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PHILOSOPHY: An Assessment / Vol. 47, No. 4 (Winter 1980)

Peter Caws, Guest Editor
Arien Mack, Journal Editor

Introduces us to the issue, in which contributors were asked to prepare informal assessments of the state of affairs in various fairly obvious subdivisions of philosophy.

Aesthetics is the marginal and problematic part of philosophy. Its preoccupations are (1) to say something interesting and specific about art, without turning into art criticism or literary theory or whatever, and (2) to speak with philosophical sophistication, fortified by what is most vigorous in the main central parts of philosophy, without itself lapsing into epistemology or theory of language.

The aim is to point out the way that philosophy has become divided against itself, that just when the promised land of logical form is glimpsed, it is obscured by the haze of reference, and philosophers collide.

Politics kill. The field of ethics has been marked in recent years by a revived recognition of this. Given the reality of politics, we can recognize the reality of political debate. Occasionally political debate rises to the level of genuine argument in which reasons are pitted against reasons. Occasionally, some of these reasons appear to be moral reasons. But is there any such thing as a moral reason? Can there be?

Central to this argument is the claim that the study of human behavior and institutions by humans themselves is circular in a way that the study of nature is not. The problem from the study of human societies and cultural artifacts in all their diversity and even alienness arise because of the need to interpret them in terms of our own standpoint.

Discusses historical scholarship in philosophy from the time of Thales and cites W. K. C. Guthrie's 'A History of Greek Philosophy' (1962–78), J. H. Randall's 'The Career of Philosophy' (1962–65), and some recent works on the history of philosophy in America, including Bruce Kuklick's 'The Rise of American Philosophy' (1977).

The 20th century ranks with the 17th and 13th, and with the 4th century B.C., in the originality and daring of its metaphysics. This despite the eclipse of metaphysics in the firmament of academic philosophy.

Broadly formulated by Edmund Husserl at the beginning of this century as the science of the appearance of things for consciousness, phenomenology has since undergone a revision of definition by philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and, most recently (1980), Jacques Derida, who has built upon the works of Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Emmanuel Lévinas with his own reading of the structuralist, semiological, psychoanalytical, and related traditions.

Philosophical anthropology studies the nature of human beings, their cultural endowments, their production of cultural objects and their goals as beings that possess a culture. Philosophy as a discipline, we might be tempted to say, addresses itself precisely to these problems, and therefore we might think of philosophical anthropology as the most inclusive part of philosophic inquiry.

In the light of a decade of work, what can philosophers reasonably hope to achieve in the public domain, directly or indirectly through their journals? How have these topical concerns altered more theoretical ambitions in ethics and political philosophy?

The author has selected an epistemological motive to provide a framework for discussing recent work in the philosophy of language. The motive is the search for an account of understanding the “content” of our belief and knowledge. The author shows how results in the philosophy of language are relevant to this search, thereby revealing what a large part of the philosophy of language is and why (in part) it is philosophical.

Unlike many other areas of academic philosophy, the philosophy of law has been, in terms of course offerings, something of a “growth industry” in recent years in the U.S. The basic reasoning for this is that undergraduate higher education has generally succumbed to pressures to emphasize career training at the expense of the traditional purer humanities and science studies, courses in jurisprudence have become more attractive both to students and to philosophy professors.

The problems and interests that characterize the philosophy of mind derive from an uneasy relationship that has evolved between the way modern science represents physical reality and that special sense we have of ourselves as conscious beings.

One of the long-standing issues in the theory of knowledge is the question of the correct analysis of the concept of knowledge itself. What is meant by the claim that someone knows that a certain proposition is true? The essay analyzes the three conditions that philosophers think is necessary for a knowledge claim to be true.

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