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Eric Dayton, Philosophy Faculty

What is Philosophy

What is Philosophy about?

Philosophy's the original subject that all the other subjects broke off from and became more precise by breaking off from Philosophy and by narrowing the scope of their concerns. The subject matters which remain in Philosophy are pretty universal. I mean that in the sense that there is no one set of facts which decides the issues. Are human beings really free or not? Can people be happy? What's the meaning of life? These are not questions that have simple answers. If they did, they would be a science of the meaning of life, just like there is in Physics, right? And it would be complicated and technical and it would have its own technical terms and so on. So what one has to do in Philosophy is slowly make one's way through all of the logical connections between all of the different ideas, and we see, at the end, that all of these ideas are interconnected, that all human experience is interconnected in very complicated ways. Philosophical ideas are very difficult and complicated and you learn your way around the territory by learning your way around particular sets of arguments and particular positions and particular views. You may not realize that this position or this view has a history, and it developed from another view and it was the result of political and historical forces at the time, but, as you learn more, you begin to see all of these relations and then you get better at it. Unlike a lot of the scientific disciplines where a well-trained first-year graduate student can be a contributor on a journal article... Philosophy students are not competent to write journal articles in their first-year Masters because they wouldn't be any good. I mean, there are undergraduate journals in Philosophy, and there are graduate journals that are sort of practice journals that people write for, and that's a good thing to do, but to write for an academic journal you really have to have done Philosophy for a very long time and to see how it works all the way through because there's all kinds of connections that you can fail to make. I think that isn't so much finding your own voice as it is learning your way around the ideas that determine what human reality is and (and that takes time) and that takes time and is exciting. That's what's exciting about Philosophy is that it's about everything all at once, although you can't do everything at once, you can only do one thing at a time, and it's also about the truth. It's not about selling things. It's not about convincing other people. It's very often the case that undergraduate students, even graduate students, they fall in love with their own ideas or with somebody else's ideas, and then they go through a phase where their conception of a Philosophy article or a paper is to decimate the opposition and to destroy their views: (debating club) the debating club thing. That's a mistake, because it's...that's not what Philosophy's about.