Why There Are and Will Be Few Good Philosophers

In consequence, philosophical inquiry is hard and exhausting work. It takes intelligence of a rather rarefied kind, and work that is hard to sustain across a range of topics or over a long period of time. This is why figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Wittgenstein are intellectual “venerables”: They exhibit sustained heroic intellectual virtues. But while serious philosophy requires analytical acuity and energy, these are not sufficient for achieving true insights. One also needs to have good sense and good judgment, an eye for the weeds, and an ability to distinguish between the significant and the trivial.

Most professional philosophers in the Anglophone academic world have highly trained analytical skills, but far fewer have cultural breadth and depth, and good sense and judgment, and fewer still are capable of sustained fruitful investigations. In face of the difficulties of the subject there are two temptations, though they represent themselves as virtuous options: to ascend to a high level of abstraction that disengages from detail and even from broader intellectual relevance, and to descend into the details of one field or another—physics, psychology, economics, medicine, or whatever else, either in a spirit of useful supplementary service, or one of subservience to these as the true sources of understanding and utility.

-John Haldane, with much more to say.


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