While I am travelling, of course an interesting net phenomenon occurs: people trying to define what philosophy is.
It began with Simon Critchley opening a philosophy blog in the New York Times. As pleased as some are to see such a beast, they objected to Critchley being the blogger, and his claim that philosophy is, at least in the public eye, silly. Given this blog’s recent skirting of the issue of what a philosopher is (here, here and here), this is relevant. I can’t do an indepth analysis while on the road, and anyway, I’ve already said what I think is interesting, but here’s a nice interview of Hilary Putnam, who may be said to know as well as anyone, on the nature of the philosophy of science. I think that the issue is not whether philosophy is a science, though, so much as science is where philosophy grounds all the rest (including metaphysics and logic).
In the meantime, here’s Michael Dummett on that very topic.
A couple of random thoughts:
Is philosophy its own discipline? Well that depends on whether one is an essentialist about disciplines, or a traditionalist. The former requires that a subject have clear demarcation of subject matter from other subjects, a view that goes back at least to Aristotle, especially the Metaphysics and the Posterior Analytics. The latter is a term of my own devising, and means basically that a subject is defined, or rather formed, from historical traditions that remain largely decoupled from other such, a kind of social phylogenetics, as it were. In this case, philosophy is a discipline not because it is definable in a way that excludes science and other reasoning-based subjects, but because it remains a cohering tradition or set of traditions, aiming at questions and targets that are traditional, all the while developing as the social and cultural context changes around it.
So to ask if so-and-so is a philosopher is to ask, in effect, are they embedded in that tradition of issues and methods and topics that philosophers are? It’s not, quite, that philosophy is what philosophers do, any more than science is what scientists do, but an essentialistic definition is impossible for such a fluid set of cultural and intellectual traditions in either case. We can’t get a demarcation principle for philosophy any more than we can for science.