Philosophy Matters - Examining the Value of Knowledge Page: 1
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Philosophy Matters - Examining the Value of Knowledge
By Robert Frodeman and Britt Holbrook
Robert Frodeman is Professor of Philosophy at UNT and the Director of the Center for the
Study of Interdisciplinarity (CSID). He brings expertise in continental philosophy,
environmental ethics and philosophy, philosophy of science policy, science and technology
studies, and the theory and practice of interdisciplinarity. Britt Holbrook is a Research Assistant
Professor of Philosophy and the Assistant Director of CSID. His current research focuses on
interdisciplinarity, peer review, and the relationship between science, technology, and
society. Together Frodeman and Holbrook conduct research into the theory and practice of
inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to knowledge, and explore the incorporation of societal
impacts considerations into the peer review process of publicly supported funding agencies,
such as the National Science Foundation's "Broader Impacts" Merit Review Criterion.
What's the value of knowledge? Given the current"
economic climate - which poses difficult challenges for the: ,
university, in particular - we might assume that this is an . r ,
especially pressing and timely matter. In fact, however, the
question of the value of knowledge goes back thousands .
of years, and philosophers have always risen to the ,',
challenge of trying to answer it. Thales of Miletus, who
lived during the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, was the first
Western philosopher. There is a story that Thales once fell ,
into a well while conducting astronomical observations,'
prompting a milkmaid to mock him for his desire to know Robert Frodeman, UNT Professor of
the things in the sky while ignoring what was right in front Philosophy
of him. His most famous theory: "All Philosophy is water."
This, as we now know, is false. So why not simply
conclude that Thales - like all philosophers -is all wet?
Thales himself provides a reason not to throw the
philosopher out with the bath water. One day he was
discussing the value of money with some friends. (This was
obviously back before money was the way we valued
everything.) In any case, Thales claimed that everyonecf-
could make money if they really thought about it, and his
friends challenged him to demonstrate. From his
observations of the olive crop and his predictions about Britt Holbrook, Research Assistant
the weather, Thales knew that the following season would Professor of Philosophy
be a good one for olives. He went out and bought every
olive press in the region; and he got them at good prices, since the last few harvests had been
very meager. When the bumper crop Thales predicted came in, Thales had cornered the
market on all the presses, and he was able to sell them at a substantial profit. Afterwards, he
told his friends that his purpose was not to make money, but rather to demonstrate that
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Frodeman, Robert & Holbrook, J. Britt. Philosophy Matters - Examining the Value of Knowledge, paper, May 10, 2012; (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc84353/m1/1/: accessed April 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Arts and Sciences.