If we are all encouraged to think outside the box, what is wrong with what is in the box? and is it wrong to be in the box?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Mike

If we are all encouraged to think outside the box, what is wrong with what is in the box? And is it wrong to be in the box?

People are always praising “thinking outside the box” and you are right to question this common expression. What is right about the expression can be seen by substituting “rut” for “box.” We can think about something in a rigid and unimaginative, but familiar, way, that hinders understanding. But, as I think your question suggests, often the way we commonly think about something is well-informed and sound, even creative, not just replicating traditional and mistaken ruts. It can be sound in two ways. It can draw on deep experience of the person doing the thinking about that particular thing (e.g. deep sea diving or sexual harassment). Or thinking can draw on expertise, for example, professional expertise. Teachers, climate scientists, auto mechanics, web designers, and philosophers all acquire specialized bodies of knowledge that makes them more likely to think accurately about an issue in their area of expertise than someone lacking the expertise. Because of the internet we have access to more and more ways of “thinking outside the box/rut” that lack expertise or experience. We are in some danger of forgetting the importance of specialized expertise. That is why I think your question is very important. (But, of course, we have to be open to new ways of thinking too!)

Lawrence Blum

Philosopher's profile

Lawrence Blum

University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA

I came of age in philosophy just when the people Murdoch criticized (e.g. RM Hare) dominated the field. Murdoch was a breath of fresh air. She showed that we should really care about being a morally good person, that this is the most important thing in life. I believe that.

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