I’m all for popularizing philosophy in the right kind of way, and admire — not to say envy — the likes of A.C. Grayling and my colleague Simon Blackburn for their prose styles, their immense energy, good sense, ability to bring ideas to life, ability to engage with wider concerns. But I could certainly do without Alain de Botton pretentiously sounding off from whatever remote planet he inhabits. Here’s an excerpt from an interview in a Cambridge student mag.
Q: So, it’s the most obvious question to ask really: what exactly is philosophy?
A: 99% of people who call themselves philosophers are employed by universities, in the UK. And they’re really employed to teach the history of philosophy or the theory of philosophy but they’re not philosophers as such, they’re commentators on philosophy that other people have done, on the whole. …
What utter ignorant bollocks. When my colleagues wrestle as it might be with the philosophical foundations of set theory, or how we manage to think about the non-existent, or the foundations of political liberalism, or on the nature of moral judgement (to pick a few local enthusiasms), they are doing philosophy, trying to get it right, trying to push things on. Of course they engage with what others have said, but not as commentators-from-the-sidelines but as fellow participants in the ongoing conversation of philosophy. They are most certainly philosophers as such.
At a time when humanities disciplines are depressingly undervalued and misunderstood, and indeed under some threat, it does my blood pressure no good to have the likes of the crashingly ignorant de Botton trying to piss on us as well.