What is Philosophy?

The art of the real.



  1. I trust that it is so for you, and no doubt others, but I’m not at all clear on what that amounts to. Is that a good thing, or bad? A reason for hope, or despair? A solution or mistake?

  2. It depends on the work being discussed. Here, you mean all different types of philosophy, but it’s a broad statement with multiple facets. One work might be hopeful, and another might be full of despair.

  3. Indeed. Philosophy is many things to many people. But what is necessarily is, for those who employ it, is a means to the fundamental composition of reality.

  4. Yes, but reality is also a broad topic. Cultural norms, as well as individual norms, construct different realities.

  5. If you allow that reality is both multiple and constructed, you must consider how that could be so and, further, how philosophy stands with respect to it. What you conclude would be your metaphilosophy. I’ve put mine as succinctly as I am able.

  6. Cultures and individuality allows people to construct realities that have some shared aspects, and yet also have some unique aspects. Philosophy allows people to see and understand those aspects, and also to draw conclusions about some of those realities and norms within those realities.

  7. This construes philosophy as an essentially descriptive enterprise and as such there is little to distinguish it from, say, anthropology, or sociology. To philosophize is to engage in a normative activity. The fundamental meta-question is how that activity might be understood.

  8. It seems to me that the fundamental meta-question might be whether that activity can be understood. Some have tried, but their success may have been limited.

  9. That is a very useful question, Kristen. And if, as you say, there has only been limited success in answering it, then a host of new questions immediately come to mind. What is our criterion of success, such that we know when it is being met, even to a limited degree? And why has success been limited? Why, that is, is it so difficult to understand just what philosophers are doing? Are we too ill equipped, cognitively, to do so? Or is the activity ultimately resistant to complete description? Must something inevitably be left out of any attempt? Or might it be that ‘philosophy’ does not pick out a single, unified activity, but refers, somewhat loosely, to a number of activities, sharing a family resemblance that one knows when one sees it, but which one searches vainly for the exact words to capture?

    Best to continue philosophizing as best as one knows how. One does what one can.

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