What Philosophers Do

“If our forms of explanation cannot acknowledge and understand evil, then we will remain opaque to ourselves morally and politically. Here, the philosophical inquiry intersects with practical issues of what to do about the problems of evil that are so pressing in contemporary politics. Philosophy cannot, however, give prescriptions for political or individual action. Philosophers have no particular political expertise, because politics remains an art, a matter of judging the possible within multiple intersecting contexts. This is especially true today, when governments must act simultaneously before domestic and international audiences. Nor can philosophers reach the level of particularity that characterizes the life choices of an individual. Philosophy may help us to understand love and evil, but it cannot tell us whom we should love or whether we should hate.

Philosophers can, however, bring contemporary problems into contact with larger traditions within which our thinking operates. They can help to explain why we see our problems and possibilities as we do. Our perceptions of self and world, of meaning and value, are deeply embedded in the history of Western understandings. We do not make the world anew; we inherit it. We perceive meaning in certain ways because we perceive the world to be of a certain character. The philosopher’s role is to clarify this structure of thought.”

Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden, 14-15.

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