Tag: Metaphilosophy

Philosophy

On Hedgehogs, Koalas, and Other Animals

Outside academia, Isaiah Berlin is probably best known for his distinction between “foxes” and “hedgehogs” based on Archilochus saying that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. When I first encountered a reference to this distinction I assumed that it had something to do with broad versus narrow knowledge or learning, with the Renaissance/​Enlightenment ideal of the homo universalis (or polymath) versus the academic (hyper-) specialist, or with Thomas Aquinas’s fear of “a man of one book” (homo unius libri), that is, someone who knows one book/​thing really well, but doesn’t know much else. I...
Philosophy

Mythos, Wisdom, and Scavenger Philosophy

According to Karl Jaspers, philosophy arose in the “Axial Age” as a kind of critical reflection on myth and tradition. Nowadays, there is widespread agreement among historians of ideas that the notion of an “Axial Age” is itself a myth, but I think that the other part of Jaspers’ idea is right, that is, philosophy indeed originates in critical reflection on myth and tradition. This doesn’t mean that this defines the scope and purpose of philosophy, of course – as a “mature” discipline, philosophy mostly reflects on itself – but I believe that reflection on this idea about the origins...
Philosophy

Is “Philosophy” Racist?

The term “philosophy” without any adjectives or other qualifications is generally understood to refer to Western philosophy. Introductory philosophy or ethics courses typically don’t pay any attention to non-Western philosophers (or merely drop a name once or twice in an attempt to feign a broader perspective), and one can easily get a philosophy degree without ever seriously engaging with Chinese or Indian philosophy. While there has been some pressure to broaden the scope of “philosophy”, thus far very little progress has been made in this respect. One might (and should) wonder: What explains this resistance to a more inclusive understanding...
Philosophy

Dao and Second-Order Consequentialism

After king You of Zhou fell in love with Bao Si he exiled his wife, Queen Shen. The disgraced Shen family retaliated in 771 BCE by attacking and killing king You. The Zhou dynasty never recovered – although nominally it remained in power for another five centuries, this period was characterized by failing authority and nearly continuous war. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also the most fruitful period in the intellectual history of China and is commonly recognized as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy. Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and many other of China’s most famous philosophers lived...
Philosophy

Skepticism, Pragmatism, and Zebras

In 1970 Fred Dretske published a paper about a fairly technical issue in epistemology, In that paper he gave a “silly example” (his words) to illustrate some point about skepticism. Imagine that you take your kid to the zoo to see the zebras. Now, how do you know that the animals you are looking at are zebras? Dretske points out that most of us wouldn’t hesitate to say that those animals are zebras: We know what zebras look like, and, besides, this is the city zoo and the animals are in a pen clearly marked “Zebras.” Yet, something’s being a...
Philosophy

The Nature of Philosophy and its Relation with Empirical Science

In his Confessions, Saint Augustine (5th ct.) wrote: “What is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If someone asks me to explain it, I do not know.” You can substitute “philosophy” for “time” in this quote and it will remain true: “What is philosophy? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If someone asks me to explain it, I do not know.” Perhaps I should refine this claim: the application of Augustine’s quote to “philosophy” is true at least for me. I don’t know what philosophy is. And that is a source...
Philosophy

Anarchism as Metaphilosophy

Near the end of the prologue of Plato’s Republic, Socrates says to his opponent Thrasymachus that what they are discussing is “no ordinary/insignificant matter, but how we ought to live” (1.352d). As in many of Plato’s writings, Socrates here played the role of his mouthpiece: “How we ought to live” was indeed no insignificant matter for Plato, but the starting point and ultimate purpose of his philosophical investigations. Relegating the pre-Socratic philosophers to the discipline’s prehistory, it is sometimes suggested that Western philosophy started with Plato. Alfred North Whitehead even claimed that the history of Western philosophy “consists of a...