Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is it Philosophy?

In today‘s discussion in class, we touched a very interesting debate about what Philosophy actually is. In fact, as Dr. J pointed out quite clear, the agents who are engaged in Philosophy have changed a lot during the last couple of decades. Of course, only compared to the centuries before. So, the question came up, whether it can be considered Philosophy, if we talk about topics like race and gender of human beings.

In my opinion, it cannot be called Philosophy but still is very closely tied to it. Why is that the case? The “science” of Philosophy is defined as the “love of wisdom”. What is wisdom? From my point of view, wisdom should consider everything, not only race and gender and those sorts of aspects that define a part of human beings but will never be able to really tell, what and who a human being is. Therefore, it is necessary that we consider gender and race as one aspect of human beings, but we ought not assess these aspects too much.

This statement is supported by a very interesting clip that can be watched here:

For those of you, who don‘t have time to watch it, it shows a young man who was raised by two women, speaking in the Iowa House of Representatives. He clearly points out that he is in fact no different from other children that were raised in, what we tend to call “normal” families.

Another point that came to my mind during that discussion today was the question, if humans are really capable of making universal statements. Even in Philosophy, can we ever reach the point at which we can say that the statement or the assumption X is really true for everybody? Clearly, Philosophy as we know it can be considered a western “invention”. So, how could it be the case that people from that cultural background make statements that are universal true or make assumptions that include everybody on this planet. Isn‘t that always just something like a personal assumption from a very subjective point of view?

So, all in all, critical race theory and the feminist approaches are not Philosophy - at least in my point of view. This sounds pretty negative, but it would like to make sure that I don‘t want to give any value - either good nor bad - to the word “Philosophy”. So, by saying “this is not Philosophy” it is not said that it is a bad approach. All these theories have very interesting claims that can help Philosophy, but are themselves no Philosophy.


  1. To your first point ("we ought not to assess these topics too much"). While i think there may be an argument for race and gender not fitting neatly into philosophy, i think there are other, prudential reasons for considering race and gender when making substantive policy decisions. There is a reasonable argument for taking those things into account for the sake of fairness (i'm not arguing for affirmative action here, i'm just talking generally)

    In other words, i think we should assess these things but just not necessarily in the context of philosophy (but, instead, from a policy perspective)

  2. This isn't really related to your main question on the nature of philosophy, but your comment on universal truth really caught my attention. It seems like we've spent this entire semester sifting through one ethical theory after another, searching for the "best", the one that really offered a path to the good life. In a world with so many people and such a wide variety of cultures, it seems unreasonable to expect a single ethical theory (or any other kind of claim) to truly apply to all of them. The idea of personal truth rather than universal seems more and more appealing.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Interesting post, Flo! To speak to your second point, I do not think that we can consider philosophy a "western invention" by any means. Though what we learned in Ethics class is Western thought does not mean that Eastern philosophy did not have a huge impact on the study of philosophy. In both of these two types of philosophies, there is some overlap between Western and Eastern thoughts. I think that there are certain values and claims that can be universal advocated, which are discovered through philosophical decision as well. One can argue that because of relativist philosophies in the world that are culturally tied that there can never be a universal ethical claim that everyone agrees to. I think that claim is false, in that there are some ideas like lying for example that all cultures would not agree to it being acceptable. With that said, feminist and race theories do contribute to philosophy and present questions that occasionally push the boundaries of our established ethical system.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.