosophical question or debate beyond the confines of the discipline. But not every one of us needs to meet this standard in all her or his writings. Many need not ever meet it if they are reasonably confident that their contributions are or will be clearly reflected in the communications of others. Given the current state of the profession, this compromise would move us some way in your direction. But it would stop short of a world in which every philosophical piece of writing is as clear and accessible to the general public as its writer can possibly make it.

I hope very much, of course, that you will find enough interesting and sufficiently accessible work to keep reading philosophy. Readers like you will keep us motivated to try harder for accessibility.

Do we have a duty to write concisely and as accessibly, systematically and neatly as possible? It would take a very long time to bring a philosophical essay to the highest feasible level of accessibility -- perhaps a lifetime. Had I subjected myself to this standard in earlier years, I would be long out of the profession by now. And were I to subject myself to this standard henceforth, most of my contributions would arrive years after interest in some issue has faded. Obviously, we have to make a trade-off here. We want to get things published in real time -- presumably also a goal that the taxpayers funding a system of higher education want to see achieved. But we certainly should be willing to accept some reduction in our publication rate for the sake of making these publications more accessible. How these two desiderata are to be traded off depends a bit on the case. Some philosophical work is read pretty much only by philosophers -- but in some cases this is, you might rightly point out, a ...

Hello philosophers,

Hello philosophers, I have a question concerning songs. I often listen rappers songs and sometimes I find verses within songs which I suppose are kind of philosophical ones. And I would like to ask you if I could use these verses in my essays as an argument to justify a proposition? I consider that these verses are type of micro philosophy. Yet my teacher can suppose that such an argument is inappropriate or invalid. Moreover, a teacher may perceive that rapper is not an influent figure. But I proclaim that he is a person who creates art. A song is a genre of lyrics like poetry. As a result, I notice a close connection between songs and poetry. People create poetry when they do a lot of thinking. Rappers create songs when they think too. They write their verses on the paper or they think before going to record a song. And it is a big similarity of poetry. Just in a different style. In conclusion, rapper song verses could be a valid argument to justify a proposition in my essays? Or it is not a suitable...

In a philosophy paper, you are responsible for your conclusions. The quality of your paper depends on how well you can back up what you conclude. In many cases, you can back up a conclusion by citing someone else's work. But in order for that other work to support your conclusions, what it says must itself have some support and credibility. Thus, for example, if you cite a major work of Kant interpretation, which is widely acknowledged by Kant scholars to be very good, in support of your reading of a certain passage in Kant, then this would certainly support your reading. But if you support your reading by stating that your roommate agrees with it, you haven't given much support to it at all. To be sure, your roommate's opinion may be based on sound interpretation. But this basis needs to be added to your cite for it to gain the kind of credibility that the interpretation of the above author on Kant derives from her demonstrated mastery of the whole text.

What matters here, by the way, is not whether that author or your roommate are influential. What matters is whether their views are credible, that is, can be well supported. Your own conclusions can derive support from such views only insofar as you can establish their credibility.

Putting aside whether the rapper is famous or obscure, we need to ask whether his or her lyrics express something that could be backed up. We don't really know how much thought s/he has put into the lyrics and, in any case, even thoughtful people make mistakes or say and sing things they don't really believe. By citing some verses in support of your conclusion, you are putting the text you cite forward as credible. This means you are taking responsibility for the possibility of backing it up. So you should not cite verses in support of your conclusion unless you could explain and defend the content of these verses -- if not in your paper itself, then at least in conversation.

In a philosophy paper, you are responsible for your conclusions. The quality of your paper depends on how well you can back up what you conclude. In many cases, you can back up a conclusion by citing someone else's work. But in order for that other work to support your conclusions, what it says must itself have some support and credibility. Thus, for example, if you cite a major work of Kant interpretation, which is widely acknowledged by Kant scholars to be very good, in support of your reading of a certain passage in Kant, then this would certainly support your reading. But if you support your reading by stating that your roommate agrees with it, you haven't given much support to it at all. To be sure, your roommate's opinion may be based on sound interpretation. But this basis needs to be added to your cite for it to gain the kind of credibility that the interpretation of the above author on Kant derives from her demonstrated mastery of the whole text. What matters here, by the way, is not whether...

Are there any academic papers that you would recommend to a student of

Are there any academic papers that you would recommend to a student of philosophy, regardless of subject area being studied, as valuable foundational reading?

Yes, there are seminal works of philosophy that are of historical and systematic interest for the understanding they convey of what philosophy is. Here I would mention at least a dozen historical works before any more recent academic papers - works by the usual suspects: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, Frege, and Wittgenstein. With regard to academic papers - by which I take you to mean shorter works published in the last 60 years or so - there is no settled canon. Still, it is pretty clear who have been the leading philosophers of this period; and pretty clear also, in most cases, what their most important essays were. It would be difficult to understand the current state of Anglophone philosophy without having read at least a good smattering of the following: W.V.O. Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" and "Epistemology Naturalized", Donald Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme", Philippa Foot's "The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect", Robert Nozick's "Coercion", Derek Parfit's "Personal Identity" and "Equality or Priority", Tom Nagel's "What is it Like to be a Bat?", Bernard Williams' "Moral Luck", Ronald Dworkin's "Taking Rights Seriously", Peter Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" and a few other seminal works by Elizabeth Anscombe, Ruth Marcus, Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, David Lewis, Thomas Kuhns, John Rawls, John McDowell, Jerry Fodor, Patricia Churchland, Dan Dennett, and part-timers Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen.

Yes, there are seminal works of philosophy that are of historical and systematic interest for the understanding they convey of what philosophy is. Here I would mention at least a dozen historical works before any more recent academic papers - works by the usual suspects: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, Frege, and Wittgenstein. With regard to academic papers - by which I take you to mean shorter works published in the last 60 years or so - there is no settled canon. Still, it is pretty clear who have been the leading philosophers of this period; and pretty clear also, in most cases, what their most important essays were. It would be difficult to understand the current state of Anglophone philosophy without having read at least a good smattering of the following: W.V.O. Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" and "Epistemology Naturalized", Donald Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme", Philippa Foot's "The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine...

In response to a recent question about philosophy (http://www.askphilosophers

In response to a recent question about philosophy (http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/3529/), Oliver Leaman made the claim that, "there are no facts in philosophy." Briefly reviewing the definition of "fact" I see "something that actually exists; reality; truth." Can it really be that there is no truth in philosophy? It seems like the respondent has made an assumption that it very broad, fundamental, and contestable.

I think you are over-reading Oliver Leaman's point. He was contrasting philosophers to historians, pointing out that the latter can rely on a wealth of facts while the former cannot. So I believe he was referring to empirical facts ascertainable by observation, such as facts about bullets and bodies found underground beneath a Civil War battlefield. Such empirical facts constrain disagreement among historians (preventing historians from arguing that the battle was fought with swords and spears, for example). No such empirical facts constrain disagreements among philosophers - or so Leaman may plausibly be taken to have opined.

This claim is less sweeping and fully compatible with your suggestions that there are truths in philosophy. This suggestion seems right to me. Some philosophical arguments are sound, others unsound. Some philosophical positions are coherent, others incoherent. Some philosophical objections are decisive, others fail. It would be quite natural to say that such truths express facts: the fact that philosophical argument X is sound, the fact that philosophical position Y is incoherent, the fact that philosophical objection Z is decisive. But these were just not the kind of facts Leaman had in mind.

Is Leaman right to claim that there are no narrowly empirical facts in philosophy? I find even this more limited claim highly doubtful. It has been disputed in many areas of philosophy. An excellent example is W.V.O. Quine's seminal account of epistemology as continuous with empirical inquiries about mental processes like thought and perception - "epistemology naturalized." Quine's account has been influential also in the philosophy of science. Another example is ordinary language philosophy, which centrally draws on facts about ordinary language. Relatedly, Wittgenstein's later work depicts philosophical problems as arising from problematic uses of language and seeks to resolve such problems by paying close attention to how we actually use crucial words and expressions in our "language games." Further, in moral philosophy there is Rawls's view that principles of justice are formulated on the presupposition of, and in this sense depend upon, certain empirical facts - such as the "circumstances of justice" and various facts about human beings and their dispositions. To be sure, all these views have had their critics. For example, I have been involved in an exciting debate with the late Jerry Cohen who felt obliged to "rescue justice" from Rawls's understanding of it as fact-dependent. So I would not want to claim that there is as yet a settled agreement in any area of philosophy that empirical facts play a fundamental role there (as opposed to a role confined to the mere application of fact-independent philosophical methods and principles). But if empirical facts play such a fundamental role in just one area of philosophy, then Leaman's casual claim is incorrect.

I think you are over-reading Oliver Leaman's point. He was contrasting philosophers to historians, pointing out that the latter can rely on a wealth of facts while the former cannot. So I believe he was referring to empirical facts ascertainable by observation, such as facts about bullets and bodies found underground beneath a Civil War battlefield. Such empirical facts constrain disagreement among historians (preventing historians from arguing that the battle was fought with swords and spears, for example). No such empirical facts constrain disagreements among philosophers - or so Leaman may plausibly be taken to have opined. This claim is less sweeping and fully compatible with your suggestions that there are truths in philosophy. This suggestion seems right to me. Some philosophical arguments are sound, others unsound. Some philosophical positions are coherent, others incoherent. Some philosophical objections are decisive, others fail. It would be quite natural to say that such truths express...

I would like to encourage my grandchildren (ten of them, ages 5 to 17) to think

I would like to encourage my grandchildren (ten of them, ages 5 to 17) to think about and discuss ideas. I started to compose an email (they are located in the U.S. Canada and Sweden) on the importance of the question "Why?". Among other things, I wanted them to be able to challenge, in a constructive way, the "wisdom" of their peers. I found that it was hard to do this in a way that would compel them to even think about my email! I also would like them to learn the value and the discipline of thinking, generally. Do you have suggestions (including literature) that would help in getting children to think and talk about ideas? I have found that this is very difficult - either because they find the process too much work or they don't want to embarrass themselves (or?). Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

How about sending them Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World ? It's been very popular and very effective in the sense you intend.

What use are philosophers to Modern Society? I mean, in the eyes of modern

What use are philosophers to Modern Society? I mean, in the eyes of modern society, the objective in life is to earn a living, and how best to earn it. But we can't seem to put to use knowledge like "Whether absolute truth exist". So is there more to it, or are we mere entertainers to satisfy human inquiries that could just be disregarded and forgotten later on?

Well, if THE objective in life really is to make money without too much effort, then indeed there isn't much use for philosophical inquiries -- there are better ways of earning money than by being a philosopher.

But is earning a living in the best way really the (one and only) objective in life? I think most people would say that there are other important objectives as well: love, religion, friendship, music, sports, and so on -- but of course people have different views about what matters and how much. So here philosophy comes in, helping us to think clearly and wisely about what matters in life. Perhaps earning an easy living is really the best way to live. But wouldn't you want to think about this, and the alternatives, a bit before you commit yourself to such a life?

Well, if THE objective in life really is to make money without too much effort, then indeed there isn't much use for philosophical inquiries -- there are better ways of earning money than by being a philosopher. But is earning a living in the best way really the (one and only) objective in life? I think most people would say that there are other important objectives as well: love, religion, friendship, music, sports, and so on -- but of course people have different views about what matters and how much. So here philosophy comes in, helping us to think clearly and wisely about what matters in life. Perhaps earning an easy living is really the best way to live. But wouldn't you want to think about this, and the alternatives, a bit before you commit yourself to such a life?

a nice easy question: I love philosophy and consider it one of the most

a nice easy question: I love philosophy and consider it one of the most important of humanities interests, but is there a career path I could follow?

Sure, you can become a teacher of philosophy -- most plausibly in a college or university (with a PhD), or perhaps also in a highschool (with a MA). There's not much else, though, for professional philosophers. But then you can also choose another career and keep up with some of what philosophers do as a hobby....

Sure, you can become a teacher of philosophy -- most plausibly in a college or university (with a PhD), or perhaps also in a highschool (with a MA). There's not much else, though, for professional philosophers. But then you can also choose another career and keep up with some of what philosophers do as a hobby....

I am a Chinese undergraduate girl living in China and planning to have further

I am a Chinese undergraduate girl living in China and planning to have further study abroad. For preparation, these days I try to know ABC about Western philosophy, but I find it hard to start. Considering my major is in the field of engineering, I am not sure whether or not Western philosophy will play an important role in my future life in the US or Europe. Could you tell me how much Plato's or Socrates' thoughts have influenced Western people's way of thinking, and how the philosophers' thoughts have exerted an significant influence on various aspects of Western people's life? Could you please enlighten me what should I prepare pertaining to philosophy before going abroad? Thank you ever so much. =)

There is a great influence, of course. But it is subtle and impossible to understand simply by reading ancient philosophers. It makes more sense for you to prepare yourself by reading contemporary works that give you a sense of how citizens in the affluent Western countries think about themselves, their relations to the rest of the world, their history, and the world's future. These contemporary works will be more accessible to you, because you understand much better the context in which they were written than you can hope to understand the context in which Plato wrote. And you can still, in a few years, do some study of the ancients if you are so inclined. For now, I would try to find a textbook collection of contemporary essays on ethics or political philosophy, and then learn about the debates we have here about affirmative action, the environment, equality for women, war, poverty, trade, and so on. (By the way, I would give analogous advice to a young Western student departing for a year in China. She should read up on some of the current debates in China and leave the great Chinese classics for later.)

There is a great influence, of course. But it is subtle and impossible to understand simply by reading ancient philosophers. It makes more sense for you to prepare yourself by reading contemporary works that give you a sense of how citizens in the affluent Western countries think about themselves, their relations to the rest of the world, their history, and the world's future. These contemporary works will be more accessible to you, because you understand much better the context in which they were written than you can hope to understand the context in which Plato wrote. And you can still, in a few years, do some study of the ancients if you are so inclined. For now, I would try to find a textbook collection of contemporary essays on ethics or political philosophy, and then learn about the debates we have here about affirmative action, the environment, equality for women, war, poverty, trade, and so on. (By the way, I would give analogous advice to a young Western student departing for a year in China. She...

Do philosophers have an aesthetic appreciation or their work? Do they find

Do philosophers have an aesthetic appreciation or their work? Do they find certain philosophical works or arguments, not just interesting, but beautiful (as GH Hardy or Einstein did)?

Yes; and I would distinguish two kinds of such aesthetic appreciation. Some philosophers are very good writers, and it is simply wonderful to read them -- some of my favorites are Plato, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Bernard Williams. And in some cases the problem posed or argument presented is stunning in the unity, elegance, or sublimity it attains. I would once more list Plato and Hobbes as examples here, but also some of the less appealing writers such as Kant (e.g., the second analogy of experience) or Rawls (the thought experiment of the original position). This latter kind of aesthetic appreciation is closely related to recognizing a work as philosophically powerful.

Yes; and I would distinguish two kinds of such aesthetic appreciation. Some philosophers are very good writers, and it is simply wonderful to read them -- some of my favorites are Plato, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Bernard Williams. And in some cases the problem posed or argument presented is stunning in the unity, elegance, or sublimity it attains. I would once more list Plato and Hobbes as examples here, but also some of the less appealing writers such as Kant (e.g., the second analogy of experience) or Rawls (the thought experiment of the original position). This latter kind of aesthetic appreciation is closely related to recognizing a work as philosophically powerful.

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