This question is prompted by an interesting comment discussion in a question I previously asked. Whereas nobody without proper mathematical training would attempt nowadays to do mathematics, it seems that many academics (not necessarily philosophers) venture to write about philosophy, such as Stephen Hawking saying it's dead.

How does contemporary meta-philosophy deal with this amount of written (presumably) philosophical work from non professional philosophers?

I'm specifically looking for the different trends/views, for example, maybe some "welcome" any philosophical writing, regardless of the writer's qualification, others defend that only philosophers (that is, academics with university-level philosophical education) should do philosophy, etc. Please let me know if instead this hasn't still been debated as of today as a proper meta-philosophical issue, and thus no paradigmatic views can be detailed.

EDIT: Maybe this is not an issue at all? If so, why and how is this justified within meta-philosophy?

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    There are always people proclaiming the death of philosophy. Many of them are philosophers. Socrates killed his tradition, and Plato came up with his theories. Aristotle killed Plato's theories and came up with his own. That's how it works. There's a similar tradition in poetry, painting, music and the rest. Criticism is usually a spring-board.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 18:53
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    Physicists, of all people, were "intruding" on philosophy for the entirety of modern times, just recall Newton, Mach, Bohr, Einstein, Bohm or Penrose. "Proper training" is familiarity with a discourse (and that is not lacking when the discourse is science, as in Hawking's case) and ability to reason (which scientists are also trained to do). Just the same, physicists "professionally intruded" on mathematics since 1990s, with new areas of algebraic geometry and differential topology springing out of it. Witten even got the highest mathematical award, Fields medal, for his part.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 19:01
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    There was a time not long ago when there was an active debate about the differences between knowledge in different disciplines. I thought this was real and important and just the sort of thing that philosophy should be doing. Sadly, as philosophy of science developed into its own specialization, that debate seems to have stalled. I think that's a great pity. What's left of epistemology at present feels like a sad rump.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 21:26
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    It's important to remember, that just as a philosopher talking about science should know something about it, so a scientist talking about philosophy should know something about that. It's a matter of what people know, what skills they have and so forth, not of discipline differences.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 21:28
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    Hawking: "Philosophy is dead". Philosophy: "Not while you make it". Feynman: "Philosophy is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds". Philosophy: "Though, a large part of your writings is the finest philosophical material on Quantum Mechanics ever".
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 22:12

4 Answers 4


I'm not a metaphilosopher, so my response is based on An Introduction to Metaphilosophy (GB) by Overgaard et al. (the Authors). The question strikes me as analogous to the question of what constitutes a scientific theory, the demarcation problem. I'm going to attempt to describe the Authors' analysis as a response to suggest an answer to the question.

First and foremost, metaphilosophers are obviously interested in answering the question 'What is philosophy?', and their method is comparative. "Chapter 2: What is philosophy?" conducts a survey to establish a taxonomy of approaches to answering the question. In doing so, they are answer "What is philosophy?" as descriptivists and not prescriptivists and in this regard are taking an empirical approach to philosophy. So we can say with certainty that metaphilosophy handles non-professional philosophers (NPPs) as an empirical reality.

Reading the chapter, however, one sees that the chapter is not organized by individuals, but rather by types of metaphilosophical theories. So, if NPPs are treated as an empirical reality and taken seriously as contributors, the Authors are included in the taxonomy based on their claims. While they don't say it, I think implicit in their categorization is to admit the principle that a person should be categorized on the basis of their philosophical thought, not their credentials. That being said, I don't see any NPPs referenced in the chapter at all. It's the heavyweights such as Plato, Ryle, Carnap, Quine, Wittgenstein, as well as more contemporaneously recognized thinkers such as Hacker and McGinn.

So, the next place to visit the Authors' assessment is the bibliography. Again, it's a who's who of philosophers, but few NPPs. Richard Feynman and Thomas Kuhn are included (the former a physicist and later a historian by education), but the list looks rather bereft of even big names that are normally thrown in discourse such as Hawking, Penrose, Harris, and Chomsky. I think we can take this as a sign that metaphilosophers as a practical matter acknowledge that many NPPs lack the formal education to speak authoritatively on metaphilosophical matters (in contradistinction to metaphysical matters). Sure, Chomsky can more than hold his own in a debate about philosophy of language (he did revolutionize it) and philosophy of mind, but he may not have the expertise to compare and contrast 2,500 years of philosophical literature, especially given his preoccupations with political philosophy.

So, I think it's fair to say that philosophers in general brush off "intrusitve" pronouncements about philosophy (I always use Bill Nye sticking his foot in his mouth as a short-hand for these "intrusions") because they're so poorly constructed and ignorant of philosophy, that metaphilosophers, who make a practice of evaluating philosophers, especially the world's greatest, consider such "intrusions" a minor feature of their theorization. But then, I'm not a metaphilosopher and am drawing conclusions based on a single volume (which as far as I can tell seems to be the authoritative work given the recent emergence of the discipline).

  • Thank you very much for the book overview, indeed it's a pretty recent area. I will wait a few days to see if anyone has a different opinion. It's surprising though how NPPs can be as good as professional philosophers (PPs) on metaphysics and philosophies-of-*, but seem poor at meta-philosophy. Why would that be?
    – user64708
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 18:51
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    Vocabulary. An NPP would develop expertise in mapping the vocabulary of a domain, say mathematics, to that of philosophy. But a metaphilosopher (MP) would have an interest that lends to comparing and contrasting among various theories of philosophy. Thus an NPP would be good at using theory-specific language, but an MP would be good at using inter- rather than intratheoretical language. It's about where one spends one's time in accumulating semantic expertise. Philosophers debate coherentism, deflation, and correspondence, so abstracting from a variety of theses those is meta...
    – J D
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 19:46
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    in a way taking a domain-specific philosophical position (say that of neoPlatonism in mathematics) isn't. At least that's my take with my preoccupation on the philosophy of language. :D And by all means, please leave it open as long as it takes to satisfy your sense that your question has been offered. The defeasibility of reason is unavoidable, and I'm just as curious as you to see if there's a broader or better solution.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 19:49
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    The answer to your question about NPPs is probably that they don't know enough about philosophy.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 19:59

Intrusion is a loaded word in this context, implying that philosophy is some private domain of a privileged few. Philosophy is not a regulated profession requiring mandatory qualifications; it is a field of study, parts of which present no discernible barriers to entry, so participation by amateurs is entirely natural.

Much of philosophy in practice is the study, assessment and re-interpretation of the work of other philosophers, notably stretching back a couple of millennia. Inevitably the focus of meta-philosophy will be on the works of prominent philosophers, much as the study of politics will focus on major political figures rather than the political opinions of the man or woman on the street.

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    I am certain. By regulated profession, I meant one subject to legal regulations, such as medicine. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 21:49
  • I mean that anyone is entitled to express a view. In the case of certain subjects, it is possible for one's view to be proven right or wrong- but philosophy is one of many fields in which much of what is said is ultimately a matter of opinion, so the amateur may feel justified in sharing their own opinions rather than merely venerating those of the professionals. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 22:48
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    I mean, if you are a decent person, you should be able to listen to reasonable ideas coming from any quarter ("reasonable" being the operative word here - I didn't say that you have to listen to everything and anything). In particular in philosophy, I don't know if you should reject anybody's ideas off-hand just because they are not "trained philosophers". What's more, I'm convinced that being a "trained philosopher" doesn't equate with making all your productions worthwhile.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 22:54

Two cents.

No matter the field or discipline that one is pursuing, one is bound to come at philosophical questions and, in the final analysis, philosophize.

Philosophical issues are at the core of any practice, investigation or speculation in any field, even in everyday life.

That is why the highest title in education is called Ph.D. ie Doctor of Philosophy.

  • I like the approach you take in your answer, however, are you sure that Ph.D. is used because of that and not a historical reason?
    – user64708
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 12:38
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    The historical reason is that all knowledge was considered part of philosophy. But that is not very far from the truth. Philosophy is the start of many fields which later became somewhat autonomous, but still philosophical issues are at the core of the field.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 12:44

Arguably, all academic philosophy should be classified under "meta-philosophy" since it's more about the study and critique of philosophy than the practice of it. Perhaps most academic philosophers aspire to actually practice philosophy, but relatively few become noted for it--Singer, Bostrom and Zizek are some of the current names that come to mind as practicing philosophers originating from the academies.

Historically speaking, a lot of the best-known and most influential philosophers have emerged from outside the discipline, or outside the academy entirely. Hume, for instance, was a college dropout best-known during his lifetime as a historian. Wittgenstein was granted his doctorate after-the-fact for work he did independently. Kuhn was a physicist, who switched to philosophy only after completing his most famous philosophical work.

As one might well imagine, there's not much love in academic philosophical circles for those who dare practice philosophy outside the academy, but those who still have an interest in the big unsolved problems of the world are arguably better served in that pursuit by actual engagement with that world than by an endless rehash of the philosophical minutiae favored in the academies. The amateur philosopher can be, and often is, a better philosopher than the professional.

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