What topic do you think is under explored in philosophy?
Let me answer a different question, which is what I don’t want us to lose sight of while nobly pursuing underexplored areas of philosophy. I think that recent pushes towards public and social philosophy are so, so important: we really need to be engaging with the public, and we really need to be addressing the (incredibly depressing) social and political issues that we are faced with.
At the same time, though, I think of philosophy as partly a creative process and discipline, and I think it would be a tremendous shame if we lost sight of that part of things. I love metaphysics in part because it is one of the parts of philosophy that allows for some of the most creativity; there are fewer rules (or at least, there should be fewer rules—turns out that sadly there are lots of rules for what kinds of things will get published), for the very same reason that many people think metaphysics is worthless: it’s unclear what “the data” are, or whether there are any data, that we are theorizing about, and also unclear what the correct methodology is. I don’t think these kinds of worries are actually particular to metaphysics, because I think they carry over to basically all of human inquiry; and I don’t think they de-value human inquiry. When I think about what I value about human inquiry, an awful lot of that is about what it tells us about our relationship to our world, and what it tells us about us, and also that it is often really beautiful and fascinating and incredibly complex. In the end, I think that super abstract, theoretical philosophy can and does help inform the more obviously applicable-to-real-life parts of philosophy, but I also think it is valuable for its own sake, in the same way that other arts are. "APA Member Interview: Michaela McSweeney"
I don't think social and political philosophy are less creative in the romantic, the classical or the historical sense. If one designs, say, a utopia there is a sense in which the rules of the genre are laid down by Plato (what I call Socratic political theory). But, of course, the rules are not explicit in Plato, and they may only be partially stabilized by the time Ibn Tufayl, More, Bacon, Godwin, or Le Guin come around. Part of the creative joy of the genre is that there is both historical creativity and an 'answering to' new existing social and technological relations/developments as well as a creative projection into an impossible, yet (apologies for the appearance of paradox) possible non-present. I don't mean to suggest utopias are only about imagining the future; one of my best students, Hannah Lingier, taught me that many have a non-trivial function (by way of idealization) in isolating and revealing (in image and speech) how non-trivial existing social mechanisms work. Either way, the rules of the genre are not immutable.
Obviously, most professional philosophers who work in public philosophy or in social and political philosophy do not aim to write the next New Atlantis. But there are some non-trivial features that complicate (ahh) our** lives, even if one is only interested in getting a publication in a decent journal. For, it is actually very challenging to work with normative concepts that (a) are purportedly descriptively accurate in some sense or another; (b) do not reinforce or contribute to bad status quo; (c) do not privilege the perspective of the theorist at the expense of folk who do not attend our seminars; (d) that accommodate the reality of social change; and (e) that are coherent with other commitments, and (f) are not silly in light of recent social science, nor (f) cause embarrassment when a hostile media get hold of them.
I need to close. But I want to comment on the hint of anxiety that I detect in McSweeney's "it would be a tremendous shame if we lost sight of that part of things." I don't think that McSweeney is expressing concern over (the possible) reality in which metaphysicians can't get jobs because political and social philosophers are getting all of them. I think the anxiety is rather -- and again I may be wrong about this -- that topics she loves will not be of interest to our (future) peers. I recognize this concern; every time somebody (like me, alas) pushes for the significance of comparative philosophy, I reflect on the possibility that poor Berkeley will be unknown in the 23rd century. (Since he is a eugenic racialist, I am not too bummed.)
As it happens, I think 'we' need a lot more metaphysics in social and political life in order to do such work 'better'! The previous sentence is not meant to be radical now that Sally Haslanger and L.A. Paul and their students are already revolutionizing (in very different ways) social and political philosophy. The point is social and political life are suffused with very complicated issues of modality (and probability, non-determinate and overlapping boundaries, etc.). The reason I am confident of that claim is that continental metaphysics (Deleuze, Foucault, etc.) has enormous uptake in empirical social science. Those of us working in social and political philosophy would welcome more attention by analytic metaphysicians if (and perhaps only if) the metaphysicians didn't think of the topics as merely applied (and, again, I don't think McSweeney thinks that); for, I bet we could also improve metaphysics if more time was spent thinking about the very hard problems of social and political life and then feed that experience back into our most general reflections about the nature of (ahh) reality.