Philosophy by Another Name

0304ontics-promotional-kit-articleInlineI had meant to post this a few days ago–Colin McGinn's proposal in the NYT (image by Leif Parsons):

Academic philosophy obviously falls under this capacious meaning. Moreover, most of the marks of science as commonly understood are shared by academic philosophy: the subject is systematic, rigorous, replete with technical vocabulary, often in conflict with common sense, capable of refutation, produces hypotheses, uses symbolic notation, is about the natural world, is institutionalized, peer-reviewed, tenure-granting, etc. We may as well recognize that we are a science, even if not one that makes empirical observations or uses much mathematics. Once we do this officially, we can expect to be treated like scientists.

Someone might protest that we belong to the arts and humanities, not the sciences, and certainly we are currently so classified. But this is an error, semantically and substantively. The dictionary defines both “arts” and “humanities” as studies of “human culture”—hence like English literature or art history. But it is quite false that philosophy studies human culture, as opposed to nature (studied by the sciences); only aesthetics and maybe ethics fall under that heading. Metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of physics and so on deal not with human culture but with the natural world. We deal with the same things the sciences deal with — the world beyond human culture. To classify philosophy as one of the “humanities” is grossly misleading — it isn’t even much about the human.

But whether to classify ourselves as a science or an art is strictly not the issue I am considering — which is whether “philosophy” is a good label for what we do, science or not. I think it is clear that the name is misleading and outdated, as well as detrimental to our status in the world of learning. So must we just sigh and try to live with it? No, we can change the name to something more apt. I have toyed with many new names, but the one that I think works best is “ontics.” It is sufficiently novel as not to be confused with other fields; it is pithy and can easily be converted to “onticist” and “ontical”; it echoes “physics,” and it emphasizes that our primary concern is the general nature of being.