Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…

What are philosophers for?


Do philosophers make any difference to the way we live our lives?

I couldn’t sleep last night (work stuff; life stuff) so I started reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I started with Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender which started talking about resemblance nominalism but I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up and then it occurred to me.

I had just read maybe 10,000 words with quotes and cites from 100 different philosophers and none of them made a single bit of difference to the world.

Resemblance Nominalism
According to this theory, it is not that scarlet things resemble one another because they are scarlet, but what makes them scarlet is that they resemble one another. Thus what makes something scarlet is that it resembles the scarlet things.

Each one of those 100 philosophers had probably spent months and years writing up their little version of what it means to be a resemblance nominalist when it comes to feminist perspectives on sex and gender. But who cares? What difference did they make? What a waste of 100 lives. They must have something more important to do, no?

There are maybe three or four philosophers per century who make a difference in the world. Meanwhile, there are thousands and thousands of philosophers churning out philosophy papers. What are those papers for? Who reads them? The philosopher who wants to write the next paper on resemblance nominalism *has* to read all the previous papers — but no one else will.

Perhaps we need all these philosophers to teach philosophy students and the papers they publish are just a bureaucratic excuse that allows them to get paid and promoted.

DALL-E: Draw me a picture in a steampunk style of a dozen philosophers churning out philosophy papers.

I believe the habits that philosophy teaches are tremendously valuable. Learning maths and English is usually compulsory in school but most smart kids know enough maths and English to get through life by the time they are 14. A couple of years of philosophy instead would do them good.

I should add, of course, that if you intend a career that requires maths or English skills, you should continue to study maths or English; but most people don’t pursue such a career.

I’ve been interested in philosophy for decades and I still enjoy it thoroughly but I can’t say that it’s anything more than an interesting hobby like gardening or stamp collecting. It’s fun to talk about philosophy with fellow devotees. I like writing about it too. I’m even tempted to do a PhD — an interesting intellectual challenge and an opportunity to put Rawls straight on his mistaken Theory of Justice (Those are my Tomatoes!). But after that? I think the only respectable course of action would be to retire to my armchair with some philosophy books. I’m approaching the end of my career in software now. An armchair with some philosophy books would be perfect.

I’ve always wanted to make a difference with my life. Aiming my twin-barrelled, 30mm anti-aircraft gun at Argentinian aircraft to scare them away made a difference. Repairing the towed array sonar of a ballistic missile submarine so we could stay on patrol made a difference. Building an online community for cancer patients made a difference. But writing philosophy? I don’t think it makes much difference. It’s just fun.