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« Philip Pettit on Group Agency | Main | Philosophy Bites Daily »

December 24, 2010



Hi, PB-

I enjoyed this interview, but would offer one comment- that rigorous thinking is not something to crow about in the humanities. I may be biased as a scientist(!), but my impression is that while some forms of humanities value rigorous thinking, (philosophy, criticism of various flavors, history...), and arts require a sort of implicit or intuitive rigorous thinking, none really go the whole distance the way the sciences do, completing the circle with tests against which one measures the rigor of one's thinking.

Here in the US, one often finds philosophy departments hosting what are to all intents and purposes theologians, and why? Because they can get away with it, in a way that they could never get away with such lack of rigor in scientific departments. While there may be a place for theological topics in teaching the history of philosophy, it is otherwise completely indefensible. Likewise for post-structuralism, post-modernism, and all the other miasmas of the avant-garde humanities. Rhetorically sophisticated? Perhaps. Rigorous? Hardly.

While we all pay homage to rigor and precision of thought, and value it nowhere more than in the fields (of humanities) that touch our lives most deeply- economics, politics, history, philosophy, I have to say that these fields often make poor training grounds for that habit of thought, while the sciences do a better job, perhaps intrinsically by how they go about their business.

Perhaps that is why we are so impressed when a philosopher has something truly new and rigorous to say.. it is an exceedingly rare event! It is also why some of the most fertile directions in contemporary philosophy are in collaboration with scientists, such as in game theory and theory of mind.

With best wishes!

David from Darlington

Surely there are different types of rigour? I am not sure that the kind of rigour measured solely in terms of testable hypotheses and predictive success is the only game in town. It is also not clear to me that science itself can proceed without the kind of rigour that only well-formed but distinctly speculative thought can provide.

Karl Haigler

It seems to me that one can dismiss philosophy's lack of rigor if one discounts the integral role of logic. There is much to be found in philosophy that supports rigorous examination of arguments, including scientific arguments, which after all in their public form rely on rhetoric and not simply citations of evidence. Philosophy can assist in public discussions of issues of interest to the public, such as discrimination, civic responsibility, and stewardship towards the environment and provide analytical tools for common deliberation. Nussbaum's point about the role of the humanities, especially philosophy's contribution, to democracy is valuable in this light.

Montaigne Lover

PB- I was an English major my third and final time going to college, and it was a great decision. Yes, there were idiots in the classes who weren't doing the reading or thinking they were supposed to be doing. Perhaps they bought essays online, or just made some shit up the night before and passed because the professor was drunk when she was grading them and didn't even read it.

But for myself, I got a ton out of it because I went in for the reading and the thinking, not for the degree.

And yes, you are biased, as our entire society is, with a pro-science, anti-poetry attitude; it's as American as apple pie and dates back to our inception as a nation. I could name a dozen famous, respected intellectuals throughout history who talk about Americans anti-intellectualism and lack of respect for abstract thought.

I'll close with this: if we want to talk about democracy and how to best improve the nation, I'll put Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" up against anything science has to offer.

p.s.eliot.- poetry and the study of history will never wipe out the species; while science seems hellfire and brimstone bent on accomplishing that relatively soon. Put that in your 'progress' and smoke it.

p.s.s.eliot- my 14th favorite quote: "Change is one thing, progress another. Change is scientific, progress is ethical" -Bertrand Russell


Yes I do think philosophy is a major aspect in our live. Just as mentioned in the interview it take critical thinking, historical background, and a broad sense of imagination which a lot of people do not have. Nussbaum stresses on the fact that there is a lack of the role in humanities especially in the United States which is true and that needs to be chamge in order for a better world. And that starts with philosophy. She mentioned about culture how people only know of their culture and not anyone else which is sad because there a whole lot out there. I am African and when I came to the United States the only language was English that's it. They knew of no other culture, they weren't from another place but America. I found that strange because where I am from there is culture upon culture and languages upon languages. Through humanities or philosophy one could take the initiative to learn about those other cultures not just to know but to broaden their sense of knowledge about the world. The point that stood out most to me was the part where she says of you ask someone what is Muslim they would say all sorts of negative things about the religion which is really stupid. Such things as they are all from Iraq, they are terrorist, he women cover their faces etc. while there is more to that and the people when it comes to Muslim. Stop watching the lies you hear on tv and pick up a book and read about ones culture or better yet try being in their shoes as Nussbaum says better judging. Nussbaum interview about not having a sense of role in humanities is a 100% correct especially here in America. In her interview she mentions being a cosmopolitan where you aid other countries as well. The interviewer said some people might disagree with that by saying they need to help their own town, the locals in their country and not other countries. Well I think it starts from home as in helping yourself or your community before you could help other countries. For a country like America which is in great condition better than other countries, they should be able to lend a hand in other counties and I am not saying that they are not but they need to try harder because some people are very greedy. I like the fact that in her interview she did not let anything slide like saying that her herself could not fill the position as a cosmopolitan and mentioning that her dad was a racist from the Deep South. Most of all she mentions the book invisible man where the man America sees black as black and nothing else. Where they can not see through the color they can not feel the pain blacks went through. Philosophy teaches you to learn about the works and about people in order to better understand them.

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