What Could Have Entered Philosophy?

In the previous thread, Robbie Williams asked about the converse of the question set there. That is, he was wondering

  • What fields that are currently not (primarily) studied inside philosophy departments could (in nearby worlds) be inside philosophy?

This is a much harder question I think. But there are a few candidates that come to mind.

Note that in every case I’ll describe, there is some work on this topic done inside philosophy. It’s just that the primary location for them in the contemporary academy is (I think) outside philosophy.

The simplest perhaps is professional ethics. There is tons of ethics teaching in medical and business schools, much more I think than there is in philosophy departments. It isn’t as clear that the primary location for research into professional ethics is outside philosophy, but I suspect that it is. And it is easy enough to imagine a world where that isn’t true.

Not too far behind is work on feminism and race theory. There is a pretty nearby world where researchers like Tommie Shelby have their primary home in philosophy departments. Though that’s probably a world where people actually in philosophy departments rate work on Philosophy of Race as higher than 27th out of 27 fields.

The other idea I have is perhaps a little harder to imagine given the current arrangement of the academy, but I think with a small tweak at the right point in time it could have happened. There’s currently a lot of work, primarily in psychology and economics departments, on happiness research. I think a lot of this concerns questions of long lasting philosophical interest; in particular it connects to important debates about welfare. Now we’d have to rearrange a lot of things to make philosophy departments suitable homes for people like Daniel Gilbert or Justin Wolfers. But I imagine that had various things happened a little differently at the start of the 20th century, the idea that contemporary philosophers did this kind of experimental and statistical work would seem no more surprising than than Descartes and Locke worked on optics and economics.

Still, I feel this is too small, and too idiosyncratic, a list. What else could philosophy have easily incorporated?

2 Replies to “What Could Have Entered Philosophy?”

  1. Heuristics, ie. general study of problem solving.
    Erroneusly relegated to the realm of methodologies of special/empirical sciences. Philosophical analysis of the concept of a problem/solving a practical problem, and philosophical foundations of heuristic thinking .There are some philosophical traditions on heuristics : Descartes’ Regulae, Bolzano’s Heuristik, Leibniz was intrigued by heuristic methods, Hartmann’s school on the concept of problem, Whevell.
    What was lost when the Ars Inveniendi Tradition waned, how different the history of philosophy could have been? There is renewed interest on the related subjects however: friends of discovery in philosophy of science, interest in abduction and analogy, logic of discovery, heuristic element in bounded rationality and some accounts of cognitive architecture, model-based reasoning, thought experiments, dialogue theory, logic of questions and answers, new logic in Gabbay/woods sense, study of relevance, diagrammatic reasoning. Communicative and semiotic aspects of problem solving are important too. But we need major thinker/s to synthesize this all to an more overarching theory.

  2. Hi Brian,

    Agree with both yourself and kuuskivi. For the ‘Happiness’ idea, wonder if you have taken a look at http://www1.eur.nl/fsw/happiness/index.html. Not a purely analytical style but something. As regard new ideas, ‘cultural philosophy’ could be a candidate. Within analytic/p, we take an idea/element and focus on it and try to find the necessary/sufficient conds. for it (at least with most research, though I don’t have any empirical data to back my claim.) In doing so, we try to focus on the universal nature of that concept/idea/element. Take for example, ‘good/bad’, ‘knowledge’, etc. When I say ‘cultural philosophy’, I mean two things. One, to accept that that there may be homonymy without synonymy across cultures and two, to try and understand different cultures’ philosophical underpinnings using analytic methods (whatever that means). This will give us more insight into so many perspectives, new ideas, cultural understanding, etc. Fr example, I was watching a Discovery channel show where they were discussing a tribe in southern Africa that can only see some colors but not all that we see and they can make distinctions within blue, say, that we cannot. Similarly, the Piraha tribes-people in the Amazon can count upto three and then have the concept of ‘many’ but none that of ‘four’, ‘five’, etc. Sure, we try to incorporate such data in our research. But only under the assumption that the concept of ‘color’ or ‘count’ or ‘number’ is a common denominator across cultures. I am not saying that these concepts do vary, but am just allowing the possibility that they might and see where it leads. This is of course just one example of my ‘cultural philosophy’ 🙂 Thanks – Virendra

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