Saturday, 8 September 2012

What are 'proper' philosophical questions?

Amy has a proposition to make:

I have heard it said a number of times that our discussions at the cafe-philo are not proper philosophical discussions. So I ask myself what is a proper philosophical discussion. And I get an idea:
  • First you would need to find out who are the 'proper' philosophers among the attendants of the cafe.  Would they have to declare themselves or be declared by Christian?
  • The 'proper' philosophers would propose the topics in the ordinary way, the whole assembly choosing the one they prefer.
  • The discussion would then be restricted to the 'proper' philosophers, except for the end of the session when the rest of us would discuss the propriety of the word 'proper' applied to philosophy as well as the topic itself.
That's my idea.


  1. Amy has posed an interesting question that makes us wonder if Café Philo deserves its namesake. Take the last discussion for example, the question posed by Gerry was: ‘Does it make sense to talk about Human Nature?’ and we ended up talking about ‘Human Nature’ for two hours. The real question is: Is it a waste of time to talk about Human Nature? Surely not, as I can see, most participants of the discussion visibly enjoyed the opportunity to display their knowledge on the subject. The point is, Café Philo should not be regarded as a serious academic institution – it is a social group for people to exchange information and to discuss various questions that may satisfy our intellectual curiosity.

    1. I agree that perhaps the debates are too sweeping. More than limiting the debate to a few people in the room, however, it would perhaps enhance the experience if someone (like Christian perhaps) could attempt to redefine and contextualize the question to be discussed in terms of the work of known philosophers. That way one could find reading material afterwards in the areas one found interesting.

      So, for example, the question of ‘what is human nature’ could be made more precise and redefined in more ‘philosophical’ terms, and become – ‘what is human nature at a particular period of history’ cf

      “All philosophers have the common failing of starting out from man as he is now and thinking they can reach their goal through an analysis of him. They involuntarily think of 'man' as an aeterna veritas, as something that remains constant in the midst of all flux, as a sure measure of things. Everything the philosopher has declared about man is, however, at bottom no more than a testimony as to the man of a very limited period of time. Lack of historical sense is the family failing of all philosophers.”

      from Nietzsche's Human, all too Human, s.2, R.J. Hollingdale transl

  2. I find myself wondering, what do we mean by 'proper' in this context? Is a 'proper' philosopher someone who has an academic qualification in the subject, who can quote the work of earlier philosophers, or is it more to do with they way we approach the subject?

    I think it would be a shame if the debate were limited to a few, because philosophy at best is something which concerns us all and to which we can all contribute.

    I would make one observation based on this and other groups I have attended. I agree the discussions can be very wide ranging and it is evident that people can seize on very different aspects of a subject and have very different understandings of it; how interesting that we can perceive an issue in so many different ways! Perhaps it would be nice if there was a sense of the discussion progressing towards some sort of conclusion rather than going off at tangents, but that would involve more control being exerted from the chair. Would that be desirable or not?