I use philosophy to help support, generate and defend research, advocacy and activism that might change the current plight of Black people in the US, particularly promoting better conditions for Black cis- and trans* women, girls and gender non-conforming people. In other words, I am a Black feminist professional philosopher working in the service of Black feminist agendas.
For me, examining the discipline of philosophy itself could not answer the question, “why philosophy.” Not particularly surprising. The “why” of literary criticism is related to the existence of creative writing, even if it is not only or even primarily about its more pervasive cousin. The same might be said of art criticism and art.
The discipline of philosophy does not have this structure and, quite possibly, rightfully so. It is possible that philosophy is always in the service of something other than itself.
So the answer I have stumbled upon to “why philosophy?” is simple really.
I do philosophy because it can be engaged in and created from the position of service.--Kristie Dotson at Philosoph-her
By learning which philosophical tools (e.g., logic, feminist critique) are pertinent to which aims, we avoid reifying our philosophical culture, and are then precisely able to “speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal.” Multiculturalism thus shatters monoculture’s arrogance, via estrangement and self-examination. It makes us stronger.
Once we become stronger, what shall we do in a multicultural world? Circumstances (and desire?) urge us, as philosophers, to become public diplomats. Diplomacy is a worthy task for reason (Western or otherwise), as Bruno Latour (2002) argues. Reason may yet lose in the ongoing “wars of the world” conflict once the dust settles (and when will that be?), but it is only by directly facing the momentous task and violence ahead of us, that multinaturalism (many alternative ontologies, multiple philosophies of nature; Viveiros de Castro 2004) as well as multiculturalism can be negotiated, and a true peace achieved. The view here advocated on philosophy’s function as public diplomacy is perhaps less cynical, and more optimistic, than seeing philosophy as a foundational general or judge, imposing its will to power and adjudicating knowledge and morals, either through (implicit) combat or through detached and abstract rulings (e.g., interpreting philosophical political liberalism as the handmaiden of neo-liberal Western imperialism). The stakes are certainly high. Philosophy could be a commendable diplomat in the public endeavor of learning to live courageously and ethically, perhaps even peacefully, in a multicultural world.---Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther at Scientia Salon.
Dotson observes that the professional philosophy she encountered is incapable of being self-justifying. This is no surprise because the dominant traditions (e.g., analytical philosophy, scientific philosophy, etc.) rest on broadly consequentialist foundations that presuppose shared values. The tacit elitism that could be counted on to do the real work -- that a life of philosophy is best -- does not sit well rhetorically in a democratic culture. Genuine and secure axiological foundations are not easy to come by in an intellectual culture that is scientistic. Dotson's attractive vision turns the weakness of the recent tradition around and turns it into a virtue: philosophy is not self-justifying or autonomous, but a good tool in the service of other ends. So despite many differences in sensibility, she is, thus, not far removed from the spirit of, say, Left Vienna.
Even so, I would expect some readers of Dotson to recoil at her stance. Philosophy, they may think, is oriented toward and expresses the truth. If it serves anything it serves truth. This kind of sentiment is often muttered by folk who have studied a smattering of physics or math and end up in professional philosophy. (They may even think that this is a value-neutral fact about the essence of philosophy.) They view politics as somehow exogenous to philosophy, and they look with suspicion on, say, philosophical feminism. That is, the value of truth and philosophical self-sufficiency even autonomy is taken for granted.* One knows that such folk devoured Gödel, Escher, Bach, but somehow failed to assimilate the worthy bits of Nietzsche as a teenager.
As I was mulling the implications of Dotson's position I encountered Grønfeldt Winther's "post. I am not sure who exactly is included in his repeated 'us,' but from context it seems to be philosophy and philosophers. He, too, offers a service oriented understanding of philosophy and its "tools," one that facilitates peaceful cohabitation. It is unclear what he has in mind exactly--if he (not unlike later Rawls) thinks that philosophy should engineer concepts that that make such living together possible or, more likely, if he thinks that philosophers should be messengers between cultures/civilizations/countries/peoples (etc.).
That philosophers can be useful to others is an idea as old as recorded (Western) philosophy. It is useful to see it re-imagined and re-activated in an age where lots of professional philosophers want to imagine philosophy as an explanatory or foundational (these need not be identical) enterprise, and lots of (other) public philosophers emphasize the therapeutic, self-help features of the tradition(s). Even so, if the ends of (service oriented) philosophy are given to it from without, its "agenda" is set by others. To be sure, service-oriented philosophy can and will scrutinize these ends dispassionately, so there need not be worry that some values or ends will get an uncritical, free pass. However, if philosophy is intrinsically meant to result, not just in a facilitating role of mutual coping and ongoing conversations, but in action, then it follows that there may be occasions where ongoing questioning will be untimely or a discrete, even diplomatic silence will be embraced.
*This is not to deny that one could argue for the value for truth or view it as a self-justifying ground.