The Future of Philosophy

Sunday, March 23, 2008
First Aired: 
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

What is it

Ken and John discuss the future of philosophy with three rising stars in American philosophy: Elizabeth Harman from New York University, Brian Weatherson from Cornell University, and Sean Kelly from Princeton University. This program was recorded live at the American Philosophical Association Meetings with an audience of cranky and opinionated philosophers in Portland, Oregon.

Listening Notes

John and Ken begin by wondering what the future of philosophy will bring. Will it resemble past sweeping abstract theories or go in new directions? John and Ken begin by recounting in broad strokes the history of philosophical ideas, from ideas to transcendentalism to the linguistic turn in the twentieth century. At each step of the way more questions seem to have come up tan have been solved, but John thinks that this is good for philosophy. Ken uses inductive logic to arrive at the conclusion that the next generation of philosophers will think the twentieth century was full of mistakes and take their turns of their own.

John and Ken introduce Elizabeth Harman, Brian Weatherson, and Sean Kelly, three rising stars in American philosophy. First John asks Elizabeth about the modern state of ethics and whether it has changed since his times as a graduate student. Elizabeth believes there are lots of interesting things going on in ethics, but worries that there is too much concern over the intuition in ethics. Should we rely on our intuitions when arguing about right and wrong? Elizabeth thinks that intuition can be used in moral arguments, and that even when intuitions differ they should not be altogether discounted. John and Ken discuss the ramifications of this view and what it means for the future of ethics in philosophy, while Brian and Sean weigh in on intuitions in ethical theory.

Next Ken asks Sean Kelly about cognitive neuroscience and how his studies in the field of philosophy of mind might relate to intuitions about ethics. He draws some parallels between intuitions in ethical philosophy and intuitions about physics, and points out that intuitions are very different and can be unreliable. Given this fact Ken wonders why in contemporary philosophy Elizabeth should support the use of intuition. Elizabeth discusses how the development of technology creates new and interesting realms of philosophical inquiry and tests for our intuition.

Ken turns to Brian to discuss whether the overspecialization that occurred in philosophy over the last century will continue into the next, whether this is a good thing, and whether this specialization and generalization is a cyclical pattern. Brian seems to think that people will become more interested in doing interdisciplinary work, and that what has traditionally been considered philosophy will eventually change. John discusses his experience seeing many philosophers emerging from different disciplines as well as many prospective philosophers leaving the field for other pursuits.

John asks Sean Kelly about his interests in both cognitive neuroscience and phenomenology and what role he thinks philosophy will have in the coming century. Sean believes that empirical and abstract combinations will become less strange in the coming years and that in order to really have a clear idea about the mind and the mental up and coming philosophers should take seriously results from the fields of neuroscience and psychology.

Many members of the audience of academic philosophers raise issues to John, Ken and the guests, including what philosophy's role is in modern life, what there is left to study, and whether or not philosophy is really a united discipline or a fragmented grouping of very different agendas and interests, and the security of philosophy as a distinct subject in the future.

  • 60-second Philosopher (Seek to 4:29): Ian Shoales rips through the history of philosophy at lightning speed, linking together key movements by their essential phrases.

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Elizabeth Harman, Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University


Sean Kelly, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University


Brian Weatherson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Michigan

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