What is Philosophy? Methods, Aims, Debates

Philosophy is a various and contested discipline, about which we can and should ask metaphilosophical questions: What is philosophy? How ought we to go about doing it? What is its purpose or value? What kinds of knowledge does it produce? What is the relation between it and other disciplines, e.g. literary criticism, history, psychology? Or between it and other forms of writing, e.g. poetry, fiction, political rhetoric? Is philosophy as currently practiced in Anglo-American universities problematically Western or male? Is university philosophy real philosophy?

The aims of this team-taught module are (1) to give students a tasting menu of some of the topics and approaches of contemporary professional philosophy as done here at Lancaster, and (2) to help students to reflect on metaphilosophical questions, both in the discipline and in their own practice.

Apart from the introductory week 1, the module has three parts: Part A (weeks 2-5) consists of short talks by philosophy staff on their current research and on the metaphilosophical issues it raises, followed by moderated discussion. Part B (weeks 6-8) consists of close reading and discussion of a classic, opinionated introduction to philosophical ethics and to its metaphilosophy: Bernard Williams’s Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. For MA Philosophy students, this part also counts as the disciplinary segment of PPR400 Theories & Methods. Part C (weeks 9-10) will be taken up with work and presentation on essays in progress.

Select Bibliography:

David Edmunds, Nigel Warburton, et al., ‘What is Philosophy?’, Philosophy Bites podcast, http://philosophybites.com/2010/11/what-is-philosophy.html
Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason (2nd edn, Routledge 1993)
G. E. R. Lloyd, Disciplines in the Making: cross-cultural perspectives on elites, learning, and innovation (Oxford University Press 2009): chapter 1
Sarah A. Mattice, Metaphor and Metaphilosophy: philosophy as combat, play, and aesthetic experience (Lexington Books 2014)
Soren Overgaard, Paul Gilbert, & Stephen Burwood, An Introduction to Metaphilosophy (Cambridge University Press 2013)
Nicholas Rescher, Metaphilosophy: philosophy in philosophical perspective (Lexington Books 2014)
Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope (Penguin 1999)
Timothy Williamson, The Philosophy of Philosophy (Blackwell 2007)

You can get a sense of the range and style of contemporary Anglo-American professional philosophy by browsing the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, http://plato.stanford.edu/