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Night of Philosophy in Manhattan. Paul Bloomfield : « Ultimately, philosophers are humans trying to grasp the human condition »

Interview By Dahmane Soudani

A night of philosophy, a concept initiated by the French philosopher and playwright Mériam Korichi in 2010 at the Ecole Normale Superieure of Paris, sets its scene in New York under  the title : « A Night of Philosophy in Manhattan » (our article : New York. Une nuit étincelante de philosophie). The first event of its kind in New York, it will be held from 7pm to 7am during the night of Friday to Saturday, April 24 to 25. Paul Bloomfield, professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, kindly gave us his comments on this event. We thank him.

Maghnord. Pr. Paul Bloomfield, you are professor at the University of Connecticut – UCONN. You specialize in moral philosophy

According to the Professor Paul Bloomfield, morality is the path that leads to happiness (photo DR)

According to the Professor Paul Bloomfield, morality is the path that leads to happiness (photo DR)

and metaphysics and you have published with Oxford University Press Moral Reality in 2001, Morality and Self-Interest in 2008 and The Virtues of Happiness in 2014. Along with two of your colleagues in the Philosophy Department, Suzan Schneider and J.S. Beall, you will be among 80 participant in Night of Philosophy in Manhattan, scheduled for the night of April 24 to 25, with the active support of the Consulate General of France. What does this event and, of course, your participation represent for you ?

Paul Bloomfield. I’ll be giving a talk called, «Morality is Necessary for Happiness » which is the central argument of my most recent book, The Virtues of Happiness. I’ve presented the work at a variety of professional conferences, I am very pleased to be able to present the work in a non-professional setting to people who are not philosophers. I am arguing that immoral people cannot be happy, even if they think they are, because happiness requires self-respect and people cannot properly have self-respect unless they have proper respect for other people. When I’ve explained this to non-philosophers in casual settings, most people seem to think it is like common sense, but all the work being done on happiness by psychologists and philosophers seems to assume that immoral people can be just as happy as moral people. I am looking forward to presenting these ideas in public and seeing how people react.

Maghnord. What might be the objectives of this event ?

Paul Bloomfield. I think it is a great way to bring philosophy out of the university and into a public forum. Philosophers have a lot to offer to people, but are only infrequently invited out into « the real world » to talk about their work. It is often truly fascinating and can serve to stimulate all sorts of ideas in people who do not generally think at all about philosophy.

Maghnord. Do you think it would be interesting to expand this event, begun in 2010 by the École normale supérieure of Paris, to other American cities ?

Paul Bloomfield. My understanding this is the third event of its kind. I think the first one was in Paris and the second was in London. And sure, I think it is a great idea, but I think it requires a city of a certain size, with a certain cosmopolitan attitude to have event in which people are talking intellectually all night long.

Maghnord. What can you tell us about philosophical research and the teaching of philosophy in France and the United States ?

Paul Bloomfield. There was a pretty radical split in methodology between so-called “Continental” philosophy and “analytic” or “Anglo-American” philosophy for a long time. The split originally occurred after Kant, and on the Continental side went through Hegel to hermeneutics, phenomenology, existentialism, and more lately postmodernism and deconstructionism. On the Anglo-American side, there has been a more formal type of analysis at work, looking to logic to understand the grammar of language, and logical positivism and more recently a kind of realism (broadly understood) as a foundation for science, epistemology and metaphysics. There does seem to be a rapprochement in the last 10 to 15 years between the schools of thought which I think is welcome on both sides. Ultimately, philosophers are humans trying to grasp the human condition: alienating ourselves from each other is to no one’s benefit.

Maghnord. Today, what are the employment prospects of a student who earns a degree in philosophy?

Paul Bloomfield. Getting a job as a philosopher professor at a university is terrifically competitve. It is often that case that hundreds of people apply for every job. But I think all students who study philosophy come away with skills of thinking that can be applied to a wide variety of careers. If you’ve spent four years in college thinking about the nature of reality, and whether or not we have free will, and what the difference is between having « true belief » and having « knowledge », and how scientific progress works, and how the legal system works, going into the marketplace where the problems are all more concrete and graspable will be much easier. Studying philosophy teaches a student how to think clearly and precisely and to speak articulately and cogently. These are skills which are valuable in every career.

Maghnord. Do you think that the humanities suffer from a negative image with students ?

Paul Bloomfield. Actually, I don’t. I think the humanities suffer in the media for the same reason I think intellectuals are looked at as elitists. In the United States, at least, this is more politics and propoganda than anything else. Students like learning from interesting professors, and can learn lessons about themselves and human condition in general by studying the humanities, where these lessons are taught no where else. We have to understand ourselves in order to progress, and I think students – and all reasonable people – can see this.

Maghnord. What will be the title of your next work ?

Paul Bloomfield. Hmm… that is an interesting question. I am currently writing a paper called « Global Moral Error » about the possibility of everyone being wrong about some moral issue. What does this teach us about the nature of morality ? I think it shows that in an important and deep way that morality is not « up to us ». My next book is years and years away, but I am thinking now that it will be called The Virtues of Humanity, and it will bring together work I have done on the foundations of morality with my more recent work on the moral virtues and the nature of happiness.

Thank you for your interest in my work !

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