The Boston Review has an interesting piece up about the potential shuttering of a university philosophy department, written by the chair of said department, Todd Edwin Jones. Always interesting when government action leads to discarding a department concerned with thought and teaching students how to think…because, you know, too much quality thinking is our nation’s biggest resource and problem.
It is especially troubling, however, when one considers how much ideas related to governance owe to philosophy. Doesn’t really make one hopeful for the future of governance when the government, even indirectly, allows places where thoughts about governing are considered, developed, and taught, to disappear.
Yet people think of philosophy as a luxury only if they don’t really understand what philosophy departments do. I teach one of the core areas of philosophy, epistemology: what knowledge is and how we obtain it. People from all walks of life—physicists, physicians, detectives, politicians—can only come to good conclusions on the basis of thoroughly examining the appropriate evidence. And the whole idea of what constitutes good evidence and how certain kinds of evidence can and can’t justify certain conclusions is a central part of what philosophers study. Philosophers look at what can and can’t be inferred from prior claims. They examine what makes analogies strong or weak, the conditions under which we should and shouldn’t defer to experts, and what kinds of things (e.g., inflammatory rhetoric, wishful thinking, inadequate sample size) lead us to reason poorly.