Philosophy by another name

Today, I’m sharing an article featured on the New York Times.

Colin McGinn, the writer, is a professor of Philosophy in the University of Miami. In the article, he argues for giving “philosophers” a different name because, really, what they’re called isn’t completely representative of what they do. Scientists are labeled/called based on their field of interest and expertise. You have your biologist, chemist, and physicists. But calling philosophers as philosophers, derived from Greek words which translate to lover of wisdom, is rather too encompassing and quite inappropriate. McGinn cites that if we are to use the definition of “lover of wisdom” then anyone in the academe should be called a philosopher, too. (But it’s not completely wrong. After all, many of those in the academe finish their PhD’s, which as you know stands for Doctor of Philosophy – whether one’s chosen field is in economics, theology or even business management).

Here’s an excerpt:

What is literally true is that we philosophers value knowledge, like our colleagues in other departments. Do we love knowledge? One might reasonably demur from such an emotive description. And is it wisdom we value? The word sounds vaguely hokey and quaint. (Is a chemist in love with wisdom concerning chemicals?) Moreover, “wisdom” really refers to having good judgment as to how to live one’s life, not to knowledge concerning abstract theoretical matters; and academic philosophy is only partly concerned with wisdom in that sense (ethics, political philosophy).

He also touches on the issue of which umbrella philosophy should fall under – science or arts and humanities, but eventually shifts back to his original motive in writing. (Although he believed more that philosophy is a science. Arts and humanities focus more on human culture, whereas philosophy touches on human nature).

After much thought, he arrived at a recommendation for what he believes philosophers should be called.

I have toyed with many new names, but the one that I think works best is “ontics.” It is sufficiently novel as not to be confused with other fields; it is pithy and can easily be converted to “onticist” and “ontical”; it echoes “physics,” and it emphasizes that our primary concern is the general nature of being. The dictionary defines “philosophy” as “the study of the fundamental nature of reality, knowledge and existence.” We can simplify this definition by observing that all three cited areas are types of being: objective reality obviously is, but so is knowledge, and so also are meaning, consciousness, value and proof, for example. These are simply things that are.

So we study the fundamental nature of what is — being.

It was a good read. I may be siding with him on this, because if we are to stick to the word’s real meaning, then yes, it doesn’t completely follow. There’s just half truth to it.

If he wishes his campaign to succeed, then maybe he should… up the ontics.

Read the article in its entirety here.


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