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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Am I Doing?

I consider my a "philosopher in training," among other things.  So I often ask myself what is philosophy.

If I were writing for Wikipedia or the Journal of Philosophy, I might answer by interviewing philosophers, by getting descriptions from the various schools and departments of philosophy, or by examining statements or best practices of the great philosophers of history. But I'm writing for myself after many years of studying and doing philosophy. Like Dewey's Pedagogic Creed, I just want to sum up what I believe philosophy is and should be.

For me philosophy is systemic critical inquiry.

Inquiry:   As Aristotle said, philosophy begins with wonder.  It is an ongoing enterprise of asking what and why.  Philosophy uses the method of science to achieve knowledge, namely, experience, insight and hypothesis, and verification through experiment and peer review. Philosophy does not supplant or overrule science; it builds on and furthers science by integrating, classifying, and critiquing science.

Critical inquiry: As Kant said, philosophy is questioning the conditions for the possibilities of all human activities, including science, for example by reflecting on the methods, directions, and complementarities of science, art, religion, and ordinary language. As critical inquiry it continually challenges the dogmas and conventional beliefs of all our enterprises. I see much philosophy being done today not just by academic philosophers but by literary and art critics, science writers, and journalists.

Systemic critical inquiry: As Dewey said, philosophy is critically inquiring into the whole human endeavor and its results. It considers the holistic context. It proposes trends and categories within which human activities take place. It identifies the worldview of our era and of the ones preceding us, the paradigms within which our symbols, beliefs, formulas, and expressions take meaning. It raises questions concerning the direction of humanity in the universe.

Philosophy uses, supports, and maintains reason in human affairs.  It does not displace or denigrate the emotions which are often the stimulus for our actions.  Indeed it carries its own passion for life, beauty, justice, and meaning.  But it does temper and modify emotion and passion so that it continues us on our way to further life, beauty, justice, and meaning.

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