The Ethics Blog

A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Doing philosophy and studying philosophy

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogLiterary scholars don’t claim that they became novelists or poets because they studied such authors and such literature. They know what they became: they became scholars who learned to produce certain kinds of commentaries on literary works. The distinction between the works they produce and the works they study is salient and most often impossible to overlook.

Things are not that obvious in what is called philosophy. Typically, people who study philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts and who receive a doctor’s degree in philosophy will call themselves philosophers.

They could also, and in most cases more appropriately, be called philosophical scholars who learned to produce certain types of commentaries on philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts.

Has philosophy been eaten up by the study of it? There seems to be a belief that philosophy exists in the scholarly format of commentaries on philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts, and that philosophy thrives and develops through the development of such comments.

A problem with this learned “façade conception” of philosophy is that the great canonized thinkers, who legitimize the study of philosophy, never produced that kind of scholarly literature when they philosophized.

An even greater problem is that if you try to philosophize and think for yourself today, as they did, the work you produce will be deemed “unphilosophical” or “lacking philosophically interesting thoughts,” because it isn’t written in the scholarly format of a commentary on canonized authors, texts, ideas and concepts.

Thank God literature isn’t that easily eaten up by the study of it. No one would call a novel “unliterary” because it wasn’t produced according to the canons of literary scholarship.

Pär Segerdahl

The Ethics Blog - Thinking about thinking

2 Comments

  1. Julia

    Great thought and interesting parallel – how do we get the freedom to do philosophy back? Seems like it is up to young scholars to change the established ways?

    • Pär Segerdahl

      Thanks. Yes, young people who are ready to identify philosophy afresh, even in work that doesn’t emphasize the names and the concepts that occur as entries in philosophical encyclopedia.

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