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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Philosophy of ...

Yesterday Robert Kraut was giving a talk at St. Louis U on whether music expresses emotions (for the record: Robert says 'no'). Very late the night before Robert and I were talking about the status of philosophy of art at the universities. He wanted to know why many philosophers think philosophy of art is not a core area of philosophy. I suggested that perhaps it's because it is a philosophy-of ..., like philosophy of mathematics or philosophy of economics. But Robert quickly gave me counterexamples: philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. Then we turned to possible historical explanations, but we weren't very successful. We eventually changed the topic. But the question remains: how do we define 'core area'? Why is, say, philosophy of mind a core area if philosophy of art is not?

UPDATE: Robert Kraut has posted some interesting posts about philosophy of art and its "centrality" in the profession. Click here.

18 comments:

adam_taylor said...

My hunch is that the "core" areas of philosophy correlate to the commonality of human experience. We all have minds, we all use language, we all (to some extent) make basic ontological, normative, and epistemic judgments about the world and others. But we are not all religious; we are not all lawyers; nor are we not all invested in art (leaving aside the issue of whether we should be).

I think if you look at it this way it only makes sense that these latter sub-disciplines of philosophy are regarded as outside the "core" of philosophical investigation.

Craig said...

I have a different theory from Adam's.

Art, and Mathematics, and Law, are distinct practices with their own academic fields. Mind is not like that. Thus, Philosophy of Art is outside of Philosophy to the extent that it is inside Art.

Which leaves Philosophy of Language as an anomaly. There is a distinct practice and academic discipline of Linguistics. My theory doesn't explain why there is still a Philosophy of Language.

Mike said...

We all use mathematics, too, but philosophy of mathematics (as important as it is) is not in the core. How about a daring reductive hypothesis: all of the philosophical work that is done in philosophy of art just is (specialized) metaphysics, epistemology, value theory or some other de facto core area. Similarly in philosophy of law and philosophy of religion. I'm trying to think of a philosophical problem in the philosophy of law that is not just a metaphysical or epistemological or...other core question. But then, maybe that goes for philosophy of mind, too.

Mike said...

"Art, and Mathematics, and Law, are distinct practices with their own academic fields. Mind is not like that".

I don't know, what about psychology and all of its subfields? Similarly for epistemology and cognitive psychology.

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi Mike. I like your hypothesis, but how does philosophy of mathematics or philosophy of logic fit into this picture? (assuming that your hypothesis carries over to other non-core areas)

adam_taylor said...

I like Mike's theory as well. I wonder if he would agree that taken to its conclusion his reduction would leave us with just two "core" disciplines: ontology and epistemology. The other disciplines would then be produced by the addition of a particular subect matter (each with its own subset of philosophical issues needing worked out).

if he does agree to this picture, then I wonder, would a correct metaphysics and epistemology, once plugged into the subset of issues of the broader (unreduced) discipline, resolve all the philosophical issues in that discipline?

This picture is very crudely drawn, but nevertheless it seems like a stretch.

Aidan said...

I had pretty much the same conversation with Enrico Grube last week, and I gave a pretty similar answer to Mike's - a lot of the core issues in aesthetics seem like more specific instances of more general issues in metaphysics, epistemology and phil. language. Obviously not all of them; there are all those nice issues about imaginative resistance and the like that look like they're going to resist reduction. But if the issue's about common perception, maybe that doesn't matter here.

The same's true in phil. math too - lots of the issues are just instances of more general issues about reference or epistemology or abstract objects (again, this isn't to deny that there are some pretty distinctive questions that come up).

Relatedly, there's often a perception that one can't make progress in certain areas of philosophy until one has settled some central open questions in some other areas; for example, one might that that one cannot make progress in ethics until we've got our hands on a decent metaphysics. The core areas become the ones which we have to start with. It was this 'hierarchical' picture of philosophy that Rawls was reacting against in 'The Independence of Moral Theory', and he makes some pretty compelling points there. Nonetheless, I think it's likely some of the sense that certain areas of philosophy are core comes from something like this kind of picture.

Mike said...

"but how does philosophy of mathematics or philosophy of logic fit into this picture?"

Brit, here's my (too) operational method: if you can think of a problem in the philosophy of mathematics that is not an (esp) metaphysical or epistemological (or otherwise core) problem, then philosophy of mathematics is (at least) borderline core. I take logic to be core (am I mistaken there?). So, what is not pure logic in the philosophy of logic (and not much is) is a metaphysics or epistemology, etc. I can't offhand think of a problem that is not a core question in this area, but obviously that could be just a failure of imagination. I've no doubt that Bob K. would have a ready counterexample.

Adam, you say,
"would a correct metaphysics and epistemology, once plugged into the subset of issues of the broader (unreduced) discipline, resolve all the philosophical issues in that discipline?"

Well, if you have in mind by a correct metaphysics one that correctly answers all of the metaphysical questions, then I suppose the answer is yes. But if you have in mind by such a metaphysics one that correctly tells us what exists fundamentally (say, just living organisms, as van Inwagen seems to say) then no. There would be a lot of work to do.

Brit Brogaard said...

Mike (and Aidan): so you're suggesting:

A is a core area of philosophy iff all of the philosophical work that is done in A just is (specialized) metaphysics, epistemology, value theory or some other de facto core area.

How did some areas achieve the status of de facto core area? (e.g., philosophy of language)

Aidan said...

Well, I was suggesting that something like that might account for why some areas are regarded as core and others not - I'm not sure I personally believe this (and I guess that ambivalence made it into my comment above).

By the way, I think there must be something wrong with your biconditonal as a statement of Mike's view. It looks like together with Mike's suggestion that non-core areas are just specialised metaphysics, epistemology, etc, your biconditional implies that *all* areas of philosophy are core.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I have been operating under a very clear impression that 'core' means the areas considered most common by those whose subjective sense of what's most common most affects how people describe things in the job market. Trying to analyze it any further seems to me to depart from how it's actually used. Maybe it could be helpful to figure out what the core areas of philosophy are in a more literal sense, but I'm not sure that's what people are really doing in the job market. Those are just the part of philosophy that they tend to think every department has to have a certain number of people working in, while the other areas can have a more limited (if any) representation.

Mike said...

In the biconditional I think Brit means 'non-core' where she writes the first instance of 'core'. Along with Aidan (and I'm guessing everyone else in the thread) I'm not taking too seriously the 'metaphysics of core philosophy'. I'm not sure whether what is called a core area deserves the title. I was suggesting one way to distinguish what happens to be called the core areas from the less corey areas. Here's a slightly different feature. There is this quasi-asymmetry: many philosophical advances in de facto non-core areas depend on advances in de facto core areas. For instance, advances in theories of vagueness and the metaphysics of material beings have importantly affected work in the non-core areas. But not so much the other way.

Aidan said...

I thought there might be a 'not' missing there. But then we get the result that metaphysics and epistemology are non-core. So I wasn't convinced that was the right way to fix the biconditional.

The quasi-asymmetry is what I was gestured at above in the discussion of Rawls' paper. I'm still suspicious (again, as a claim about the 'metaphysics of core philosophy', not as an explanation of the perceived distinction). Here's one reason why; it looks like most techy philosophy of language uses resources that were hard won from struggles in the philosophy of mathematics (obvious case in point; the reliance in formal semantics on standard set theory). But I don't know anyone who claims that philosophy of maths is 'prior' to philosophy of language in that sense.

Brit Brogaard said...

Yes! 'Non-core'.

"Many philosophical advances in de facto non-core areas depend on advances in de facto core areas"

I take this to be a constraint on the 'core'/'non-core' distinction. But perhaps we can even use it to determine what counts as a de facto core area. Here is how. If we keep track of philosophical advances, we can determine whether for any given philosophical advance x, x depends on anvances in a different area.

Adam Arico said...

I, too, had a theory for why Aesthetics falls in the periphery of philosophy, but then I realized that my *reasons* would apply to epistemology as well. Initially, I suspected that the answer can be found in one general understanding of what philosophy is, which I estimate to be something like 'the practice of making our fundamental beliefs stand up to rigorous analysis' (this comes mostly from a particularly memorable conversation w/ Jim Stone early in my philsophical training). If, as often with art, we lack any solid, fundamental idea of what does or does not fall under the heading of our subject (i.e., if we don't have any rough and ready heuristic for what is or isn't "art"), then there can't really be anything to critically formulate. Thus, because most people--who aren't artists or art critics--don't have much in the way of _folk aesthetics_ (if you will) beyond "that's pretty", there isn't going to be much interest in making their fundamental beliefs rationally precise and rigorous.

As I thought more about this line of reasoning, I realized that though it works well for Metaphysics/Ontology (philosophy applied to physics, roughly), Language, Mind (philosophy applied to psychology, very roughly), and Ethics (philosophy applied to moral theories), it pushes Epistemology to the periphery. It struck me that most people don't really have a _folk_ idea of what counts as knowledge, distinct from scientific fact. Moreover, my reasoning would also immply that philosophy of mathematics would be a "core" area (whatever we determine that to mean).

I still think that Aesthetics second-class citizenship is due to the seemingly arbitrary judgment of what constitutes 'art', though the same, perhaps, might be said of our judgments about what constitutes 'knowledge'. I think the difference is that, on a _folk_ level, there's not as much controversy about the latter as there is about the former; it's not until one start studying philosophy that she realizes that she doesn't know anything and that what she used to call knowledge is really just some special kind of belief. Prior to reading Descartes' Meditations, I think, most people don't see 'knowledge' as an ambiguous term; certainly not in the way that people who've never studied art or aesthetics see 'art' as ambiguous (or arbitrary or artificial).

Or maybe this just betrays my own artistic ignorance...

Brit Brogaard said...

Adam: So are you saying that advances in epistemology depend heavily on science?

Adam Arico said...

Brit: Not at all. I was weighing in less on the topic of how to determine what's core and what isnt', and more on the original question of why aesthetics has been relegated by many to the edges of philosophy. I remain agnostic on whether an area is 'core' is a function of its autonomy.

Mike said...

Adam,

"If, as often with art, we lack any solid, fundamental idea of what does or does not fall under the heading of our subject (i.e., if we don't have any rough and ready heuristic for what is or isn't "art"), then there can't really be anything to critically formulate."

But isn't there a "folk ontology of art"? If there isn't, then I have no idea how the question 'what is art?' ever got off the ground. But the question did get off the ground, since we have some sense of what constitutes art that can be challenged in various ways: say, with Brillo boxes and urinals (or, rather, "Fountains")
Same point goes for the more remote questions in metaphysics, no? Isn't there a folk ontology that includes, say, statues and chairs? And don't eliminativists feel obliged to explain to us why there really aren't any statues and chairs?
Without these commonsense views, I can't see how the discussion ever started. So I don't think that marks an important difference between core and non-core areas.