Celebrating World Philosophy Day with Stories (Part 1)

In honor of World Philosophy Day (November 16th), we asked a few Springer Nature researchers to tell us the story behind how they got into philosophy and why they’re so passionate about their field. Get to know Federica Russo and Hsiang-ke Chao in the feature below and check back next week for the next two installments of this series!

Federica Russo

Nederland,city, 2016
Geesteswetenschappen, master studies Universiteit van Amsterdam.
Foto: Bob Bronshoff

Describe what it is to be an academic philosopher in your country and if/how it has any influence on your research.

I left Italy as an Erasmus student in 2000 and I have been abroad ever since. After studying and working in four different academic environments in three European countries (and a short stay in the US), I landed in the Netherlands in 2014. In my experience, academic philosophers (of science) here enjoy quite an interesting and stimulating environment, being in close contact with science and technology – both in research and in teaching programmes. This is an asset for my own research. In particular, in the Netherlands – unlike other academic environments – scholars do not draw a sharp line between philosophy of science and the social studies of science. For philosophy of science, this means creating a rich hub were philosophers, historians, sociologists, and anthropologists set up a dialogue about the practice of the sciences and about its role in society. Yet, while it is a very positive experience to be a researcher and teacher, the Netherlands is also undergoing hard times in the form of budget cuts, especially in the humanities. Academic philosophers, as well as philosophy students, are strenuously fighting against the managerial and neoliberal drift that is so badly damaging our university. While this situation is making working conditions suboptimal, I also take it as an important moment for us philosophers to assert the relevance of our discipline, based on arguments other than its intrinsic value or tradition.

How, would you say, is philosophy evolving as a study within your region?

I consider myself a European philosopher, as I have been trained and active in several countries, where distinct approaches and schools of thought have strong roots or influence. In Europe, philosophy of science is gradually becoming more inclusive and open to many traditions, for instance the rather analytical approach of Britain, or the historical of France and Italy, or the applied one of the Netherlands. This is a very good thing. In my view, this will help us restore a useful dialogue with scientists and technologists (from the humanities, social, biomedical, or natural sciences) and with society at large. It certainly requires a deep and thorough self-reflective exercise, but one that is much needed. Philosophers aren’t born in an armchair and should certainly get out of it and meet the world (again).

What would you like to change in philosophy / if you could make one wish for the development of philosophy what would it be?

I see positive changes in my discipline and these concern the content, but not yet, or enough, of norms and habits. Philosophy is by its very nature critical, but this doesn’t mean it should be aggressive, patronizing, elitist, or exclusive. Critical thinking can and should be exercised in a collegial and constructive way. I wish we could develop our sharp arguments thinking that we are helping each other – rather than arguing against each other. I like to think that our exercise in critical thinking is aimed at enhancing our understanding of ourselves and of the world, and at improving our environment, be it via policy making, teaching, etc., not at showing each other wrong. We bear a high responsibility by calling ourselves philosophers – in Greek, those who love wisdom – and should live up to this expectation.

Hsiang-ke Chao

Describe what it is to be an academic philosopher in your country and if/how it has any influence on your research.

Tough. Having a PhD degree in economics and teaching in one of the top economics departments in Taiwan, I am not regarded as a conventional philosopher. However, because the research in philosophy in Taiwan is diverse and each sub-community of a subfield within philosophy is not large, I am well received among this small group of Taiwanese philosophers of science. Philosophy is a tough discipline as it requires thinking clearly through the subject, even tougher for a philosopher of economic science like me who needs to catch up on the developments in both philosophy and economics, and to prove one’s own research is meaningful to both philosophers as well as scientists. More importantly, we have to demonstrate to younger generations that philosophy, as a career, is worth pursuing. Philosophy departments in Taiwan are now facing a crisis of shortage of student demand in studying philosophy. It is partly because the low birth rate causes student populations of universities and colleges to drop significantly. It is also partly because philosophy is not regarded as a useful discipline. Unlike, in the USA where undergraduate students study philosophy because they consider pursuing a pre-law major, students in Taiwan usually do not regard philosophy as practical discipline with a bright career outlook. In philosophy of science, because one needs to have a sufficient knowledge of science, there is a high barrier of entry for students to finish studying philosophy of science. But philosophy is useful! Hopefully, there are more people who realize the importance of philosophy and more young people are willing to study philosophy in the future.

How, would you say, is philosophy evolving as a study within your region?

Global. Since I returned to Taiwan in 2002, we have had more Taiwanese philosophers who are willing to conquer the language barrier to collaborate with scholars from other countries in exploring important philosophical topics. I think this is the right way to change the dire academic environment (when compared with other disciplines) for philosophers. The “publish or perish” atmosphere does have an effect in providing philosophers with incentive to publish in international journals and with publishers. Given also that some Taiwanese philosophers are willing to share their international research resources and networks with their fellow philosophers, their work is becoming more recognizable internationally. My two edited volumes published with Springer are perfect examples of this.

What would you like to change in philosophy / if you could make one wish for the development of philosophy what would it be?

Useful. I wish there are more people discovering philosophy is a discipline useful to society. Perhaps, we philosophers in Taiwan need to be able to transform our philosophical knowledge into solutions to practical problems, engage in public debate, and shape public policy. Thus, the real power of philosophy is demonstrated!

 

 

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