A Discussion on Modes of Philosophizing

“Should philosophy have something to say to non-philosophers? Should philosophy be pursued only by those trained in philosophy? Should academic teachers of philosophy consider themselves philosophers in virtue of the fact that they teach philosophy? And should analytic philosophers deny that continental philosophers are philosophers at all, or acknowledge that they represent different modes of philosophizing?” Jonathan Barnes, Myles Fredric Burnyeat, Raymond Geuss, and Barry Stroud debate, over at Eurozine:

[Raymond Geuss]: On what grounds is it reasonable to say that someone should not do X, e.g. should not study philosophy? In contemporary Western European societies people are, by and large, assumed to be free to engage in any activity not explicitly forbidden, and in general for an activity to be forbidden it is thought to be necessary to show that it is in some way harmful. No one else is harmed if I paint an uninteresting picture, and if an aesthetically obtuse person buys my painting, caveat emptor. On the other hand, if the building I construct falls down, indeterminately many people at some later time may well suffer, and a surgical error can be fatal to a person who is in no position to make an informed antecedent judgment about the skill of someone who offers to perform a certain operation. This gives a clear sense to the “should” in “surgery should be performed only by those with appropriate medical training”. The “should” here depends on two distinct features of this situation, first that bad surgery imposes material harm on others, and second that by giving prospective surgeons medical training one can reduce the risk that they will perform poorly. The second feature is as important as the first. If medical training really had no effect on surgical results, there would be no grounds for requiring it. So is studying philosophy really like performing surgery or practicing as a civil engineer?