Asking the Big Questions (2)

Ross asks:

I’m a graduate in philosophy and I wish to write a book in philosophy. The title I have in mind is “Why philosophy matters: Asking the Big Questions”. I’m looking for advice as to whether this is a good theme for a book and what topics I should include in the book. I welcome any advice. Thanks.

Answer from Peter Jones

I feel it is an excellent idea for a book. But are you able to write it? Do you understand philosophy? Do you know why it’s important? Can you answer any of the big questions? The average professor of philosophy cannot answer these questions in the affirmative with the consequence that philosophy departments are facing growing criticism from the rest of the university and scientism is on the rise. It seems unlikely that a recent graduate can do any better than the professors who taught him.

I would suggest holding off on the book until you can answer the big questions. Otherwise it’ll be just another book telling us how the study of philosophy exercises our brain and helps prevent dogmatism but is otherwise useless, and there are plenty of these about already.

But don’t let me put you off. You might write something brilliant. I would start with the question ‘Why is philosophy difficult?’ This meta-question encapsulates all the others. The question ‘Why does philosophy matter?’ is a good one but you’ll have to provide a much better answer than your professors if the book is going to be interesting.

If you check the archives at ( a pro bulletin board) you’ll find much discussion of the current crisis in philosophy and the threat of job-losses and department closures, but no solutions. If you can provide one you’ll be the saviour of the hour.

As for topics, the heart of philosophy is metaphysics so a selection of metaphysical questions will do. All metaphysical questions are ‘big’ questions. But why persuade people to ask such questions unless you can answer them? Surely it should be you asking them and searching for answers. I worry this will be another book damning philosophy by discussing lots of important questions and failing to answer any, and there is already a vast literature that takes this approach. For this reason I feel you might be better choosing a more unusual title and theme and finding a new angle.

Don’t let me put you off since a good book is a good book even if it covers old ground. You may write something of great value to your intended audience. But were I a publisher I’d want something more exciting from an unknown author.

This is not advice but just thoughts. If you’re fired up to write then write.

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