By Helen De Cruz
For several years, I've been thinking about how we can do philosophy differently. Philosophy becomes narrower in scope when we confine ourselves to the format of articles, preferably in "general" philosophy journals and monographs. How can we broaden our scope? Blogging is one way of engaging in philosophy. But there are many other ways.
My Philosophy through fiction story competition (funded by the APA Berry Fund) had 704 submissions-more than a typical philosophy journal receives in a year. My writing workshop, aimed at philosophers who want to learn to write fiction but have not yet begun, is also attracting attention. You can still apply until February 15.
There's lots of really great philosophy in musical form, such as Do you want to be a monad by the 21st century monads, and Paul L. Fine's very intricate Kant song which captures the Critique of Pure Reason as well as you could possibly do in a 5-minute song.
Can we do philosophy through pictures, and if so, how?
I’ve started drawing thought experiments on my iPad Pro to illustrate famous thought experiments, including Rawls’ veil of ignorance and Lackey’s creationist teacher (both pictured below).
These drawings are useful for pedagogical purposes. For instance, several people have told me they have used them as starting points for classroom discussions. One person used my drawing of Nozick's experience machine (below) for a discussion in middle school.
I also found making these drawings philosophically interesting. For instance while drawing Alvin Goldman’s fake barns thought experiment (pictured), I thought it would be very difficult for Henry to actually see barn facades without realizing they are barn facades as he is driving by. Barns usually are stand-alone buildings, so it’s almost inevitable to see they’re fake. Not sure what this says about the thought experiment.
Several thought experiments look at least to me, very vivid in that they elicit vivid mental imagery. Examples include Hume's missing shade of blue and Lucretius' javelin thrower at the edge of the world. By contrast, I don't immediately see how to picture Descartes' evil demon. What would the demon look like, and how would the person be in the snares of the demon? Descartes of course did not imagine a computer programmer, which is how the demon is often portrayed.
This brings me to the question: Could we have purely visual thought experiments? Just like in mathematics, you can have visual proofs, would there be thought experiments such that they can only be effectively grasped in a visual format? I'm not good with thought experiments--it's a fiendishly difficult art of writing flash fiction that engages readers instantly and elicits strong intuitions, so I am curious about how to do this in a purely visual medium. Some paintings and other visual works already do this. L'origine du monde by Courbet makes an interesting philosophical point. So do many works by Magritte, such as this painting of caskets on a balcony (left), a reference to Manet's Balcony (right).
I would love to hear other examples of philosophy in picture format!