Philosophy by Another Name?
A British philosopher suggests that popular confusion over what philosophers do requires the epochs-old discipline follow the suit of other academic subjects and update its name.
Far from the woo-woo practices of ancient mystics and modern-day dispensers of folk advice, University of Miami philosopher Colin McGinn points out that his professional peers are scientists who practice a “systematic, organized, rigorous” study of a particular subject. Therefore, their work should be set apart from the generalized love (philo) of wisdom (sophia) that any seeker of knowledge possesses.
Our current name is harmful because it posits a big gap between the sciences and philosophy; we do something that is not a science. Thus we do not share in the intellectual prestige associated with that thoroughly modern word. We are accordingly not covered by the media that cover the sciences, and what we do remains a mystery to most people. But it is really quite clear that academic philosophy is a science. The dictionary defines a science as “a systematically organized body of knowledge on any subject.” This is a very broad definition, which includes not just subjects like physics and chemistry but also psychology, economics, mathematics and even “library science.”
Academic philosophy obviously falls under this capacious meaning. Moreover, most of the marks of science as commonly understood are shared by academic philosophy: the subject is systematic, rigorous, replete with technical vocabulary, often in conflict with common sense, capable of refutation, produces hypotheses, uses symbolic notation, is about the natural world, is institutionalized, peer-reviewed, tenure-granting, etc. We may as well recognize that we are a science, even if not one that makes empirical observations or uses much mathematics. Once we do this officially, we can expect to be treated like scientists.