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September 22nd, 2012

why does philosophy matter?

... This time from a non-philosopher.


This is an interesting, and short, piece in the Anchorage Daily news about an Alaskan writer whose cousin has a son starting a philosophy doctorate program. Said cousin makes all the observations about how you can't get a job in philosophy, it's useless, etc. So Elise Patkotak, the author, offers this answer on why philosopher *is* worth studying and *does* matter.

I don't think she's quite right about the reason we philosophers do what we do. At least for me, it's not about impacting history, though I do hope to do that to. I actually believe in things like truth and the good, and I think it's more important to work at finding them than to earn a fat paycheck. Of course you need a certain amount of money to buy bread and blue jeans, to say nothing of rent and health insurance. That's a given. But beyond that, I really do want to help people identify the best kind of life (for themselves or universally, wherever you fall on that issue) and teach them to do the same. Part of that is giving people the tools to approach arguments over seemingly intractable things like religion, politics, and taste in Twilight movies in a way that's actually fruitful. Part of that's showing them the implications of their beliefs, so they can see why people without their particular blind spots might react to them the way they do. And part of it is helping them see beyond those assumptions to imagine the world in a different way. For example, that worth may not be synonymous with salary. In my experience, philosophy is a good tool toward these goals. And that's why I study and teach it.

Okay, I also study and teach it because I find people like Augustine and Anselm and Aristotle as fun to play around with as Tolkien and Rowlings. Philosophy is hard work, but it's also fun time in much the same way as writing fanfic is. But I'd much rather be proved wrong and grow from that, than have other people just assume I'm right.

That quibble aside, this is an interesting look at why philosophy is relevant even outside the academy, and (refreshingly) it has nothing to do with LSAT scores or giving a nice complement to that marketing degree that employers will find attractive. Do read it.    


in honor of Bilbo's Birthday yesterday

... and the 75th anniversary of the Hobbit'spublishing, here's one of my favorite letters. German publishers asked whether he was Aryan (this was in the leadup to WWII), and here's his reply. From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

30 To Rütten & Loening Verlag

[One of the 'two drafts' mentioned by Tolkien in the previous letter. This is the only one preserved in the Allen & Unwin files, and it seems therefore very probable that the English publishers sent the other one to Germany. It is clear that in that letter Tolkien refused to make any declaration of 'arisch' origin.]

25 July 1938                                                                                    20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter. .... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Flindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject – which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its suitability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and

remain yours faithfully
J. R. R. Tolkien.



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December 2020



  • 5 Dec 2020, 12:53
    PM me your address. I have a card set aside for you, but need name and address to get it going.

    - Erulisse (one L)
  • 5 Dec 2020, 12:04
    What a lovely idea!
  • 4 Dec 2020, 17:56
    Mmmm, ginger snapses!
  • 4 Dec 2020, 17:37
    I don't send out cards anymore, but I was drooling over all the pop-up ones Amazon had and wondering if it might not be time to resume the tradition (I decided no).

    Not much help in the Hallmark…
  • 25 Nov 2020, 14:52
    That's great! Happy Thanksgiving to you and thanks for the marching, musical cats. LOL

    - Erulisse (one L)
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