Saturday, December 8, 2012

[PHI 1000] Martha Speaks on Philosophy

Martha (the dog, not Nussbaum) says that "philosophers are people who try to figure out what life is all about." Is this a good definition of "philosopher"? Aren't we all trying to figure out what life is all about? If so, are we all philosophers?


  1. Martha's definition of "philosopher" is adequate, but it gets deeper than that. I do believe that philosophers try to figure what life is all about and I also agree that we all seek knowledge on our existence and the meaning of life and everything it throws at us. Philosophy is simply defined as the love of wisdom; therefore, based on our innate curiosity and inquiring minds, we can all be considered philosophers. However, students of philosophy dig deeper into finding answers to these philosophical questions which Bertrand Russell suggests "enlarges our conception of what is possible and enriches our intellectual imagination..."

  2. The only pre-requisite of studying philosophy is having an inquiring mind. (Cahn, p.2) The study of philosophy involves people seeking an understanding about themselves, the world they live in and their relationship to the world and to each other. A philosopher is someone who has made the study of philosophical disciplines their life’s work, it is their profession. However, specialists, such as scientists become philosophers when they inquire into the fundamental questions about their own disciplines. Although, not philosophers, any intelligent human being who wants a better understanding of themselves and the world around them, will use philosophical thinking and examination as a way to gain knowledge. One gains a truer sense of knowledge when they assess thoughts without using prior assumptions. Philosophical research is conducted by philosophers through reading, writing and talking to people. Kwame Anthony Appiah stated that in studying philosophy one is able to break through encrusted assumptions of society to have a clearer vision of what the world really looks like and what is really important. He further explains that philosophers try to get as clear an understanding as they can about the conceptual issues that surround some of the most important questions that human beings have to deal with. Some examples given were “Is there a God?” and “How should one make moral judgments?” While the average person will present a philosophical argument through a few explicit points as the basis of their argument on a particular topic, a philosopher takes those arguments and will look in between the points given, presenting and developing stages within the argument. Stages are created by using questions and reasoning that is necessary to make a difference in how each term is understood. This type of in depth analysis is what separates a philosopher from someone who uses philosophical thinking and examination. We have a natural need to learn how to fit into our world and studying philosophy helps us with this aspect. Philosophy provides a framework, within which we can think about life and all the other things we have to do, but the ability to search for answers in this way of thinking does not make everyone a philosopher, it makes us students of philosophy.

  3. I believe everyone is in a way a philosopher. All humans are trying to figure out what life is about and that makes them partly a philosopher however those who spend more time and dedicate their life and career to figuring out what life is really about is what makes a person a philosopher. In my opinion everyone has the innate sense that makes you cabable of being a philosopher but most people do not further explore that which is what separates us from philosophers. This is supported in the claim in the video above that philosophy can be used in other disciplines. People use their innate sense of philosophy to some degree by questioning things such as vision but never further inquire to realize that it is the photons of light.That is exactly what philosopghers do, they inquire further and find out why something is the way it is. The understanding on how things work and become to be is what separates people from philosophers. I believe philosophers take their thinking one step further than most people do in figuring out what life is about. Philosophers notice things we normally don't notice such as asking about the inner workings of how something came to be and why.

  4. Although Martha the dog and her song about philosophy is sweet, I’m not sure you can generalize philosophers by categorizing them as “people who try to figure out what life is all about.” In that case, I think every individual would be a philosopher because there is always an unknown element in our lives, and most people are trying to shed light on the mysteries that surround them. People are drawn to God, theology, literature, art, philosophy, etc., because it brings them to a space outside of what they know, while also illuminating part of the mystery of life. However, like I said, I don’t think this definition fully encapsulates what a philosopher does because, well, not everyone is a philosopher. I think everyone has a philosophy (or several), values and ideas that they live by to deal with all the little mysteries surrounding them, but having a philosophy isn’t the same thing as being a philosopher.

    Kwame Anthony Appiah talked about the necessary work that goes into being a philosopher (aka- “What does a philosopher do?”). He says that, “philosophical research is done by reading and writing and talking to people.” A philosopher does not just jump to conclusions; they struggle with new questions, thoughts, conversations, information, etc.. The difference between a philosopher and a non-philosopher is that a non-philosopher has their philosophies, and uses those philosophies to tackle situations they face. I think a philosopher constantly challenges and rethinks his/her ideas and philosophies. If you look at great philosophers, a lot of their works evolve as they continue to research; simplifying philosophers to merely “people who try to figure out what life is all about” discredits all the hard work people who study philosophy and invest themselves in different types of philosophies. Sure, the definition is a great starting point, especially for young children, but it does not capture the work philosophers labor through.


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