Do you think _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_ is categorically a philosophy book, or because it's a novel, it cannot be in that classification? Marty C.

There is no reason that a novel cannot be a work of philosophy; in fact, I would argue that many novels are exactly that. Philosophy broadly construed is "the love (study/seeking/etc.) of wisdom," which can certainly be pursued through fiction. A little more narrowly, a work in philosophy would employ a certain style of inquiry, methodical or systematic or logical. Even more narrowly, it would contain references to, or even excerpts from, the standard philosophical repertoire; Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World comes to mind here. While I have never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance myself, from what I have heard about it, I would consider it a work in philosophy broadly speaking -- that is, it gives you the impetus to ask the kinds of questions traditionally associated with philosophy.

I have recently started studying philosophy and found that it is increasingly isolating me from non-philosophically inclined people. I find it hard to stop thinking philosophically even in light conversation and become frustrated when people have simplistic views. It is becoming hard to enjoy mainstream entertainment, because the ideas that the entertainment is based on have a long history, much more interesting than the entertainment itself. Can someone who has been doing philosophy longer than me please tell me how to remedy this situation? I really love philosophy, but at the moment it feels as if I almost have to give up citizenship of the "normal" world. Is this isolation going to intensify through doing more philosophy, or is it at some stage going to become more tolerable? Thanks for any help.

I can't say for sure how typical your experience is, but I can say for sure that I shared it. Starting to study philosophy is a lot like falling in love (which makes sense, given the literal meaning of the word, right?). When a person falls in love, it's normal to be so enthralled with the beloved that nothing and no one else seems worth a thought. Every conversation eventually turns back toward the beloved. Time spent apart is considered wasted. Other, ordinary folk throw up their hands in exasperation -- and the lover cares naught. Just like a person in love, whether this condition persists, worsens or improves is up to you. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, at the same time as birthing, raising and educating eight children, I suffered greatly from what I called "Mommy-Scholar Schizophrenia." It was so difficult, so painful, to shift gears between ethical theory and Disney coloring books! Finally, I came to see that one of the magnificent things about philosophy is its ability to...

It’s been said that philosophy can help develop useful critical thinking skills, and analysis of argument, concepts, and hypotheses, etc. seems to be much of what philosophers do. But what about the creative aspect to their work? Can studying philosophy help us to better hypothesize, speculate, generate more and better ideas or problem solve generally? Critical thinking can be studied separately from philosophy, but are there resources for exercising this creative aspect? It would seem to me that this area is just as useful and transferable to other disciplines as critical thinking, yet not much seems to be said of it. Or is it that creativity is something that a person just has (like a talent) in a certain area and it’s not easily transferred form one area to another? For example an artist can be very creative with her paintings but stumped when it comes to generating ideas for resolving her business problems. How do the really good philosophers come up with the great unifying theories, persuasive...

Studying philosophy can indeed encourage the development of synthetical skill as much as analytical skill. Very often philosophers will apply a concept or way of thinking common in one area to another, just to see what will happen. A historical example might be Thomas Aquinas applying Aristotelian metaphysics to Christian theology. It seems plausible that intellectual creativity and certain aesthetic creativities (visual or tactile, for example) would not be interchangeable; people are generally more comfortable in some media than others. But if one's media is thought, ideas and propositions, it can probably be transferred across disciplines (from philosophy to, say, literature or geology). It also seems plausible that intellectual creativity is a talent that people possess in varying degrees, though it can be cultivated, just like any other. How do the really good philosophers come up with their ideas? Wish I knew; then maybe I could be a really good philosopher, too :) In most cases...

Should philosophy and epistemological precepts be taught to grade school children?

There are indeed philosophers making strong arguments in favor of introducing philosophy to young children. See Michael Pritchard's article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for some examples. Gareth Matthews has been working for a long time in an area he calls " the philosophy of childhood ." As a philosopher and mother of nine, I can think of many, many instances in which a philosophical precept has helped my children understand a difficult idea or make a tough decision. (Of course, I can think of many more in which their eyes glazed over as they mumbled some remark about their friends' "normal" moms...)

My first question on this site: What questions should we put to philosphers? One of Kalynne's suggestions: You might ask what makes an answer to a given question a good one. Thanks, Kalynne! My question now: Are there some common parameters by which the "correctness" of an answer can be judged? I mean apart from logical coherence and factual accuracy, what else? I have a feeling that there is some textbook/weblink which has the answer for this. If yes, pls direct me to it.

Oliver is right, of course. (I feel obliged to offer an answer since I set up the question.) Sometimes it may seem as though philosophers are deliberately and mischievously obfuscatory, but this is more likely the result of living amidst the trees so long that memory of the forest has faded. In a forum like this, I'd say a good answer is clear, coherent, and logically consistent. If it must be obfuscatory, then it will be accompanied by a clear-as-possible explanation for its being so. Whence my metaphor of the forgotten forest.

For ancient philosophers, like the Stoics, Metaphysics, logic, and ethics were all united, working together to form a single self-coherent world view that could provide its adherents with the good life. Is the fact that fields such as ethics and metaphysics are often taught distinctly in modern universities (at least in the analytic tradition) a good or bad aspect of the way we do philosophy today? Should our goal be a single complete world view or should we be satisfied with a successful explanation of a single phenomenon (like language) even if it screws up our understanding of another field?

What a great question! I think the answer will be largely determined by the level at which the course is taught. In an introductory class (which normally will not be metaphysics anyway, right?), I personally feel very strongly about showing the relation, and indeed, basic coherence, between the different branches of philosophy. I teach a core ethics requirement at a large, public, research-extensive university in the Southeast US. I begin the course by defining philosophy (as the "study" of wisdom, since they can't be expected to "love" what they do not know) and superficially describing its four main branches: logic, metaphysics/epistemology, ethics, and history of philosophy. I then tell the students that the boundaries between these branches are very much perforated. Although the "You Are Here" star appears over "Ethics," we start with logic -- how can one evaluate ethical arguments if one does not know what an argument is, let alone what makes it a good or bad one? -- examine plenty of...

What's the best way for someone who's really into philosophy to make their mark on the philosopical community if he or she is having trouble going to a university? I've tried sending my work to professors throughout the US, not necessarily for publication purposes, just to get it looked at, but for now, no dice.

It's a perhaps unfortunate fact of academic life that credentials (degree, university affiliation) are very important to being taken seriously. Although it's not a hard-and-fast necessary condition (i.e., it's not impossible to be taken seriously without them, as would be if it were hard-and-fast necessary condition), and it sure isn't a sufficient condition, either (i.e., not everyone with credentials is automatically taken seriously). I'd suggest joining an online community devoted to philosohical discussion, such as the AskPhilosophers Group linked on the left menu bar. I imagine there are also online philosophy courses you can take, or at least follow ( MIT has been doing some wonderful work in this area). The internet is a virtually limitless resource; I can't even remember how we did intellectual work without it. Good luck!

How do you think technology will affect the teaching and practice of philosophy? During my undergraduate degree (in philosophy), I took notes in numerous classes on a laptop and could download papers from a variety of journals as PDF. I have seen numerous academic perspectives regarding technology and learning - from Bert Dreyfus' idea that the podcast of his lectures at Berkeley on philosophy and literature reduced class attendance, to law schools having "laptops off" sessions to science professors encouraging (or even requiring) graduate students to blog about their lab work. I even saw a theory that ethical theories are implicitly tied to the technology of their time - the printing press linking with Kant, utilitarianism, Mill-style liberalism, the mass media of television, radio and newspapers doing the same for Rawls and Nozick. And, of course, many philosophy professors like Brian Leiter now have blogs and some have podcasts too. At technical conferences, we use technology to provide things like ...

I couldn't resist adding to Saul's thorough response. The combination of technology and philosophy raises many issues, of which two have intrigued me particularly, both of which were inspired by observing the online interactions of my teenagers. First is how the real-time communication technology so embedded in young people's social practices can be used in teaching philosophy. The second pertains to Saul's comment (above) about philosophy's role as an interpreter of conceptual change: I believe technology is very definitely shifting some of our standard philosophical concepts, especially in ethics (though this "especially" may be a reflection of my own specialization). Like Saul, I've put some of the more casual forms of computer-mediated communication to use in my classes with great success, including an instant messaging account that I also call "virtual office hours" (here I thought I'd invented the term!). My students love it, especially when they're studying for exams, working on papers,...

Oh, and one more brief comment, an anecdote: Saul noted that "[m]ost philosophersstill read prepared talks, and few use multi-media aids." This is quite true, at philosophy meetings, but can be a source of considerable anxiety for the philosopher invited to present at interdisciplinary conferences. I was fortunate to be on the program for the Society for Business Ethics annual meeting this past summer, where I expected to read my paper, without any multi-media enhancement, the way I always did. I soon discovered that everyone else -- except for the Presidential Address, on which level my paper was definitely not -- seemed to have PowerPoints, about which slides they spoke conversationally. Luckily, I'd made the acquaintance of a fellow philosopher who also happened to be a KPMG consultant, and he converted my paper into a very polished Keynote (Mac version of PowerPoint), which he operated remotely from his PDA, wowing the attendees -- and especially, me.

What should someone interested in philosophy read? Although I primarily mean philosophical texts, I also mean philosophical fiction, poetry, non-fiction, plays, et cetera. Of course, movies would also be nice. Also, are there any philosophers, modern or otherwise, that are readable. I love Kant and the rest, but it oftentimes seems as if their language is purposefully obtuse. Thank you!

My favorite recommendation is the novel Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, which provides a comprehensive -- and comprehendible! -- overview of the history of western philosophy in the form of a highly entertaining (in my view, anyway) bloodless mystery. From there, you can easily choose further routes of investigation. The late Robert Solomon also has some very approachable works, such as A Passion for Wisdom. Another possibility: Kierkegaard's The Present Age. Happy reading!

The early philosophers were much involved with sport, in particular Aristotle who used the Olympic games as metaphor for society. Why does sport feature little, if at all, in modern philosophy? From John L.

That's a very good question, John, and one without a better answer, I suspect, than the limits of practicality. So many topics for philosophical reflection, so little time! As a matter of practicality, many philosophers feel the pressure of researching and publishing in the more traditional philosophical categories, in the interest of a respectable and marketable curriculum vitae. But like other "philosophies of" areas of ordinary human life, like food and wine, philosophy of sport seems to be gathering a number of citations in recent years. The Philosopher's Index returns 189 hits for abstracts published since 2001 with "sport" in the title (a better indicator of topic than if "sport" appears anywhere in the text), and there is a semi-annual Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, which also began publication in 2001.