Leiter: Philosophy is Where the Smart Undergrads Are

Where the Smart Students Are
Brian Leiter
New York Times
August 19, 2010

Philosophers from antiquity to the present have been concerned with the nature of the human mind and agency, the sources of motivation, the relative contributions of reason and passion in human behavior, and the capacity for individuals to exercise conscious control over their lives.

Once the scientific revolution of the early modern era reached the human sciences in the late 19th century, a new set of tools became available for assessing the accuracy of claims about these perennial philosophical topics about the mind and action. The idea that philosophical work on these topics could proceed independently of what is now called “cognitive science” — an idea some retrograde philosophers still embrace — is unfortunate. By the same token, cognitive science needs philosophy, to clarify its findings and frame their import.

But the centrality of cognitive science to worthwhile philosophy is orthogonal to the issue of philosophy’s current place in the university. Philosophy has been, for at least 30 years, the most interdisciplinary of all the humanistic disciplines, one that interacts continuously with psychology, biology, physics, linguistics, law, mathematics, and medicine, to name a few of the fields that count philosophers among their active members and contributors.

Brian Leiter