Advanced Search

When does one "become" a philosopher?

When does one "become" a philosopher?

Right after the secret handshake...

More seriously, there's no single answer, and no clear one in any case. Does someone who has a BA in philosophy count as a philosopher? How about someone who has no formal education in philosophy, but through lots of reading and informal conversation has gotten good at the sorts of things philosophers do?

Sufficient conditions are not so hard to come by. Someone who regularly publishes in recongnized philosophy journals would count. So would anyone who regularly teaches bread-and-butter philosophy courses in a university philosophy department. But not all philosophers publish, and not all teach.

Necessary conditions aren't hard to come by either. Someone who had poor verbal skills and neither has nor ever had any talent for thinking analytically wouldn't count as a philosopher. But there are many linguistically gifted analytically-skilled thinkers who aren't philosophers. (An excellent lawyer, for example.)

There are some useful generalizations, of course. Philosophers typically have studied philosophy in university. In any case, they generally have a wide acquaintance with and a good understanding of philosophical texts and ideas. They are interested in certain sorts of questions, though there's a fair range of possible interests and aversions here. (One philosopher might be fascinated by questions about the foundations of morality but have no taste for theory of knowledge; another might have more or less the opposite preferences.)

The most promising answer may seem like a cheat at first: you become a philosopher when you've reached the point where philosophers would agree that you are a philosopher. In one way, this begs the question: it assumes without giving a deeper story that there are already some people who count as philosophers, and it bootstraps from there. But there's no cure for that; "philosopher" isn't a natural kind, marked out by some reasonably tight set of defining characteristics. There are, however, many paradigm examples. (All members of this panel, for instance, are philosophers by any reasonable accounting.) And there are reasonably well-defined formal and informal practices, networks, associations and the like that philosophers recognize and that recognize philosophers, as it were. (Publishing in certain journals, belonging to certain associations, having certain educational backgrounds, working on certain problems...) On the one hand, all this is still fuzzy around the edges. (For example: there are academics who have all their training outside of philosophy and aren't employed by philosophy departments, but who have made valuable contributions to the field. Are they philosophers or not? There's no sharp answer.) But on the other hand, there are people who have an amateur and sometimes crankish interest in philosophy and who think of themselves as philosophers. Most of the people who count as philosophers by all reasonable measures would disagree. Surely that should carry some weight!

The suggestion here is hardly original, and would work in a good many other cases: mathematician, historian, chocolatier, chef, musician... I might be able to knock together a few pieces of wood to make a bookcase. The guy who's rebuilding my porch, however, wouldn't count me as a carpenter, and since he clearly is a carpenter, his opinion is worth a lot more than mine.

So when do you become a philosopher? Not at any one moment, but gradually, as you reach the point where philosophers count you as one of their own.

In a discussion about philosophy as a profession I referred to one of the

In a discussion about philosophy as a profession I referred to one of the questions on this site to claim that the division of male and female philosophers is more equal than ever and it's not at all only male philosophers. But when we started thinking about it we could only come up with female philosophers who are doing practical philosophy (e.g. Nussbaum, Noddings, Gutmann, Warnock). So the question arose - are there at least somewhat significant female philosophers in for example theoretical philosophy or history of philosophy that you could name? Are there female philosophers in all the fields of philosophy?

Yes, there surely are (just look through the list on the right), though it's probably also true that women are better represented in practical philosophy than in philosophy generally. Outside practical philosophy, among the earliest in this country was Ruth Marcus who taught Saul Kripke, among many others, and had a very distinguished career at Yale. Leigh Cauman (even earlier) studied with Quine, taught logic, and was the managing editor of the Journal of Philosophy for many years. Women are very strongly represented in ancient philosophy, with Gisela Striker (Harvard) a good example. In the history of modern philosophy there's Beatrice Longueness (NYU) . If you look through the various departments -- www.philosophicalgourmet.com/overall.asp -- you'll find that most of them have one or more female philosophers outside practical philosophy, so examples could be multiplied. While the profession is still a long way from where we should and want to be, further progress is made likely by there already being a substantial female presence in most areas of philosophy.

Do graduate students really make contributions to philosophy? Or is philosophy

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).

When did secular philosophy departments, as opposed to theology

When did secular philosophy departments, as opposed to theology faculties, first appear in universities?

I don't know (and my guess is that my co-panelists don't either.) That, I'm assuming is why it's taken so long for anyone to respond even with such a useless answer. But in defense of myself and my colleagues, most people who belong to a profession, I'd guess, have a relatively scant knowledge of the institutional history of the profession. For example: most physicists probably don't know when or where the first university physics department was established, most dentists probably don't know where the first dental school was, most insurance brokers probably don't know what the first insurance company was, and so on.

Why is Philosophy research considered less respectable study than researches in

Why is Philosophy research considered less respectable study than researches in the empirical sciences?

I forgot to add: There is a long and extremely interesting account of why scientific inquiry has become so valued in our culture -- an important source the thought that empirical inquiry is more respectable than philosophical inquiry is a more general attitude that treats the fruits and methods of scientific inquiry as among the most respectable forms of inquiry full stop.

So, for example, this attitude helps to explain the righteous indignation of many liberals (and, indeed, others) towards politicians who seemingly ignore the results of scientific inquiry. Likewise, according to one conventional theory the rise in the esteem of science is so important in our culture that it has "pushed out" or "subtracted away" important religious practices and attitudes and so has led to a change and diminution of religion.

Scholars who work in the history of ideas may be best equipped to explain the rise in the esteem of science over the last centuries, but one philosopher who does very interesting work in this is Charles Taylor. In his A Secular Age, Taylor constructs a fascinating and extremely rich narrative that addresses this and many related changes -- and, notably, he does no while utterly rejecting the standard "subtraction account" according to which rise in the esteem of scientific inquiry inevitably leads to the diminution of religion.

Good morning,

Good morning, As a foreign PhD student in Philosophy, I need some technical hints about how to choose an Anglo-American magazine to send an article in analytic philosophy. First, I’d like to know, is the Impact Factor system as important in philosophic, as in scientific research? If so, where can I find evaluations about journals? Apart from that, I can imagine there are thematic criteria to choose a magazine: of course, you won’t send a paper in logic to a magazine that only publishes papers in ethics. That’s obvious. But is there anything else I should consider? Thank you to anybody who will reply. Stefano - Italy

Why is it that whenever I write something philosophical, I hate it? Do any other

Why is it that whenever I write something philosophical, I hate it? Do any other philosophers feel this way about their own writing? How do philosophers write?

Writing philosophy so very often involves uncomfortable compromises. If you put in all your own doubts and reservations, signal all the places where -- as you well realize -- objections might be raised, indicate all your silent assumptions, and so on, then your essay or paper or book would be pretty unreadable. But if you just silence the inner voice that keeps saying "But on the other hand ..." and go for the unqualified bold sweep and the big idea, you feel you are cheating your reader (and yourself). So you try for some middle way. And when it comes out in cold print -- even if you don't immediately spot some horrible mistake you now have to live with -- it is difficult not to worry that, after all your efforts, you've got the compromises all wrong, and the piece doesn't really convey quite what you intended. So yes, it is easy to "hate" your own writing ...

Or is that just me?!

This is more a technical than a philosophical question, I think. When

This is more a technical than a philosophical question, I think. When referencing Greek philosophers, what is the significance of providing the original Greek word(s)? (e.g., “Your eagerness [PROTHUMIA] is worth much if it should have some right aim.”) Is there something about Greek (as opposed to other foreign languages) or about philosophy that makes this useful? As a reader, what am I supposed to be doing with these?

The original words are there because translation is an exceptionally tricky business, and it's often important, from a scholarly point of view, to know what the original words were, so that one can judge the correctness of a translation, or note that two words that are cognates in English are also (or are not) cognates in the original. This is more common, I think, in classical philosophy, though you certainly will see it in any sort of historical study of sources originally in another language. But if so, then that is only because classical Greek is an old language. It's not because Greek is particularly difficult.

What's the best way for someone who's really into philosophy to make their mark

What's the best way for someone who's really into philosophy to make their mark on the philosopical community if he or she is having trouble going to a university? I've tried sending my work to professors throughout the US, not necessarily for publication purposes, just to get it looked at, but for now, no dice.

It's a perhaps unfortunate fact of academic life that credentials (degree, university affiliation) are very important to being taken seriously. Although it's not a hard-and-fast necessary condition (i.e., it's not impossible to be taken seriously without them, as would be if it were hard-and-fast necessary condition), and it sure isn't a sufficient condition, either (i.e., not everyone with credentials is automatically taken seriously).

I'd suggest joining an online community devoted to philosohical discussion, such as the AskPhilosophers Group linked on the left menu bar. I imagine there are also online philosophy courses you can take, or at least follow (MIT has been doing some wonderful work in this area). The internet is a virtually limitless resource; I can't even remember how we did intellectual work without it.

Good luck!

Pages