This is a bit off the usual content of this blog, which is to feature activities and news of interest to our research group, but I just couldn’t find another forum for this piece, and I wanted to do something to promote these ideas. I think they are a good desiderata of academic work. In his The Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell writes the following:
… those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy.
This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty of philosophy. There are many questions — and among them those that of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life—which, so far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a different order from what they are now. Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth in wisdom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life must ultimately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the universe or only to man? Such questions are asked by philosophy,…It is part of the business of philosophy to continue the consideration of such questions … to keep alive that speculative interest in the universe which is apt to be killed by confining ourselves to definitely ascertainable knowledge.
The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man … unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected…. Thus, … it [philosophy] greatly increases our knowledge of what may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder…
I don’t see why philosophy has to have a monopoly on healthy skepticism, self-doubt, an open mind, wonder in the face of our amazing universe, and, consequently, of thoroughly enjoying a life of scientific investigation, perhaps with just the recommended “tincture” of philosophical speculation.