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Why Philosophy?

Author(s): Simon Blackburn


Source: The Iowa Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring - Summer, 1989), pp. 91-104
Published by: University of Iowa
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Why

Philosophy?

Simon Blackburn
to be invited to give this lecture on this

IT ISA GREAT HONOUR


topic. The honour was
the lecture was bound

not

lessened by my first reflection. This was that


or ineffectual. Unneces
to be either unnecessary,

States there is still an admirable background


sary, because in the United
in my coun
studies that is now vanishing
respect for liberal and humane
too
at
Or
is
if
this
be
this respect
feel
there
will
least,
you
try.
optimistic,
in people who
arrange and attend such lectures as this. Many of you will
or defence
in
needs no more explanation
feel
your bones that philosophy
art.
of the good civilized
life: music,
than other components
literature,

Although I hope such people do not all leave at this point, I confess that
they will

not need my lecture. On the other hand if, in spite of this back
think that the practise of philosophy
respect, there are others who

ground
is akin to the practise of sorcery, a confidence
trick played
to go into a library or a
by people too lazy
laboratory?then
not convert
them.
But
verted

to add that this is not my fault.


to the value of art or music or literature

I hasten

on universities
I fear Iwill

think you are con


are
by lectures either. You
I do not

into an understanding
of their value by looking,
listening,
reading,
After you do that, you begin to find that your life would
and practising.
or not you had noticed that be
be impoverished
by their absence, whether
drawn

fore. It is no differentwith philosophy, which is only appreciatedby prac


it. Not,
I am afraid, by hearing people like
tising it, doing it, living with
me talk about it. An hour spent
reconcile free
trying?to
trying?really
or to refute Hume
on miracles,
or to understand
will with determinism,
sees colours the same way
that you do,
some amongst yo? may have no inclina
these things. Perhaps you suffer from philos

why you think your neighbour


be far better. Of course,
would

tion to spend an hour doing


Since this defect
ophy blindness.

is quite common
it is more
respectable
In any case it shares with
than other kinds of blindness.
them the property
that it cannot be cured by lectures.
or ir
to
that my lecture was either unnecessary
Having
myself
proved
a
I should perhaps have withdrawn.
But being
I
relevant,
philosopher,
started

to reflect on my

proof,

and on the real problems

of explaining

and

defending the activity itself. I found this a useful thing to do, and then I

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to think that if I found it


be an
began
interesting,
perhaps there would
to
audience which would
also like
hear it. So my proof collapsed! There
must be an audience who
be
interested in following
the matter
fur
might
ther: there could be a lecture

after all. And

here

it is.

is a well-known

to a
of this
Why
Philosophy?
question
reply
form supposed to have been given by the Dean of Christchurch,
Oxford,
in the nineteenth
was
a
Dean
Gaisford
asked
century.
by
visiting
lady
There

what

was

the value of Classical

"Madam," he replied, "it elevates


us to read the word of our Saviour in

Studies.

the common

herd, it enables
the original Greek,
and it not infrequently
of consider
leads to positions
able emolument,
both in this life and in that which
is to come."
Snobbery,
an historical mistake,
so
and a complacent
acceptance of self-confirming
to which
cial norms according
those of a classical education got paid more,
at least in Victorian
and
in the life to come. Can
hence probably
Britain,
we do better, not
a classical education,
in defending
but in de
necessarily
above

fending philosophy?
I should say a little about what
to be.
As a preliminary
I take
philosophy
is partly flattering,
The public perception
and partly not. The flattering
is
of
the
attribution
of
disdain
for the trivialities of life.
wisdom,
part
lofty
The unflattering
part is that this is all there is to it. Both sides are encapsu
lated in an apocryphal
conversation.
Two people were gossiping
about a
one of them had suffered, and the friend consoled
misfortune
the other
don't
dear, you've got to be philosophical?just
to
it is the
think about it." One
point
philosophy:
practise of thinking
?
about certain specific questions
those that occur in the curricula. Some of
is there something
these are natural to everyone: why
and not nothing?

with

the remark,

"Well

can

How

should we

what

ismind?

matter?

of nature? What
can we

specific:
tions? The

live? What

makes
make

reason?
one

does

it all mean?

truth? What

Some

highly

abstract:

are numbers?

true and another

opinion
sense of free will,

are

laws
thoughts?
false? Some are quite

rights,
obliga
self-deception,
lists can be constructed,
but the trouble with
this kind of
a
answer is that it does
to tell us
to be on the
question gets
nothing
why
or
to
it
It
whether
should be there.
indeed
fails
list,
say, for example, why
are addressed in
as well as
about
mind
questions
philosophy
departments
or
in psychology
the rights and wrongs
of particular ac
why
departments,
are found discussed
tions, such as euthanasia or abortion,
by philosophers
as well
as
common
is
What
the
denominator?
by lawyers.

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is that in philosophical
the topic shifts in a char
discussion
sense. A normal
in
acteristic way. The shift is self-reflective
the following
It will use
discussion will
take certain categories of thought for granted.
The

answer

as a lens
the topic is seen. Philosophy
begins when
through which
the properties of the lenses themselves become the topic, or in other words
we are con
when we begin to reflect on the very categories
through which
our
An
say, it is reason
ducting
thinking.
ordinary discussion, whether,
of what makes one
able to do A rather than B, can ignore the question
them

decision

reasonable

that philosophy

and another

not:

starts. A mathematician

it iswhen
can

this category

is examined

proceed using well-known


of proof; but it iswhen we

starting points and well-established


procedures
these axioms or these proof procedures good ones that the
ask what makes
starts. This is why
is characteris
of mathematics
philosophy
philosophy
a process of
ever more abstract issues. The question,
say, of
raising
tically
to
is common
if anything
what
proof in ethics and inmathematics
rapidly
raises the question of what counts as proof anywhere,
and in distinguish
mean we soon find
about the na
questions
ing out things that this might
not
to
ture of truth and the nature of meaning.
is
This
say that the drive
is inevitable:
indeed it requires great philosophical
towards abstraction
it is unwise to raise the further questions. But they are
skill to know when
I shall return to some consequences
of
always lurking in the background.
this sketch of the activity before the end. Meanwhile,
supposing
a characteristic
stance and attitude,
philosophical
why

locate

it serves to
should we

it?
encourage
cun
true philosopher's
I begin my discourse on this question ?for with
an
the natural move
ning I do not go so far as to call it
answer?by
making
a low,
of distinguishing
activ
defence
of
between
pragmatic
philosophical
idealistic defence of the same. The low defence tries to
ity, and a high,
to other
show that such activity is an efficient means
things that we value:
or to other skills
or
to
to clarity of mind,
of approach
flexibility
problems,
that our society values. This is the line most easily used to per
suade Deans and Governments
that philosophical
education
should be sup
a recent director of the CIA
I
in
New York
believe
testified
the
ported.
and abilities

Times

that the qualities which

led him

to that
were fos
particular summit
at
and Economics
Oxford.
Someone

tered by reading Philosophy,


Politics,
to
sticks with
this line may
take the value of these other things,
a
more
is means,
for granted. Or,
which philosophy
likely, he will
imag

who

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ine clarity or flexibility of mind as itself useful for other purposes: perhaps
for the defence

of life, liberty,

and the pursuit

of happiness.

Living

securely

and happily demands skills; if the pursuit of philosophy seems to help in


the acquisition
of some of those skills, then it gains a derivative value as a
means
to
good.
something
in this argument.
is much
There
education
is, I believe,
Philosophical
to nurture abilities which
are needed in many other activi
well-adapted
have cut their teeth on philosophical
problems of
free will; other minds are well-placed
rationality,
knowledge,
perception,
to think better about
of
evidence, decision-making,
problems
responsibil
ties. Young

persons who

ity, ethics, that theywill be called upon to dealwith in later life. But the
is not quite plain sailing. For consider that the argument may be
It is replied that the same means-end
tarnished by association.
virtues used

defence

to be claimed
now

Yet we

for the study of classical languages


in schools, for
example.
find no particular reason to believe that such study did indeed

equip its beneficiaries (or victims) to do better than others in thinking


In fact some
life's problems.
claim that in
(including myself) would
some respects
in having had foisted
they probably did worse,
particularly
on them the view that a
of
kind
particular
pedantic accuracy is the peak in
to the demerit of the
tellectual virtue,
innova
open-ended,
exploratory,
about

tive and imaginative


Law has the same
But

attitudes

that the pursuit

problem.
for philosophy
the argument
for classics demands
that we

of knowledge

really needs.

is in better

shape than this. The argu


ment
in a
believe
transference of skills and
matters.
It
habits across different
subject
requires us to suppose that if
someone has a
for vocabulary,
he will probably have it for
good memory
other

probably

or if someone

can spot
error in Latin,
she can
grammatical
so on.
spot forensic error in the opposing
lawyer's case, and
Psy
are reliable:
evidence suggests that no such transferences
people

things,

chological
can have remarkable

memories

in connection

with

some material,

and be

no better

than average in connection with other material.


The duffer who
remember Latin vocabulary
and grammar may remember bridge
hands or chess positions with extraordinary
skill. Conversely,
the business
man who
is as sharp as can be over pork belly futures is a sucker for the first
cannot

cure that comes


is
along. So the pragmatic merit of the education
called into question. To make the argument for philosophical
bet
training
are
to
case
we
not
in
its
establish
that
ter, we must
try
dealing with

baldness

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of this kind, but merely with


of the
everyday applications
same
of
fill
the
kind
that
hours.
Moral
and
very
reasonings
philosopher's
not one
out of it.
thing in the study and another thing
practical dispute is
is the assessment
of argument,
Nor
the ability to place probabilities
and
transference

of proof, and many of the other subjects that fill the curriculum.
is an element of truth in this reply, but again the sceptic will find
a
not
true that there is no
rejoinder. For it is
straightforwardly
change of
on
reflection
started
with
the
remember,
categories
topic. Philosophy,

burdens

There

which are normally just used in forming opinion. The intellectual lens
throughwhich we look iswhat is now looked at. But then there is plenty
are
at
of scope for persons who
but
good
thinking about such categories,
bad at using them in mundane
affairs. (In the same way you can have
someone
skilled at looking at eyes, but not very good at using them: a
myopic
ophthalmologist.)
of everyday life are not

The

demands

defence

so different

from

that the reasoning


skills
in the
study. The

those fostered

an
to
is, as it were,
practising
intelligent
approach
everyday
even in office hours. But in that case, what
is
his separate skill?
problems
He begins to sound like someone who could just aswell develop his talents
contexts
in which
those ordinary,
by sticking with
everyday
problems of
philosopher

and so on actually arise. In other words,


ethics, rationality,
responsibility,
common
the nearer the discipline
sounds to mere exercise of enlightened
a
it
the
less
sounds
like
worth
and con
sense,
separate practise
pursuing,
more it sounds like that, the more difficult it is to believe that
versely, the
its practitioners will be better at everyday
This is not an armchair paradox. There

than the rest of us.


applications
is a real problem
about the co

existence

of genuine philosophical
the everyday ineptitudes of
ability with
to acquire wisdom,
those who have it. Philosophers
but
ought, we think,
no
more
do
do
than
do
other
and
from
walks
of
life.
If
not,
many
perhaps
their skills do not transfer from the study to life, then itwill be difficult to
defend the education provided by insisting on the connexion.
So this part
Is there another?
of the low pragmatic
ground becomes boggy.

So farwe have talked of the furthering of skills used in pursuing other


ends. There
Harold

is also

Macmillan

World War,

negative,
records going

or defencive
up

side to it. Prime Minister

to Oxford

at the time of the First

and having his first philosophy lecturebegin with thewords:

you leave this place you will


"Young men, when
sions. Some of you will go into the civil service,

take up many profes


some will be
lawyers,

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Some will go into academic life. Except perhaps


teachers, or businessmen.
I am about to say will be the slightest
for this last group, nothing of what
use.
and you are diligent,
then
Except for this fact. If you pay attention,
aman is
ever afterwards you will be able to tell when
nonsense."
talking
en
And
this was justification
practise
enough.
inevitably
Philosophical
Hume
of
As
courages critical and reflective modes
put it, "the
thought.
carries [every art or
however
spirit of accuracy,
acquired,
profession]
nearer its
more
to the interests of
and
renders
them
subservient
perfection,
a
remote from business,
the ge
society. And though
philosopher may live
nius of philosophy,
if carefully cultivated
by several, must gradually dif
fuse itself throughout
the whole
on every art and
calling."

society,

and bestow

a similar correctness

story about a trainload of academics en route to a


The train crosses a frontier,
and passes a sheep. "Oh look,"
conference.
"the sheep in this country are black." "No,"
says the
says the sociologist,
is awell-known

There

is black." "Too risky," replies the


sheep in this country
"one sheep in this country
is
black." "Humph,"
mathematician,
currently
seems black on
"one
in
this
the
says
country currently
philosopher,
sheep
"
?
one
seem like
one side.
such a habit of thought
Certainly
making Hamlet
an
?arms
its
maniac
the
first
followers
against believing
thing
impulsive
"one

physicist,

or the first
are told. It shows them the frailty of the
thing they
they think
all
of
and theories seek to gain ac
kinds
with
which
ideologies
"proofs"
since the Enlighten
Indeed, the hallmark of modern
ceptance.
philosophy
ment

is the dethronement

of such reliance

on Reason

as would

buttress

From the beginning


this has been seen as an essential
ideologies.
particular
one. The questioning
virtue of philosophy,
but also as a two-edged
of
is no doubt valuable. But how is it to
dogma and invisible presuppositions
from destructive
rootless inability to form any
be distinguished
nihilism,
kind of intellectual or perhaps moral loyalties? A modern
disease, but not a
to
answer
ensure
to
it
is
that the young
Plato's
modern
study
question.
and as
such as geometry
only after studying other disciplines
of life (including
active ser
and only after sufficient experience
tronomy,
a proper
a similar vein Aristotle
In
is
insists
that
ethics
study for
only
vice).
too settled in a pattern of life for
to
mature
individuals,
sceptical thoughts
philosophy

be truly corrosive.
But now we have
positive

pragmatic

rejoinder

argument.

to that given above, against the


the problem was that the
remember,

similar

There,

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to those of
case no
everyday life, in which
is useful, but it loses its title to being a separate spe
the activity
or the
own
cialty,
identity, but only because the topics
discipline gains its
the di
and skills remain apart from those needed in other places. Here
and skills remain

topics
doubt

close

it is only the mature,


that may
rooted, practical mind
can handle any
to
it
since
destabilising
philosophy,
to
it is unlikely
is already fixed in its ways:
effects properly. But this mind
ifwe unleash the questioning
be much changed for better or worse. Or,
lemma

is that either

be allowed

to come

habit on the immature,

young, we risk doing as much harm


unprotected
and loyalties, as we do good by for
confidences
proper
by undermining
and false prophets.
against false ideologies
tifying the mind
our
We
can, of course, thread
way through these dilemmas. The horns
to further skills
sharp. Skill in reflection may well be apt
to
use
in
of the concepts
reflected upon; knowing
how
handle sceptical
one
can
and
both
well
protect
arguments
against unsupported
dogma,

are none of them

leave one properly confident of those things that deserve allegiance. But
on the native sense or
to
are
these happy outcomes
decidedly
likely
depend
of the particular
and again, if the individual started
individual,
judgement
the
that, perhaps he was set to exercise proper rationality without
if not uninhabit
benefit of philosophy.
then, the low ground,
Altogether,
no
route
is
from admiring business
clear
able, is decidedly boggy. There

with

men

to admiring

and lawyers

the specific

reflective

concerns

and habits

of

the philosopher.

The defender of higher ground need not deny any of this, although he is
form.
apt to shudder at its coarse, utilitarian
The higher ground can be introduced by the story about Lytton Stra
in Oxford
In those
chey, who was walking
during the First World War.
was
days it

dangerous
enough Strachey was
feather on him
white
defend

civilisation.

fighting
we
When

they
confidence.

to Deans,

tivity
apt to be far more
or

"Madam,"
are

civilisation
chey's

for a young man not to appear in uniform,


and sure
an
accosted by
forced a
enthusiast, who
aggressive
to know
was not
to
and demanded
why he
fighting

defencive. We
or medicine,

ice if we

to have

am the
replied, "I
of us these days have Stra

the value of our ac


defending
or children, we are
to
just
colleagues
do not take the high hand that engineer

find ourselves

or Governments,

ing,
dentistry,
of society, is there in order
not cut much

he is supposed
to defend." Few

or

or the whole
that philosophy

edifice
political and economic
can be
it
and
would
practised,

did.
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Itwas

not

so. For Plato,

always

was

ing understanding
set a task which was

and for Aristotle,

the business

of acquir
the highest possible goal people could aspire to. It
the proper concern of the highest
and best intelli

gences; it defined the only truly good life that should be spent in the pur
suit of that aim.

In its extreme

form

this iswhat

it is to use life
properly,
for health, for life, liberty,

and the other desires we may have ?for wealth,


?
not to be regarded
and the pursuit of%pleasure
ought
are worth
as
secondary. These
things
They fall into place

as fundamental.

indeed,
having,
to
the
of
for
enable
flourish.
but
pursuit
understanding
they
How
should we react to this? A great and noble ideal, certainly, but in
one. The doctrine
is that the
this extreme form, surely an unsustainable
as means,

of understand
the life devoid of self-reflection,
life?meaning
not
sources and its own patterns of desire and conduct?is
ing of its own
are
means
to
states
It
contain
of
that
mind
the
but
worth
end,
may
living.
not the end itself. But surely such a life is sometimes very much worth
liv
more
are
lead
enviable
without
lives,
any
quite
ing. There
people who
unexamined

of the things that Plato and Aristotle


cared
understanding
care
that intellectuals
about, but
They miss
something
cares of
not ?freedom
from
the
do
that
they
thought,
things

than the faintest


so much.

about

have other

one would
to
expect the intellectuals
Naturally,
despise this
form of activity, but this is special
their own particular
and to honour
it deserves more attention
than we would
and it is not clear why
pleading,
for instance.

give

if a dentist

defined

the good

life as one

it as one

engineer defined
This however was

teeth,

spent exploring
structures.

or the

spent designing
?one
an extreme
in
reading of the Platonic position
as
more
a
true
aim of life. The
reflection counted
intellectual

which

only
one proper end amongst others: to return to the
plausible claim is that it is
itwould
list I started with,
be valued in the same spirit as music,
art, and
literature:

How Charming isDivine Philosophy!


Not

harsh,

and crabbed

as dull

as is
lute,
Apollo's
a
of
nectar'd
feast
perpetual

fools

suppose,

But musical
And
Where
asMilton
need

to

no crude

surfeit

sweets,

reigns

everyone is suited to such enjoyments,


find their concerns
the value of lives which

but there is no

has it. Not


deny

elsewhere.

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Nor

those who

should

duly. They
the unmusical

un
have no appetite for philosophical
questions bother
can substitute others, just as
source of
but
pleasure,

lack one

do, or those incapable of taking


or the discrimination
of wines.

writing,
This

is a tempting

position,

pleasure

from fine art or

and again there is some truth in it. But

it is

not quite right. The trouble is that the unphilosophical do not just lack a
source of
rather different: a capacity for cer
pleasure. They lack something
for certain kinds of knowledge
and
tain kinds of thought,
and ultimately
are the stakes that
It
is
blind
these
because
philosophical
self-knowledge.
to
in hostility
rather
philosophy,
typically issues
to it, then
ence. The fear is that if there were anything
not to appreciate it,
of judgement
and understanding
to it
is not anything
there
that
pride demands thinking
ness

than mere

indiffer

be a defect

itwould
in which

case self

after all (LaRoche

foucauld noticed that although men will often mention with a kind of
pride

their bad memory,

nobody

ever

takes pride

in having

bad judge

ment).
It is, I think, a truth well worth
and the central truth that I
pondering,
to insist upon inmy talk, that there is no getting behind philosophy.
want
or dismiss it, or show that its
mean that any attempt to
By that I
bypass it,
are delusions,
in
is
the
very same ball game. The dismis
inevitably
glories
sive mathematician,
say, who
to be worthless,
is not relying

the whole
pronounces
activity
confidently
on mathematics
to deliver such a view. He

is philosophising, and may be doing itwell or badly. To do itwell he


would

need a view

and appropriate
understanding.
such matters?
so, but

an

about truth
inquiry worthwhile;
of
about
the
limits
of
it,
ways
ultimately
proof and
finding
to
turn
views
about
To whom
form
he
should
intelligent
He can rely on his own first thoughts,
and is probably doing
about what

that is always

makes

strategy. For he is in the same arena as


and the other classics in this field. Enter it, by
intention of unseating
their doctrines
and substi

an unwise

Plato, Kant, Wittgenstein,


the firm
all means, with

ones. But do not think that you


thereby escape the thickets
tuting better
snares
and
that entrapped the others. Indeed nobody has been more fervent
in the desire to cut philosophy
down to size than the great philosophers.
no mathe
us
to
to
commit
Hume
the flames books containing
enjoined
matics
of

or

empirical

discoveries;

Pure Reason; Wittgenstein's

Kant

entitled

Tractatus

his great work


enjoins us to throw

the Critique
it away after

we have climbed it. But each of these great philosophies is full ofwork and

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of controversy.
There is no short cut to the position ?no
philosophically
can be evalu
from
untainted
the
of
labours
which
position
philosophers
and
ated,
away.
perhaps diagnosed

This truth, that there is no getting behind philosophy, is, Ibelieve, the
to our question.
All thought
conducts
itself using
various concepts and procedures, methods
and starting points. There is no
on what you
between
using such things, and reflecting
sharp distinction
are
and
But
and
others.
then you
rejecting parts
using,
accepting
maybe
kernel

of the answer

have entered

the arena: your questions


at a
and if conducted

philosophical,
lems will be those
osophising

will

be

and problems will be recognizably


abstract level, your prob
sufficiently

that trouble philosophers.


So, like speaking prose, phil
are
you
something
doing all your life. The practical

question will not be 'why philosophy?' for that is unavoidable. Itwill be


'how philosophy?'
such thought
intelli
how best to conduct
?meaning
to educate persons so as to do it.
can
I
best
and
how
best
il
gently,
Perhaps
lustrate the force of this point by comparing
the question
'why ethics?'
so you cannot get behind ethics,
Just as you cannot get behind philosophy,
a choice as to how to live, and is a fair
for any pattern of life exemplifies
not listen to such criti
criticism.
for
evaluation
and
subject
People may
certainly, but that is just another element in a particular form of life,
So the choice is never
and not one that is so very easy to defend.
'why
ethics?' but only 'what kind of ethics?' ?whether,
for instance, we edu
cism,

or Hume,
or John Stuart
cate the next generation
in the light of Aristotle,
or whether
we abandon
to be got from those works,
and
Mill,
anything
or
Business
leave them to the Harvard
for
School,
College
Strategic
Studies.
So far I have been
for several thousand

talking

as an
of philosophy
has existed
activity which
to the Greeks and to us. Now
and was common

years,
a little on the
concentrate
might
particular forms that this activity has
is the activity of reflecting on the categories of
taken in recent years. How
in the present time?
thought pursued
common
is usually a lag between
There
of what philosophy
perception
scene.
is up to, and the actual contemporary
is that many
My impression

we

colleagues in neighbouring disciplines think of philosophy as dominated


still by G. E. Moore's
famous question: what exactly do you mean by. . . .
This question
It displays
several presumptions.
the philoso
encapsulated
to
virtue noticed by Hume
above. It
pher's claim
especial accuracy?the

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It portrays an image of the whole


his area of expertise?meaning.
as conducted
from the armchair, since reflection on meanings
has

showed

activity
all its necessary data to hand, in the unaided understandings
the discussion. The discipline retained an a priori
conducting

of the people
status, just as

constructs ?a circle is the locus


the giving of definitions
of mathematical
of one point about another, and so on ?is an a priori matter. The question
in a faintly censorious,
also displays the philosopher
role?
schoolmasterly
not know
woe betide the poor
exactly what he means by
pupil who does
...
so
was by surviving years of this that the
(it
pupil benefited
much).
Analytical

was

philosophy

called

this just

to

its techniques were


of analysis, or

because

a process
by
us to see

just Moore's
answering
question,
we
of conceptual breakdowns,
enabling
exactly what
do mean by mind, matter,
the ques
truth, reason, and the rest. Finally,
tion suggests a certain conservatism ?as
if the role of the philosopher
is
adapted
the giving

to

our
status quo, regardless of whether
the conceptual
exploring
or
to
are
world
due
the
concepts
delineating
actually adequate
properly,
In
its heyday ana
for replacement
scientific
understanding.
by advancing
limited

lytical philosophy often prompted the complaint that it could find no radi
cal role,
thought.
Moore's

no

standpoint

from which

is not dead,

question

nor does

themselves
gories of thought become
lem is to be sure what
they are?what
rest. But

there is very

to criticise

it deserve

the object
we mean

little else in the thumbnail

entrenched

to be. When

of inquiry,

of

the cate

the first prob


and the
mind,

by matter,
sketch that has survived.

noticed that meaning


began when philosophers
the method
catch, and there is no a priori reason why
succeed. Categories
form
of thought
little
typically

Change

modes

is a slippery fish to
of analysis should
families

or circles:

there is no capturing
the same content,
the specific thing that members
of
in terms drawn entirely from outside. This is one of the
the family mean
of the pregnant
is use." We
implications
slogan "meaning
give a specific
use to, say, ethical terms or the terms in which we think about causation.
have a particular niche
metaphor,
they have evolved

in our cognitive
or, to change the
economy,
to fill a
in
role
the
ecol
particular
conceptual
are useful, and
ogy. That iswhy
they
why
they have survived. So there is
no reason for there to be any way of
saying just the same thing using terms

They

which

do not have

selves ethical

that specific use,

that is in terms which

are not

them

or causal.

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This

on the
puts a severe limit
probability
to answer
Moore's.
But
like
questions

of success

at

in any head-on
it does not block indirect

ap
a
our
under
the
lens
better
concepts
by gaining
proaches: attempts
place
can describe an item of the
use
is.
of
You
their
what
just
understanding
and theorise about its utility or its possible defects,
economy,
cognitive
or without
to
that you can replace it. You can describe,
with
believing
or
to
it
is
inter
stick with my examples, what human moralising
what
is,
tempt

to

are
that such activities
believing
our
terms from
rep
capable of being conducted with any other
conceptual
ertoires. But this shift from the analytical model
carries consequences
of

pret

the world

in causal

terms, without

Imentioned
above the relatively a priori, armchair char
great importance.
we turn to the more discursive
acter of
When
ap
theorising.
analytical
now no limit on the areas from which
is
this
There
proach,
disappears.
data may

usefully

be drawn.

To

of many

require understanding
retical problems,
evolutionary
as
theories about
psychological

for example,
about ethics might
interactions
of
social
theo
?game
aspects
as
theories of coordination,
well
problems,
theorise,

the sources

of well-being,
and ultimately
our precise way of
doing ethics has
the enterprise becomes much more

of the way
understandings
use a
To
piece of jargon,
emerged.
for doing it well. The same
and there is no one methodology
"holistic,"
in almost all branches
of the subject, and it is, I think,
shift is visible
beneficial.
wholly
historical

to use whatever
preparedness
lie to hand has come at a time when
there are indeed valuable

It is also fortunate
proaches

that

this new

ap
new

into old philosophical


thrown up by new sciences. I am
problems
and the explosion
of new
of computer
science,
thinking
particularly
in our understanding
of mind
that this has engen
themes and directions
insights

dered. Nobody

without

could

read recent work

informed

by

this understanding

feeling that even if the philosophical problems of mind will be

a
us for a
they have been recast in new,
good while yet, nevertheless
in
the early part of the century.
cleaner, better form than any available
no
If the philosopher
This new openness brings a danger.
longer carries

with

to construct
and criticise analyses
private expertise with him ?the
ability
is instead open to any intelligent
of concepts?but
reflection on the nature
?
is his special contribution?
of our categories of thought
then what
Psy
are
and economists,
and
scientists,
game theorists
computer
chologists
perfectly

capable

of free-wheeling

speculations

and claims

about

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the gen

eral significance of their results. Has the philosopher


been relegated to the
rear end of
role of staring at the disappearing
science (a role some
departing
rear
than self-absorbedly
would
say, slightly more dignified
staring at the
end of the latest philosophy)?
is no unique and simple answer to
There
some

have, in my view, been too quick to


philosophers
not so much as part of any team which
is actually in
but as mere
for ongoing
science.
cheerleaders
understanding,

this, and indeed

think of themselves

creasing
Others
have accepted that we may
tion of mankind"
and abandoned
study of concepts,

have no special voice

in the "conversa

anything
recognisable
their roles and their potential
for change.

as a scientific

such radical reactions are not warranted.


The
understandable,
Although
an
in a priori,
eclipse of analysis does indeed go with
eclipse of confidence
we look at our own modes
armchair expertise. When
of thought, we do
not escape using modes
out
of thought as we do so; there is no jumping
water.
its structure whilst
side the boat and surveying
This
may
treading
seem to block the
in
it
of
self-reflection
but
fact
does
genuine
possibility
not.

Itmerely

conditions

the way

it is done. Consider

for instance

the very
of
and
ethical
sys
contemporary
vigorous
criticising
industry
developing
a foundational
tems. Few
as a
is
think
that
this
activity,
getting
people
some ideal of cleansed pure
starting point
practical reason, in the light of
which

departures

from

an ideal ethics

can be seen to be akin to contradic

tory. The activity is pursued as best it can be in the light of the best ethical

positions
takes as a

to us. But

this does not

stultify it. It leaves open


to
itself potentially
evolving
understanding,
bootstrapping
common-sense
that it
quite far from the unsystematic,
jumble

understanding
room for an

available

a set of
ex
glass objects without
one against the other, and in the same way
ternal assistance, by grinding
to
into
the attempt
order
ethical or conceptual
chaos can, in prin
bring
a set of concepts
each of which
has been honed by being
ciple, result in
exercised
What

starting

point.

You

can

polish

against the others.


I have said about ethics can go for any other

area of
thought.

So I

think the fears and insecurities, the difficulty people have in isolating a role
for philosophical
found his
ways

are

The philosopher
has al
quite unnecessary.
or
more
in the ways of
less consciously,
subject matter,
in other disciplines ?mathematics
that have evolved
and astron
reflection,

thought
from Descartes
omy for the Greeks, physical science for most philosophers
to the present. These are the ways of
that
the concepts
matter,
thought

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to know what

is special about them, why


are bound to be successful, whether
they
they
or whether
a fixed compo
have
mutable,
they
the philosopher's
and many more
require

that it isworth

But

discussing.
are valuable, whether
they
are
optional and historically
these discussions
nent?all

is not of course
(This
special knowledge.
in philosophy
departments.
acquired only
or
or Kant, Russell
Hume
Wittgenstein.

to

is
imply that such knowledge
to read
It is open to anybody
to be careful,
They merely have

a
and, if they are doing itwithout
guide, remarkably
intelligent,
I have only defended the ideal of philosophical
reflection, not
sure-footed.)
or institutional
structure within which
it is
the existence of a professoriat

diligent,

done.

that there is a
that is quick to follow. For if it is important
to
it
is
then
also important
such matters,
of trying
understand

Nevertheless,
tradition
that there
best

is a tradition

that has been

of trying to understand
in the world.
thought and said

them
And

in the light of the


this standard, and

is the special
for it to operate,
that needs to be transmitted
the heritage
to it.Without
concern of the
devoted
and of the institutions
professoriat,
to
is
bound
wither.
the
tradition
them,
to do this ?
For Arnold
the ambition
Arnold's.
This phrase isMatthew

to understand things in the light of the best that has been thought and said
?is

in the world

the hallmark

This is, of course, a despised


to reach for their revolvers. But it

of culture.

that causes many people


word,
should not. As I have tried to explain,
aword

the option

is never whether

philosophy. The option iswhether to do it in this light?in

to do

the light of

to do it
ignorantly,
thought and said?or whether
and
uncorrected
speculations.
thoughts
relying
resource:
A philosophical
culture therefore ought to act as a communal
that has been

the best

on first

a set of approaches and guidelines to thought thatwill not be infallible,


at least

have

take us into a new


propose

survived

topic?the

the best

politics

criticism

that can be

levelled
?
'how philosophy?'
does indeed become
against them. So the question
to enable the following
how are we to keep that resource healthy enough
can
use
are
to
it? There
be said here, but they
many things that
generations

but which

of education,

about which

to talk.

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I do not