Someone once asked me why I got into philosophy. “Because my father was an unreasonable man,” I found myself answering. I was surprised by my answer, but on reflection it made sense. My father would sometimes insist that he was right because, well, he was the man of the house. This was frustrating. After all, there are such things as facts. And such things as reasoning together about things. Reason is the same for everyone; reason is democratic. That’s what I love about philosophy.
Philosophy, I found, is not afraid to ask questions. In fact, its raison d’être is questioning. Why do we believe the things we do? Does what we think actually make sense? Are other views better? Philosophy is not dogmatic. At least, good philosophy isn’t. This may be why philosophers are not popular with authoritarians. We want to follow the facts where they lead us.
For years, I thought I was not as bright as my fellow students because I often found philosophy really hard to understand. And perhaps I wasn’t, but I have since learnt that many philosophical ideas are not expressed as well as they could be. Philosophy is sometimes unnecessarily obscure. I am committed to explaining my ideas as clearly and simply as possible. To not overcomplicate already complicated matters. I’m getting better at it.
Some people wonder whether what I do is really philosophy. By this they seem to mean that I do not do pure philosophy. I don’t. The areas of research that I am interested in, such as intersubjectivity, morality, and emotions, are studied by many different disciplines, including psychology and neuroscience. Evidence is usually very helpful if you theorize about things, and so I make liberal use of it no matter what discipline it comes from. As long as it is relevant to what I’m thinking about, why wouldn’t I?
This, of course, raises the question of what I, as a philosopher, contribute to the study of mind beyond what experimental science has to offer. As a philosopher, I am trained to explore the coherence of different views of mind and their ramifications. For instance, I understand what the problems are with supposing we think in pictures, or with positing an unseen mental reality behind what we express in our bodies. This helps rule out many potential interpretations of experimental data. It can also help guide future experimental research. Awareness of these deeper philosophical issues also us contextualize and relate experimental work to a more overarching picture of the mind and mental processes.
In the end, though, my aim is to contribute to the current debate more than I want to be known as a real philosopher. These are labels that distract us from the real questions.
Heidi L. Maibom