When I write a philosophy paper, should I be concerned with developing a personal style? Or are philosophy papers best written in a manner similar to physics lab reports or mathematical proofs--that is, in a technical, impersonal way.

Neither. Assuming by "philosophy paper" you mean student essay, then what you need to be doing is evaluating arguments, as carefully and as honestly and as rigorously as you can. You must aim for maximum explicitness, maximum clarity, maximum organization of your thoughts. But you are writing ordered English prose, not lab notes or a mathematical proof. "Personal style" will look after itself, and shouldn't be your conscious concern. (It is always a pleasant surprise to me, e.g. when I have to mark a stack of undergraduate dissertations, how -- despite the fact that students have gone through the same teaching treadmill and drilled by weekly one-to-one essay tutorials -- distinct voices will always come through.)

Philosophy is well known for its inquisitive, critical nature. Naturally, we as philosophers strive to see clearly the basis of common beliefs, while rejecting prejudices and stereotypes that are without justifiable foundation. Now this all sounds fine, if we were diving into some debates or books. But, the common way of life outside is wrought with statements and beliefs that are at best grounded in some transient trends or local culture. Take, for example, when we engage in social interactions (perhaps in a college student's perspective). People are seen swayed by their emotions, possessed by gossips, some wearing extreme makeups and perfume, some drenched in alcohol, making horrid comments on someone the moment without his presence, blurting their prejudices and misconceptions, and so on. Of course, these are very narrow generalizations, yet I am convinced one cannot easily deny that these make up a big part of people's social lives today. As I study through various philosophers and their thoughts, I...

"If philosophy is really about exercising one's reason and becoming inquisitive and critical, can philosophers ever be in harmony with an active social lifestyle without making everyone their enemy?" Well, exercising one's reason and being inquisitive and critical is hardly the unique province of philosophers: just for a start, most fellow academics in other disciplines are critically exercising their reason too. But set that aside. Why on earth should being prone to exercise reason and be critical spoil your social life? Lots of college professors, for example, are convivial souls with perfectly normal lives outside the classroom! There is a time and place for everything, and overdoing the critical reasoning on a heavy night out with your mates or when trying to get off with some attractive girl/boy (according to your inclinations), is no doubt quite inappropriate. But in some other parts of your social life -- the political discussions, trying to makes sense of the films and books that matter to...

Dear established philosophers, I would like to be an established, professional philosopher some day, by which I mean I want to teach philosophy in a university. I have studied history at degree level but realised in my last year that philosophy is for me. I have been accepted to study for an MA in History of Philosophy at King College London. I have heard that the road to being an academic philosopher can be a difficult one. This question may be unanswerable to any of you for any number of reasons, but what should my next step be? What should I being doing in the run up to, and during, my MA to improve my chances? Is a PhD the best, or only, thing to do after an MA? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

It sounds as if you have relatively little background in philosophy. So I would suggest that, after doing an MA in the History of Philosophy, it would be wise to do another one in contemporary philosophy before doing a PhD, both for intellectual and for career purposes. Intellectually, because a lot of the best work in history of philosophy involves a kind of conversation between the Great Dead Philosophers and contemporary philosophy -- you need to appreciate both sides of the conversation. For career purposes, as many departments are not minded to appoint those they see as narrow specialists in the history of philosophy.

How good does one need to be in mathematics to do good work in philosophy of mathematics? Does one need to be able to *do* original math research, or just read and understand math research, or neither? Or does the answer depend on the topic within philosophy of math? If so, which topics are those in which math knowledge is most useful, and in which is it least useful?

You certainly don't need to be able to do original research in maths to be able to work on the philosophy of maths. But you will need to be able to follow whatever maths is particularly relevant to your philosophical interests. How much maths that is, which topics at which levels, will depend on your philosophical projects. For example, compare and contrast the following questions (not exactly a random sample -- they all happen to interest me!): "Is our basic arithmetical knowledge in any sense grounded in intuition?" Evidently, you don't need any special mathematical knowledge to tackle that . "Can a fictionalist about mathematics explain its applicability?" Again, I guess that acquaintance with the sort of high school mathematics that indeed gets applied is probably all you really need to know to discuss this too. "Just what infinitary assumptions are we committed to if we accept applicable mathematics as true?" Here you do need to get more into the maths, and know quite a lot about...

Suppose someone in some remote corner of town is endowed with the gift of sublime philosophical wisdom and insight. When presented with centuries-old paradoxes s/he can simply see the correct answer. Think of him/her as the Susan Boyle of philosophy. Has Philosophy become so institutionalized that this person would have little to no chance of having his/her response heard in a respectable venue? What are the chances that this person might get the attention s/he deserved?

I'm not quite sure what is meant by "sublime insight"! But anyway, serious philosophy involves negotiating your way around thickets of argument . Philosophical originality is a matter of finding new moves to make (or breathing new live into old moves) in argued debates that have usually been developing and deepening for many years, in some cases for thousands(!) of years. Generations of philosophers have explored the options on (as it might be) the liar paradox, or the free-will problem, or the nature of consciousness, with ever-more sophistication, piling distinction upon distinction, argument upon argument. And yes, of course, lots of progress is made -- refining the options, working out their costs and benefits, and often engaging with the relevant science (or work in logic, etc.) as that develops. Now, it is hard enough for graduate students who've devoted five, six, or more years studying philosophy to start making much progress -- they have to get to grips with so much first, in order...

I am going to study philosophy this September at university. I am very much confused between an 'actual philosopher' and a 'philosophy professor'. I believe my confusion lies at my ignorance and lack of knowledge but please help me to see correctly. Would you agree that one can become a philosophy professor without becoming an actual philosopher? Do you think if Plato or Aristotle were born today, would they have enrolled in philosophy programs, get a master's degree, worry about publishing and afraid of not getting a tenure? The more I read about the profession of philosophy today, the less I am inclined to pursue it. But I don't want to abandon philosophy out of my life. I want to do philosophy for the rest of my life, but not as a professor. To be honest, when you step inside a philosophy department how many real philosophers do you see? I have been to my university's department, talked with philosophy grad students and felt that they do not care geniuinly about philosophy really. Please help me...

"I have been to my university's department, talked with philosophy grad students and felt that they do not care genuinely about philosophy really." Then your feeling is almost certainly wrong. The great majority of graduate students care passionately about philosophy. After all, they are usually particularly smart people who have chosen not to go on to law school or do MBA s or whatever (leading to some very lucrative career), but decided to try to stay on in academia, trying to work on some tough philosophical problems that have gripped them. Why else do that other than because they care about the subject?! What may be true is that the grad students you talked to don't seem to care much about what you think of as "philosophy". And there is indeed something of a disconnect between some of the connotations of "philosophy" in the everyday use of the word, and the academic discipline that most of those grad students are engaged in. (There are connections too, of course: the varied use of...

Do graduate students really make contributions to philosophy? Or is philosophy only advanced by an elite few?

Oh, good graduate students most certainly make contributions: they get good papers published in good journals. And if that doesn't count as "making a contribution", then very few of us make contributions. (Our students make contributions in another important way too: they teach their teachers, keep us enthused, prompt better work from us too.) Of course, few pieces published by graduate students make stunning advances: but then few pieces published by anyone make stunning advances (in philosophy or in any other discipline).

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