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Seeing as you are Philosophers I thought you would be the ones to ask this

Seeing as you are Philosophers I thought you would be the ones to ask this question. Is there, or has there ever been, any truth to the existence of the Philosopher's Stone?

You have probably asked the wrong website, since the 'Philosopher' in 'the Philosopher's Stone' does not refer to a philosopher but to a scientist, or an alchemist. The term 'scientist' was only invented in the 19th century; Newton was a 'Natural Philosopher'. And in fact Newton himself was centrally concerned with the search for the Philosopher's Stone. For Newton put an enormous effort into alchemy, and the Philosopher's Stone is what the alchemists were looking for, a substance that would convert base metals into gold. There is alas no reason to believe this substance exists. Transmutation of elements does occur -- think of radioactivity -- but we've no way to convert lead into gold.

I've been away from academia since I dropped out of philosophy grad school in

I've been away from academia since I dropped out of philosophy grad school in 1997, so I'm out of touch with recent developments in philosophy. What are the most significant philosophical books or papers of the past eight or so years? (My main areas of interest in grad school were metaphysics and philosophy of language, but I'd be interested in your answer whatever your specialty.)

Philosophy tends not to move terribly quickly, and it's always difficult to tell, from "up close", what will prove to have been important. That said, however, there have been some important developments in philosophy of language (one area you mentioned over the last decade). It's less a matter of individual pieces of work and more a matter of orientation and general progress. As a result of several forces, the question how the meaning of an utterance depends upon the circumstances in which that utterance is made has become very hot, and it seems that enough has been learned in surrounding areas to make this exceedingly difficult question discussable at this point. Ernie Lepore and Herman Cappelen recently published a book, Insensitive Semantics, that discusses this issue. I don't find their view convincing, but they do a very nice job of laying out the options, so it would make a good introduction to the state of the art.

It seems ever since Wittgenstein there has not been much of a stir in the

It seems ever since Wittgenstein there has not been much of a stir in the philosophical world (not to undermine the work of any contemporary philosophers). Some say that his work marked the "end of philosophy." In what sense did he put an end to the discourse? Do you expect there to be a future philosopher who will have an impact quite like that of Wittgenstein, or say, Nietzsche, Kant, or even Aristotle? Moreover, are there any contemporary philosophers who are on this path? In which field(s) do you think a paradigm shift of this sort will occur?

It's certainly true that people have said this kind of thing about Wittgenstein. But if his work did mark the "end of philosophy", not very many people seem to have paid that fact much attention. I suppose someone might say that, if only we understood Wittgenstein's work properly and appreciated it sufficiently well, then we would be inclined not to continue doing this stuff. But I don't myself see any plausibility in that claim. Perhaps that is because my conception of what philosophy is is so distant from Wittgenstein's. Wittgenstein repeatedly expresses the view that there is a sharp divide between "scientific" questions, on the one hand, and "philosophical" questions, on the other hand. But I see no reason to believe there is any such principled division. The idea that there is such a division appears to be a very recent one, born (it would seem) some time in the 19th century. And much of the best philosophy done since the end of World War II has hewn very close to scientific questions. Perhaps one might suggest, then, that what Wittgenstein showed was that philosophy in that sense ought to be ended. If so, then I'd have some sympathy with the proposal.

Is it that philosophy is competitive or is it just the way in which we (as

Is it that philosophy is competitive or is it just the way in which we (as humans) have come to be in general that is competitive? I'll try and spell out the distinction. My professor seems to vie for his idea. Descartes defends his position. Hobbes attacks Descartes' idea. Spinoza attacks both. There are dissertational "defenses". These are just a few examples of competitiveness in philosophy. Are humans just competitive? But if we are trying to get at truth, how does competition help? I can't understand why I feel the need to be the smartest person in my class. If I am not, I feel anguish and despair. Is it that anguish and despair come from losing and philosophy for me is just a competition and for other people it is not that way at all? But that is not true. Does philosophy harbor competition, and if it does, is it intrinsically flawed? Would art be a better way to get at truth? But art is competitive too! Is existence, then, a Schopenhauerian nightmare--endless striving to overcome, when...

Here is one reason why one limited form of competition in philosophy (and many other areas of inquiry) is good. Faced with a philosophical problem, our best bet is to propose a possible solution, criticise it, and on that basis to try to improve it, or improve on it. But almost all philosophers are better at criticising other people's ideas than their own. So competition yields an epistemic advantage.

Karl Popper proposed this kind of methodology of 'conjectures and refutations' as the key to inquiry, especially in science. Although there is a lot I would criticize (sic) in Popper, I think he is right to emphasise the importance of trying to find the weak points in the best ideas people can come up with.

Are women philosophers more insightful than their male counterparts?

Are women philosophers more insightful than their male counterparts?

I don't think that there's any special reason to think that female philosophers are more insightful than male philosophers -- or vice versa, for that matter.

Nonetheless, it may be true that female philosophers on occasion have different insights from their male counterparts. For example, feminist critiques of traditional ethical theories (like those offered by Kant and Mill) suggest that those theories focus on masculine values and ignore values that are of fundamental importance to women. Feminist philosophers have worked to develop an "ethics of care" that looks at moral questions very differently from traditional theories.

Hi,

Hi, I am an aspiring philosopher and I would like to become a professor one of these days. But I don't know how to go about it. I am still an undergrad student and I don't what steps to take. The advice will be much appreciated. Thanx.

One good test of whether one ought to pursue philosophy is whether one finds oneself staying up at night worrying about philosophical questions.

In this vein, I was once told that if I read Thomas Nagel's Mortal Questions and found one essay that kept me up worrying, then I would know that I should go on to graduate school. (Nagel's book is a good test of one's interest because it includes essays on a wide variety of topics, from ethics to the philosophy of mind to free will to the meaning of life.)

It is important to try to figure out how much, and why, it matters to one to be a philosopher. After all, philosophy in particular, and academia in general, is not the easiest of professions, and one must be willing to make all sorts of sacrifices, both in graduate school and afterwards, in order to remain in the profession. So one should try to determine whether one is willing to make the sacrifices that may be necessary.

I am a philosophy undergrad. What should I do to guarantee I get the most I can

I am a philosophy undergrad. What should I do to guarantee I get the most I can out of grad school?

Remain fascinated to the point of distraction by the questions, problems,solutions, arguments of philosophy. I don't know how much this is inone's control: you can avoid bad teachers and seek out inspiring ones;you can select to focus on areas that grip you; you can learn to put aproject away for a while if it's causing you grief; etc. But there'sonly so far one can force a fascination. Sadly, there are no guaranteesof the kind you seek. Or rather, not so sadly.

I am interested in how scholars in different disciplines make sense of their

I am interested in how scholars in different disciplines make sense of their work and the place of that work in their lives. For philosophy I read Falling in Love With Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk About Their Calling (Karnos & Shoemaker, 1993). Can you point me in the direction of other such pieces by philosophers? Thanks, Burt

You might look at some philosophers' autobiographies. Some of these are disappointing, but two that aren't are John Stuart Mill's Autobiography and Anthony Kenny's A Path from Rome.

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