For decades abstruse, technical philosophy has dominated the field—but is that changing, and should we want it to?by Alex Dean / July 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
In June I had a conversation with the formidable Australian philosopher Peter Singer—well-known to philosophy undergraduates around the world for his “muddy trousers” thought experiment. Over the course of 45 minutes or so we chatted about the branch of philosophy of which he is a key proponent—called “effective altruism”—but also about the nature of philosophy itself. Philosophical inquiry, Singer argued, should be directly aimed at encouraging people to do good in the world.
He isn’t alone in thinking that. After decades of abstract, technical philosophy dominating in the west, some in the discipline have been pushing for a revival of hands-on, ethical thinking. This could be a good thing—if it is done right.
I spoke to Singer, who is the Ira W DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and who turned 70 this month, over the phone. His arguments were detailed and precise—much as you would expect from a man who is one of the world’s most widely-read thinkers. He is particularly known for his essay Famine, Affluence…