Some readers may already know or have suspected that I have a new job (or rather one added on to the old one). Now I am an Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. It’s expected among academics that professors who move into administration have some explaining to do: Are they washed up? Have they turned to the Dark Side? Are they crazy? But with a straight face I believe I can say that I’ve made this move because there’s interesting work to be done and I think I’ll enjoy doing it. In a sense it’s a new college – we have a new dean and the Arts faculty have splintered off to form a new college of their own. I might be wrong, but it feels like the faculty as a whole is willing to have meaningful dialogue about reforming our curriculum with the aim of producing more liberally educated students. I get to be part of that dialogue, and I am frankly excited about applying philosophical thought to administrative decisions.
So yes, in short, I have drunk the Kool-Aid.
In the meetings I’ve been in, it’s become clear to me that “the philosophical approach” could be really beneficial to a wide swath of people in higher education and, well, everywhere. The approach I have in mind is the one established in Platonic dialogues, where, to the extent possible, egos are checked at the door, and the participants are pursuing an impartial and accurate view of matters. Philosophers ideally welcome arguments challenging their own beliefs, because one of the greatest benefits you can confer upon me is the gentle indication that I am being an idiot, and there’s a better way of viewing the matter. I was recently subjected to a talk which urged us all to “be humble,” “be open,” and “consider everything” when making decisions. I think maybe 2500 years of philosophy can offer a bit more than this. I guess I’ll find out.
This means putting the Spinoza book project on the back burner, which I was finding I would have to do anyway. I just wasn’t making headway. I think the problem was that originally I thought I would be able to pull together my unpublished writings I’ve accumulated over the years and fit them together into a book. But in the meantime my own approach to philosophy has changed considerably. This means I’ll have to toss the old stuff and start tabula rasa.