Can Philosophy Help Save the World?

Chauncey Maher on a staircase

Chauncey Maher, in East College, home of the Department of Philosophy. Photo by Tony Moore.

Office Hours: Chauncey Maher, Professor of Philosophy and Thomas Bowman Chair of Philosophy

by Tony Moore

Professor of Philosophy Chauncey Maher is Dickinson’s Thomas Bowman Chair of Philosophy. He earned his Ph.D. from Georgetown University in philosophy and has written two books on philosophical issues about “the mind”: The Pittsburgh School and Plant Minds. He regularly teaches Logic and Ancient Philosophy, with many other courses along the way.

Philosophy seems like a terrifying intellectual pursuit only for those with last names no one knows how to pronounce correctly (like yours) and possibly German accents. What would you say to a high school student about why Dickinson’s department is the place to go to study and understand it?

The aim of philosophy is to understand how things in the broadest sense of the term hang together in the broadest sense of the term. We do that well at Dickinson because we get students to reflect carefully on connections between the many other excellent departments here, such as physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, data analytics, psychology, sociology, economics, history, anthropology, art and religion, as only a small sample. We do that in part by helping people speak, write and think much more carefully than they might have thought possible.           

Your last book was called Plant Minds. Come on. Plants can’t think. Or can they?! (And if they can, should we be nervous?)

Fine, maybe they don’t think. But they are certainly more intelligent than we tend to give them credit for. They are sensitive to a stunning array of conditions, and they respond in ways that are good for them. If they don’t think or have minds, then we should concede that intelligent behavior does not require thinking or a mind. Nervous? No. Humbled? Yes.

In a world where Twitter is now called X, aliens are the subject of congressional hearings and everyone on the internet seems to like each other less every day, how can philosophy help save us all?

The world is filled with careless speech, writing and thinking. We are here to fight against that. Alone that won’t save us, but it helps.


Published December 8, 2023