The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted a nice set of portraits called “Gallery of Minds,” featuring images of 10 world-famous philosophers, including Richard Rorty, David Chalmers, and renowned philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto, who also wrote a compelling introduction. Danto focuses on the visual artistry of the series’ photographer Steve Pyke, a long-time staff member at the New Yorker, but we found the great thinkers’ own statements — their answers to the “why” of their chosen pursuits — equally, if not more, compelling. Here is MIT’s feminist metaphysician Sally Haslinger:
Given the amount of suffering and injustice in the world, I flip-flop between thinking that doing philosophy is a complete luxury and that it is an absolute necessity. The idea that it is something in between strikes me as a dodge.
And Robin Jeshion, best known for a theory of singular thought which she calls Cognitivism, has this to say:
Philosophy’s distinguishing value? For me, it resides not so much in the big questions’ multifarious answers, themselves, nor, alas, in wisdom attained through the exacting process of answering them, but rather in how it invariably reminds us how little we really do know. Philosophy is, or should be, humbling — and is, for this, ennobling.
Finally, perhaps our favorite ‘mission statement,’ from Jerry Fodor, the cognitive scientist who has worked out theories on the architecture of the mind:
To the best of my recollection, I became a philosopher because my parents wanted me to be a lawyer. It seems to me, in retrospect, that there was much to be said for their suggestion.
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Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.