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6.4.08

Geography And Anthropology: They're Good!

In a similarly titled post, Neil Sinhababu makes the case for majoring in philosophy. Philosophy is a great major, and if I were to go back for a second dose of undergrad for some reason it would probably be what I majored in. But I'd like to take this opportunity to put in a brief for geography and anthropology, the things I actually did major in.

Philosophy is great for teaching you how to read, process, and make arguments. What it's not so good at is helping you know what to have arguments about. I mean this in two ways: 1) the question of inputs -- being able to locate and evaluate empirical information when your argument calls for it -- and 2) framing what kinds of questions are out there and need a philosopher's eye. I encounter far too many people who are really good at structuring arguments, but fall prey to GIGO because they start from "intuitions" (oftentimes not even acknowledged as such) that are culturally specific or even outright false. (At the risk of sidetracking, I think there are certain common types of libertarianism and college-student liberalism that are largely the result of this imbalance.) Geography and anthropology give you a view of what things are really going on in the world and the true scope of diversity of human ways of life beyond the assumptions you're already carrying around.

Academic philosophers are hardly immune to it either, at least within environmental ethics (the branch of philosophy I'm most familiar with). I wish I could sit the leading environmental ethicists down for a semester of political ecology. Debates about whether a "restoration" of the environment is really metaphysically possible sound not just abstract but pointed in the wrong direction in the context of things like the gender dynamics of neo-colonial agricultural policy. Political ecologists, on the other hand, could do with a bit of philosophy to help them be clear about where in all this stuff they're exposing the core problem and its solution lie (because for all their eagerness to slam "value-free" science, they often do a poor job of making clear their own value commitments and what they entail beyond emotive renderings of situations*).

*Emotive renderings are great. They're called art and literature. And you need to be clear where you lie on the spectrum from art to argument.

2 Comments:

Blogger Alon Levy said...

What's GIGO?

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Colleen Thompson said...

Garbage in, garbage out
(I'm guilty of the 'intuitions' version of GIGO arguments : 9 )

6:14 AM  

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