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June 5, 2018 | by  | in Philosoraptor |
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As with most other academic fields, people have a lot of misconceptions about philosophy. These misconceptions range from the idea that philosophers spend all day arguing about “the meaning of life”, to the erroneous belief that philosophy is too abstract to be relevant to everyday life.
In reality, blanket statements about any field are rarely accurate. Philosophy is a discipline with a range of extremely diverse subfields. Some areas, like metaphysics (a field which studies concepts like existence, possibility, and necessity) are indeed incredibly abstract. But others, like applied bioethics, focus on a range of immediately tangible issues like genetic engineering, animal welfare, and mental illness.
The work of philosophers also frequently intersects with contemporary social and scientific issues. Philosophers of race and gender discuss issues that are prominent in our social and political discourse. Philosophers of science debate the methodological underpinnings of sciences like physics and biology, and social sciences like economics. And political philosophers write about democracy, populism, the refugee crisis, and many other critical modern issues.
In addition to philosophy’s contemporary relevance, people also don’t realise that historically, philosophy enveloped many disciplines which we now see as distinct. For a long time it was closely intertwined with the natural sciences – Plato and Aristotle wrote works which melded metaphysical and scientific claims. Moreover, it drew heavily on the social sciences. Philosophers like David Hume and Adam Smith wrote on philosophical issues like ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology as well as economics, psychology, and sociology.

Over time, academic fields became more specialised and began to split off from each other. Yet many contemporary fields have their roots in philosophy, or at least have enjoyed substantial contributions from philosophers. In the 19th and 20th centuries, philosophers like Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell made huge contributions to areas of logic, mathematics, and computer science. In the late 1900s, philosophers worked on decision theory and game theory alongside economists and mathematicians. And even today, philosophers of mind work in tandem with neuroscientists to investigate some of the deeper mysteries of consciousness.
In short, then, philosophy does not deserve its often poor reputation. Historically, philosophy was vital to the development of many fields which have contributed immensely to humanity’s quality of life. And today, philosophers do essential work on a range of contemporary issues.
This is not, of course, to say that philosophy is without its problems. Of the many genuine concerns it is possible to have about philosophy, the most important, perhaps, is that philosophy doesn’t seem to make very much progress, at least compared with disciplines like the sciences. Disagreement in philosophy is pervasive and often seems intractable, which leads to pessimism about whether we will every truly “solve” the big questions in philosophy.

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