Prof. Erik Wielenberg Authors Newsweek's 'My Turn' Column, Discusses the Work of a Philosopher
October 9, 2006
October 9, 2006, Greencastle, Ind. - "'I mean, what do you do?' It's the question every professional philosopher dreads," writes Erik J. Wielenberg, associate professor of philosophy at DePauw University, in the October 16 edition of Newsweek. Wielenberg authors the "My Turn" column in the latest issue of the magazine, an essay that is headlined "I Think, Therefore I Am Misunderstood."
The philosopher states, "When most people try to picture in their minds a professional philosopher at work, I suspect they simply draw a blank -- much like the fogginess that floods my mind's eye when someone tells me he is a consultant... What I do, in a nutshell, is this: I find a question or puzzle that interests me. I try to figure out a solution, usually reading what others have had to say about it along the way. If I come up with anything good, I write it down and see if anyone is interested in publishing it."
Dr. Wielenberg reports, "This answer rarely satisfies those who want to know what I do. I suspect that what they really want to know is whether I accomplish anything worthwhile during the day. The essence of their question is something like: 'Where do you get off?!' Telling someone that you spent the day trying to figure out whether God could make a stone that even he couldn't lift (a subject on which I've published) is simply not going to cut it. Most people find it ridiculous for a grown-up to spend his time doing this, and outrageous that he's paid for it."
The professor says the work that he and his colleagues in philosophy engage in can be traced back to Socrates, who exclaimed that "an unexamined life is not worth living... What got him into trouble was speaking truth to power, and he later drank poison rather than betray the principles to which his reasoning had led him. In the long run, he was victorious: today every educated person knows the name of Socrates, while few know much about the government that executed him. We philosophers can also point out that whatever your most cherished institution or ideal -- representative democracy, the free-market economy, even Christianity -- it would not exist if no one engaged in the mysterious work of philosophy. I once overheard a student remark that philosophy professors are the 'renegades of society.'"
Wielenberg's essay concludes, "Philosophy is an inefficient activity; much of it is useless. Yet its products have shaped our world, and millions know the name of its greatest hero. Hairsplitter, truth seeker, renegade: I try to be all these things. And if I manage to pass on something of the legacy of philosophy, I'll have a good answer to the dreaded question if they ask it of me on my deathbed."
Read the complete column at Newsweek.com.Back