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Philosophy and Its Pitfalls


St. John's College

Cambridge CB4 3DG

United Kingdom


Philosophy is an ambitious, speculative practice, aimed at finding out what wisdom is and how to attain it, in so far as that can be done by explicit discussion and argument. A likely pitfall of any such enterprise is that it loses touch with concerns in human life outside itself and becomes scholastic, in the pejorative sense. Academic institutions which encourage wide and outward-looking intellectual sympathies, and which do not reward narrow point-scoring specialism, are helpful in resisting the tendency to scholasticism. The Moral Sciences Tripos at Cambridge might have provided some of the elements of such a setting, by framing an academic structure in which philosophy was studied in conjunction with other subjects in the humanities and social sciences. As things actually developed, that possibility was not realised. Nevertheless, philosophy at Cambridge maintained vigour and significance, through the intellectual freedom and encouragement it provided to some notable individual philosophers.