The Stone Reader: A Review


David Edmonds reviews The Stone Reader edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, in The Philosophers' Magazine:

Many newspapers have regular columns on science. But few of these columns are dedicated to a discussion of the nature or purpose of science. Almost all newspapers have regular pages devoted to sport. But it would be unusual to have an article that grappled with the meaning of sport. Yet in various ways several philosophers in The Stone Reader—a collection of short, philosophy essays from the New York Times’s philosophy blog The Stone—seek to address the existential questions, “What Is Philosophy?” and “What Is A Philosopher?”

What is a Philosopher? is the title of the first essay in this volume, written by Professor Simon Critchley who also acts as The Stone Reader’s co-editor (alongside Peter Catapano of The New York Times). Critchley’s academic career began in the UK, where he developed an interest in thinkers from the continental tradition, such as Heidegger and Derrida. Just over a decade ago he moved to the New School for Social Research where he has continued to write prolifically, on a wide variety of subjects – a recent book was on suicide – with an essayistic style that again owes more to a European than an anglo-American tradition of philosophy.

The What is Philosophy? questions hits a vulnerable spot not because philosophy has fuzzy borders. All disciplines have fuzzy borders. Science has fuzzy borders. Even activities like sport have fuzzy borders.. The International Olympic Committee classifies the card-game bridge as a sport. A recent High Court decision in the UK has determined that it is not (a decision that matters, because bridge clubs and bridge tournaments cannot now appeal for funding from a pot of money reserved for sport). Still, philosophy is notoriously difficult to define. A few years ago, on the philosophy podcast I co-run with Nigel Warburton ( we put the ‘What Is Philosophy?’ question to 50 different philosophers and received 50 different answers. There isn’t quite the same difficulty in demarcating the rough edges of maths or French literature.

Part of the problem is historical. The meaning of philosophy has been in a state of perpetual evolution. There was a time when the sciences were situated within philosophy. Aristotle wrote about biology and in his day, Sir Isaac Newton was described as a “natural philosopher”. Since then, bit by bit, chunks of academic territory have split off, leaving the original land mass in danger of appearing like a shrunken and barren island. Physics went, then, in the 19th century, so did biology. Psychology made a successful bid for independence in the early 20th century as too did linguistics. Broadly, philosophy has become the analysis of a set of issues that cannot be resolved empirically.

More here.