Where academic philosophy went wrong

A potted history:

I believe Peter Sloterdijk is right that the Enlightenment has been followed by philosophical cynicism, or an impressive array of natural knowledge unaccompanied by any faith in providence. The U.S., which became the dominant intellectual and cultural force in the course of the 20th century, was well-suited to put this cynicism to work: for America was built upon a pragmatic, “can do” attitude, and seemed ready to let expediency drive ideology . (There are probably interesting connections here to Protestantism and Holland of the 17th century.) And so there arose on American shores the fulfillment of the German idea of a research university, with its faculty as a specialized workforce and its students as Model-Ts rumbling down an assembly line on which three credits of this and three credits of that are bolted on to each chassis.

 Each academic discipline became a guild or union, where membership is tightly controlled and guild members insist on their indispensability to the general curriculum. New disciplines created their own means of controlling membership and making cases for their newfound indispensability.

 As unions generally lost power and new models of management were developed in the last third of the 20th century, the university also experienced a shift in authority from the faculty to the administration. In the names of efficiency and accountability, administrators deployed numerous measures for evaluating faculty “productivity”; and the nature of these measures encouraged faculty to entrench themselves more firmly in their respective guilds.

 In the case of philosophy, this meant (1) more attention devoted to narrow problem-solving activity rather then efforts to deepen philosophical wonder; (2) increasingly narrow specialization and less general knowledge of the discipline itself and its history; (3) less engagement with anyone outside the professional guild; and (4) development of various cants and shibboleths to patrol membership in the guild.

 What to do? (Provided, that is, that one is inclined to see these results as problems!)

 Most academic philosophy departments see themselves primarily as housing a specialized academic discipline, and contributing only incidentally here or there to a university’s general education curriculum. The priority needs to be reversed. Frankly, there is little or no need for specialized academic philosophy; if it disappeared overnight, the only ones who would notice would be the practitioners themselves. But on the other hand, despite the occasional iconoclastic polemic saying otherwise, there is a widespread recognition that philosophy provides a valuable contribution to the mind of an educated person, even if the person is not working toward a degree in the field. Philosophy professors need to see their primary job as enriching the mental lives, values, and discourses of non-philosophers. For almost everyone, we should be a side dish rather than the main course. That is where our societal value lies.

 Now it can be argued that in order to do this well, philosophers also need opportunities to continue to learn and grow: they too need the chance to “geek out” with fellow philosophers through publications and conferences. And, where there is both talent and motivation, some philosophers will manage to advance our very old and rich discipline. But genuine advances in philosophy will not happen with the frequency of advances in younger and more technological disciplines, like computer science and chemistry. Genuine advances in philosophy are as few and far between as are the geniuses of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. For most of us most of the time, our primary job is to enlighten masses.

 If philosophy reconceived itself along these lines, graduate training in philosophy would look very different. Right now, the usual aim is to equip each student for intensely critical interaction with a vanishingly narrow band of specialists. (Typically, these PhDs are then hired to teach very broad undergraduate classes – an assignment for which, of course, they are wholly unprepared.) But if my proposal were adopted, these candidates would be trained to engage meaningfully, fruitfully, and philosophically with a wide range of people lacking expertise in philosophy. They would be required to write not dissertations, but books that could meaningfully inform the lives of their fellow citizens. This would be the norm rather than the now-celebrated exception. Philosophy would move out of the tower and back into the agora.

 I can hear the complaint: “But there are many really smart people who are now attracted to philosophy’s narrow and difficult questions, and wouldn’t go into the discipline at all if they instead had to ‘dumb down’ their efforts for bigger audiences.” I grant the objection, and have three responses:

  • First, it seems to me that these smart people might be able to find as much enjoyment working through equally difficult abstract problems in other fields – fields in which solving the problems would have more impact on more people. Smart problem-solvers are in demand all over the place.
  • Second, there would still be room in the discipline for some really smart, narrow specialists, even if most of the room were given over to the broader task I’m recommending. Right now, of course, all of the room is reserved for narrow specialists – and that just doesn’t seem sensible, especially given the nature of the great majority of teaching jobs that exist.
  • And third, I bet that for every person who is drawn into philosophy because of an inordinate enthusiasm for tight and narrow problems, there are ten really smart people who turn away from the discipline because there is no current opportunity for tackling broad and deep questions, and bringing them to the attention of wider audiences.

 It would take some courage for philosophy as a discipline to make this move and “demean itself” by talking to broader audiences. It might seem like some sort of admission of defeat. But in reality, I think this move would be greeted very enthusiastically by a lot of educated people who have become increasingly disappointed in academic philosophers’ refusal to connect with people other than themselves. Moreover, it might encourage other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences to follow our lead, and recall their original purpose: to enlighten, deepen, enrich, and complicate the minds of human beings from all walks of life.

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
This entry was posted in Items of the academy / learning. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Where academic philosophy went wrong

  1. j. says:

    why is it always audiences that philosophers imagine themselves turning toward, when they turn away from the academy?

    keeping with the agora metaphor, it seems like it would be better to say that philosophers address themselves not to audiences, but to crowds. but of course, leaders or authorities are characteristically the ones who do so. maybe even better to say that philosophers should join the crowd – mix in. that’s where you find people, and, individual encounters aside, how you can reach them personally.

    i think the real worry is not the stuff about abstract problems, hard problems, etc., it’s the feeling that ‘rigorously trained’ thinkers/arguers/talkers get when they consider a run-of-the-mill example of philosophy undertaking to speak to human concerns. your unremarkable conference paper or public colloquium contribution, your pedagogue’s friendly informality, your letter to the editor. namely, a sense that all that was really ever needed was just some warm affirmations of what we all know to be important, some modest enthusiasm for verities. artificial as it may be, there’s some tension left in academic philosophy’s positioning of itself against ‘civilian’ perceptions of life, the world, its problems. turning back toward the human seems to those philosophers as if it means relaxing the tension, losing it.

    it seems to me like an element of that phenomenon is typically that the re-humanized philosopher still goes around exhorting people, addressing communities, addressing audiences. rare that one will venture to expose himself to the crowd as one who can only question it, find people there and test them, one by one.

    Like

  2. bjdubbs says:

    Wouldn’t administrators welcome your argument? It seems like this is a good argument for heavier loads and smaller salaries. I mean, it’s hard to imagine another thirty or forty years will pass and philosophy will still manage to pretend that it’s doing very important business. That will seem more and more implausible to administrators and donors and parents and students. So I agree with your well-argued post, I just don’t see another alternative. From the perspective of an outsider, it seems like it’s gen ed or bust. The same goes for the other humanities with the exception of economics.

    Like

  3. Huenemann says:

    Perceptive points, j. You’re right that “audience” is not the best way of conceiving the friends, neighbors, fellow citizens a philosopher may seek to engage. I’m still stuck in a professorial paradigm – thanks for pointing that out in such a kind way!

    Bjdubbs – in my experience, if I were to walk into an administrators office to tell them that instead of publishing in an exclusive, peer-review journal I will be publishing a trade paperback, or an essay in the Atlantic, or an op-ed for the Times, their eyes would grow wide in delight! Indeed, if I became really good at it, they might give me course releases.

    Like

  4. As a senior undergraduate in philosophy and government, I often find myself wanting to promote philosophy to my peers but holding my tongue as to avoid the usual responses (what do I do with that?, etc.). Though I have found that the best way to get my peers interested in philosophy is by posing the most ridiculous question but philosophically complex question, my current go-to question is, can you smell your nose? From there I discuss that undergraduate philosophy isn’t really concerned with the answer to the question rather it is an invitation on how to think about the problem. In other words philosophy isn’t what to think or what was thought but how one thinks about what is and was thought. I promote a problem/question philosophy instead of a fact philosophy. In spite of the excellent training in various, narrowly tailored subdisciplines, my profs too often run into this fact philosophy when teaching strictly history of philosophy courses to the gen ed audience. This can be explained by just how the student interacts and “learns” the material. If you would compare my modern philosophy notebook to one of say a biology student, our notes would be entirely different. My notes are usually simple, concise showing the development of the argument, and the importance of the argument. On the other hand the notes bio major would be more along the lines of “Descartes doubted everything and sought an “Archimedian point”. If students were to engage in philosophy by the question instead of the fact, philosophy would better lend itself to the aforementioned side-show role.
    That being said, however, I find that my interest in a narrowly confined subdiscipline is what gets me excited to do philosophy. But I am just one of the relatively few anomalies in the liberal university.

    Like

    • Huenemann says:

      Tractatusdeterra – you’re right that it’s often hard for teachers to resist “fact philosophy” – often, I think, it’s so that we can cover some preliminary ground quickly to get to something really interesting, but alas it sometimes happens that we never get there! I like your way of getting your friends interested in philosophy. Aristotle has a lot of good go-to questions in a work called (I think) “Problems” (I’ll check it again when I’m near my books).

      Like

  5. Jordan says:

    Are you familiar with the CÉGEPs in Quebec (the canadian province)? I teach philosophy in one of them, and our role is very similar to what you suggest : we have to teach and grade (no TAs) but don’t have to do research or publish. Students go there either to complete a 3-year technical program or a 2-year pre-university program. Every one of them, whether they study to become a nurse (technical program) or plan to get into med school after their pre-university program will have to complete 3 philosophy classes.

    Like

  6. Philosophy is truth and a philosopher is a lover truth. A philosophy lesson therefore should teach nothing but the truth, the absolute. And rather than complicate as you suggest above, the truth is found quite simply, the other Way. Allow me to show you the Way. =
    MJA

    Like

  7. Paul says:

    As a philosophy major who later abandoned the field, I don’t think that you have captured the full extent of the irrelevance of philosophy as an academic discipline, particularly in the U.S. This was, has been and still is a deeply anti-intellectual country that values commerce above all. Within the curriculum of a liberal arts program, knowledge of philosophy, like knowledge of English literature and other subjects, has served primarily as a signifier of membership to the elite class, while knowledge of engineering, manufacturing, business, medicine or law represents a practical path to success in society. From a social standpoint in the U.S., philosophy is the kind of thing that 19th century women might be exposed in finishing school prior to marriage.

    Moreover, to the extremely limited extent that I have attempted to keep up with the subject, there is nothing interesting going on in it. Moral/legal philosophy still seems to rely on obsolete thinkers such as Kant and Mill and eschews evidence from evolutionary biology that might be an improvement over warmed-up Christian or Romantic concepts. The problems of logic seem to belong in mathematics proper. There does not seem to be any coherent, enduring message or technique generated by one of the last great philosophers, Wittgenstein. Some philosophy departments seem to have gone overboard in emphasizing the philosophy of science, though science carries on fine without them.

    Until recently I kept up with one of my former professors, who seems to be deeply involved in the analytic tradition. I have given up on communicating with him because he is unable to communicate beyond the specialized language and writings of analytic philosophy. Frankly, I have my doubts whether anyone, including his philosophical acquaintances, understands him at all.

    It would be nice if philosophy departments were a home for, as you say, “broad and deep questions,” but in my experience they have never been equipped to handle them, and, with the corporatization of universities, that will never pass muster with the number crunchers.

    Like

    • Huenemann says:

      Sorry to hear your tale, Paul! And I’m sorry to say it is a familiar tale. But see patricksodonnell’s post below, which might lead you to some interesting and relevant philosophical discussions.

      Like

      • Paul says:

        Thanks, Charlie, but I refuse to read anything that has the word “religious” in it in a non-anthropological or non-ironical context, even though I met Ninian Smart several years ago at his summer home in Tremezzo and thought he was a nice man. I have been retired for seven years and am finding enough to read without descending into academic philosophy, which I’ve been able to live without for the last forty years with no ill effects.

        I’m not as closed-minded as I sound and will offer you and your academic philosophy friends a challenge. If you can write a serious philosophy book that becomes a bestseller, comparable to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” E.O. Wilson’s “The Social Conquest of Earth” or Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time,” I’ll read it. If these academic disciplines can draw wide public interest, why can’t philosophy? Certainly academic philosophy is no more difficult to grasp than theoretical physics. When the public recognizes that an idea is important, they respond. If philosophers are unable to communicate the importance of their work to outsiders, they must accept the public’s perception of them as irrelevant. There has never been a philosophy book as popular as the ones mentioned.

        Like

      • Huenemann says:

        Fair points, Paul. I think it is a reasonable challenge.

        Like

  8. patricksodonnell says:

    This post is in the spirit if not occasionally letter of (some older, some recent) works by Martha Nussbaum, John Cottingham, John M. Cooper, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Larry May, Mary Midgley, Joel Kupperman, Iris Murdoch, Jonathan Lear, Herbert Fingarette, Ninian Smart, Joshua Cohen, Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Sari Nusseibeh, Grant Gillett, and Raymond Tallis (Gillett and Tallis with professional backgrounds in medicine as well), for example. Others, perhaps not strictly “philosophers” but clearly with philosophical temperaments and ability, write broadly on timely topics addressing subjects of wide concern, for instance, Amartya Sen, Jon Elster and Robert Goodin.

    And if you’ve not read it, you might look up Amelie Oksenberg’s essay, “Socrates and Sophia Perform the Philosophic Turn,”* who writes, “In addition to all the activities which the guild of philosophers are presently performing, we need to engage in a new version of Socratic inquiry, to raise basic questions about our fundamental activities and practices. On some deep level, few of us know what we are doing. Not only as philosophers, but as citizens, parents, teachers, friends, we do not know what is central to performing our activities well. We guild-philosophers are good at discussing whether answers to the question ‘How should one/we/I live?” are objective, or whether they can be rationally justified. But we are not, as philosophers, very good at actually examining the details of competing substantive answers to that question, tending as we do to protect ourselves by moving straightway to methodological issues. So quickly do we make that move that we rarely even ask questions about the most basic and fundamental features that shape our lives.”

    I addressed related concerns in a rather cursory fashion (these too are blog posts) about the profession here: http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2012/06/the-therapeutic-model-of-philosophy-philosophy-as-applied-philosophy.html and here: http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2012/07/analytic-philosophy-the-big-questions-and-rhetorical-sensitivity.html

    * in Avner Cohen and Marcelo Dascal, eds., The Institution of Philosophy: A Discipline in Crisis? (Open Court, 1989)

    Like

  9. purplecreams says:

    it seems to me, despite his views, that slavoj zizek is someone who is doing a great job at both ends. massive books on hegel etc. while putting out op-eds and making entertaining films about ideology. whether or not you like the guy, he’s doing it and doing it well.

    Like

    • Huenemann says:

      Well, I guess – I’ve never gotten anything useful from Zizek’s work, but perhaps I haven’t tried hard enough. He certainly is engaging with a broad spectrum of folks.

      Like

  10. I appreciate the spirit in which this post was written, and I support the idea that philosophy professors should be engaged with the world beyond the confines of technical disciplinary problems. That is one of the reasons I am spending so much of my time trying to develop the Public Philosophy Journal.

    My concern, however, is about the way you have formulated the philosophical response: it remains too bound up with the old paradigm of the philosopher as sage. Of course, those of us with philosophical training have an important perspective to bring to bear on issues of public concern. Hopefully as we engage those we encounter, issues that seem simple and straightforward will be shown to be more nuanced and complex. But in order for philosophers to engage a wider public in thoughtful and productive ways, we should ourselves enter into relationships with others prepared to learn as much as to teach, to be enriched as much as to enrich.

    My sense is that the value of what we have to offer the public discourse will be more readily recognized if we enter more humbly into dialogue with the wider public whose intelligence, thoughtfulness, and imagination has too long been underestimated by philosophers blinded by our own haughtiness.

    (OK, the rhetoric of that last sentence may have gotten away from me a bit, but still, I hope the main point is well received.)

    Like

    • Huenemann says:

      You’re exactly right, Chris. Philosophical engagement has to be more tentative – and friendly, and respectful – to really merit anyone’s attention. I’m glad both you and “j.” (above) have called me out on the somewhat haughty rhetoric I was using. Thanks!

      Like

  11. I like this post and idea, but I am not sure how what you are describing is different from the continental tradition. Continental philosophers seem to flock toward the mantle of ‘public intellectuals’ and ‘public educators’ (which I think are two very different ideas). As Leiter points out in his discussion of the analytic tradition, being a relevant public intellectual (at least for broad ranging and deep philosophical questions) requires a certain genius that can’t really be taught; I think I agree with this sentiment to some extent. This means that one is left with public educators, but if so then why reform philosophy departments? Why not reform education departments to train better teachers of philosophy? Philosophy does not need to be done in the philosophy department, and many in the continental tradition seem to realize this as they congregate in other areas of the humanities, so why reform the existing departments instead of just renaming them as departments of “western analytic philosophy” to better reflect their (often unreasonably) exclusive nature.

    Like

    • Huenemann says:

      I agree with you that many continental philosophers try to engage the contemporary world – but very often, what they end up writing is every bit as impenetrable to a lay reader as anything written by the stereotypical, logic-chopping analytic philosopher. Happily there are exceptions – but too many philosophers are just too far removed from any potential non-professional reader.

      Like

  12. Bharath Vallabha says:

    What would it look like if philosophy professors followed this idea? If PhDs focused on engaging with the public rather than writing to other professionals?

    One hopes what will happen is: the philosophers will seek to “enlighten” the masses, the masses will be inspired, they will then change how they live their lives, and there will be a better world.

    But will the masses be inspired? Some surely will be. But all? Most? That is a stretch. Some won’t be because they don’t trust academics. But let’s leave them aside. Let’s assume If one is open minded, one will be inspired.

    Then what will the masses do with that inspiration? Seek to emulate the way the professors live their lives, no doubt. But is that emulatable? In fact, what does it mean for someone with a 9-5 job who reads a inspiring book by a professor to emulate that professor? Doesn’t emulating involve doing the kind of things the professor does? But how can the 9-5 person do that when they don’t have time in their day to think for the whole day the way the professor can?

    Perhaps the masses will be inspired to think for themselves, and then they won’t try to emulate professors but just live the reflective life themselves. But how will that then lead to a better, more harmonious society? Philosophy professors, assuming they are excellent at thinking for themselves, don’t have a great track record of engaging in group projects among themselves to improve the philosophy profession. It is unclear that for philosophy professors thinking for oneself leads to building solidarity in a practical, efficient way. So how then thinking for oneself in ways inspired by philosophy professors help the masses to make changes in their lives and society in a practical way?

    Maybe philosophy professors writing for the public isn’t enough. Maybe some philosophers need to leave academia and do philosophy among the masses, as one of the masses. Then the philosophy among the masses can be not a matter of some privileged enlightened beings shedding the light for the masses, but of people struggling together to do philosophy amidst day to day life and the difficulties of that. Perhaps the masses will be inspired to do philosophy when the very distinction between professors and the masses gets erased.

    Like

  13. windwheel says:

    German University students in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century differed quite dramatically from Anglo-American students in that
    1) they were less subject to the discipline of ‘Proctors’ and, instead, were answerable to their own fraternities- i.e. the medieval notion of students as comprising a ‘nation’ continued to flourish whereas in England or France the student was dependent on his parent or guardian who expected the College to exercise an infantilising ‘in loco parentis’ type of care. In other words,
    2) German students (especially those who supported themselves by giving tuition or doing copyist work etc) had more freedom- in particular the freedom to transfer to another University with a more popular or dynamic Professor.
    3) Germany had fewer well paid jobs for the ‘Bildungsburgertum’ so students had to earn more and more credentials or act as an unpaid privatdocent for longer periods. Like Balzac’s idealized ‘Cenacle’, some German students spent 20 years living in garrets on starvation rations, while grappling with the most recondite and intractable of Research Programs. To be discovered in one’s lifetime was an actuarial improbability for most of them. By contrast, University education was often a good investment showing a quick return for Anglo-Americans- and even the State supported French, or Church supported Spaniard or Italian.
    4) Even after German Unification and the State sponsored nexus between ‘Finanzkapital’ and Technological Industries, the Collegiate decision system common to Germany and Russia meant that the German savant/bureaucrat had a longer neotenous latency and only came into his own in advanced middle age.

    Thus, the relative ‘autonomy’ of the German student (itself the paradoxical result of inferior life-chances) was the cause not the consequence of German Idealistic Romanticism in all its incarnations- including the phenomenological and deconstructive. However, this also meant the relative retardation of German Socio-Economic thought. Britain had Jevons & Marshall, Italy had Pareto, Belgium had Walras, France had a whole bunch of guys starting with Bernoulli- but when the Germans get a Gossen they ignore him and just carry on doing Institutional. not seeing the wood for the trees, drudgery even though their Math Heavy Industry had given them the lead and, logically, it should have been the Germans not the Austrians who start seeing that Social processes are simple, zero intelligence and ‘out of control’- i.e. Paideia as pi-jaw alternating with mindless drudgery is just silly. Better by far, Plato would have judged, was the raucous beer hall harmonizing of the duelling fraternity.

    The American Higher Education system did grow way too big between ’45 and ’69 and, no question, quality suffered. Edward Said pointed out that for the first time in history, you had Professors of Literature who couldn’t read a Classical or even a second Modern Language. David Lodge mentions an American Prof. of English who had never read Hamlet. Of course, our position now is far worse. We have Professors who think they”ve read Hamlet because they once wrote a Polanyi type dissertation on it under the inspiration of Gayatri Spivak or Judith Butler. Philosophy, of course, has suffered more because a lot of young Associate Professors think they know some Math or Econ or whatever because they took Post Grad courses specifically designed to be worthless simply so as to inculcate that individually profitable but collectively disastrous delusion. Of course, the opposite is also true. Philosophy has made a sterling contribution to stupidity in every other Discipline.

    This is a good thing. Society only works, we only have an incentive to use Language, if we all believe other people, on average, are stupider than us. Also a waiter with a PhD just makes the pizza taste better. Unless, of course your tax dollars paid for his PhD- in which case refuse to tip.

    Like

  14. Lucy Maltez says:

    I came across this blog and appreciate it and the various commentators. I want to be hopeful of the role of professional philosophy both in the public sphere and in educational institutions. As a postgraduate who has chosen to leave the academic world for various reasons, the specialization/professionalization of philosophy has made Philosophy loose its paths in being a deeply passionate and engaging activity in which the integrity and the authenticity of the human being is decisively implicated; in other words, it has lost its footing to speak to the issues of the everyday and age. In the confines of specialized journals and conferences, academics preach to a dogmatic (depending on the school of thought) choir. There are many people who are truly craving to engage in rich and nuanced dialogue, and I believe there is a role for the philosopher not as the holder of knowledge but more of guiders in the terrain of thinking. It is good many philosophers are starting to question critically what role philosophy needs to play in institutions of higher learning and in the public sphere.

    I commence Chris Long for his project to bring Philosophy to a more public space. I must also say that I am hopeful of the role of philosophy among the general public. I recently moved to Spain and have found various public spaces where academic philosophers engage in philosophical thinking, dialogue and learning with people who aren`t professional philosophers and have a very basic knowledge of philosophy as a discipline. We cannot underestimate people’s interest and intelligibility, and I think this has been the mistake current philosophers have made; they assume the public has no interest or is not verse enough to understand.

    By the way, I am certain that there are many people like myself who have a 9-5 job and also find time for reading philosophy and philosophizing. We would welcome more academic philosophers to challenge themselves to speak to us in less technical terms. I may not be an expert or may follow the latest journal articles in the field but I continue with the task of thinking and I don’t believe academic philosophy has a monopoly on that.

    Like

  15. Ben McLean says:

    As far as I can tell, every single word of this article is absolutely correct, and should be accepted as gospel by academic philosophers. The problem it addresses, I think, is that a movement which began in the 19th century and culminated in the “logical positivism” of the 20th century has essentially killed philosophy, by constructing an impenetrable barrier between philosophy and life. Logical positivism was so absurdly easy to refute that it couldn’t last, of course, but now most philosophers seem to either regret that, because they desperately want their discipline to be regarded as scientific in the modern sense, (which I think is pathetic) or else they have gotten into the crazy postmodernism stuff and abandoned reason altogether. Very few say, “Philosophy is about how to think, and how you should live your life. Philosophy tells modern science what to do and why to do it, not the other way around.”

    In previous centuries, even as radical a skeptic as David Hume would have the good sense to write, “Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man” whilest regrettably failing to practice the maxim. Today’s analytic tradition doesn’t even pay lip service to that idea anymore.

    There is now an almost total division between philosophy and life. Ethics is regarded as something we can and should abstract our discussions away from at every possible opportunity, while political philosophy has been hijacked by the Marxists and the absolutely barbarous “gender studies” departments which spout off pure nonsense bizarre enough to be worthy of a nightmare dreamed by Lewis Carroll himself. Yet none of the philosophy professors, whose training in logic should guarantee that they know better than to tolerate such absurdity, will say a damn thing. I’m not sure whether it’s fear of the Internet Hate Mob, or their own ideologically-induced blindness or some combination of both, but in any case, Reason no longer reigns in our institutions of higher learning. And let’s get honest: the Right does not run the universities. The Left does, almost without exception. The entire right side of the political spectrum can point at the left side of the political spectrum on this issue and say, “This is completely and totally your fault. Fix it, damn you.”

    The politics of universities have discouraged me somewhat from attempting to pursue my ambitions to become a philosophy professor myself. I just graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy this May, but I am so fed up with academia right now that I’m not sure I want to go any further with the subject academically.

    And the thing is, teaching undergraduate philosophy courses is exactly what I’d like to be doing if I was to pursue that career. I would want to be teaching Philosophy 101, Ethics, Epistemology, Plato, Philosophy of Law, Philosophy of Religion/Theology and perhaps Logic. I’d love walking people through the difference between consequentialism and deontology, or exposing them to the radical skepticism of Hume, or introducing them to Descartes Evil Demon, or to Aquinas’s Five Ways or how Locke thinks property comes to exist. I could see myself making all of those kinds of things accessible and entertaining, in order to enrich the educational experience and round out the knowledge of all the non-philosophy majors who should all (in my opinion) have to take Logic and at least another course or two in philosophy just so they get a general idea what it’s about, for general historical background if for nothing else.

    I also love to write but I would want to write in the style of the Great Books, and not be forced into following the expectations of the dry, academic style that nobody wants to read about trivial problems that very few people are ever confronted with. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea in this piece that most writing on philosophy should be for the benefit of non-philosophers. (or for people who do not specialize in philosophy, let alone in a specific field in philosophy) We should also perhaps not be so very insistent upon getting citations for every damn thing. I notice that most of the most famous works in the history of philosophy contain very few, if any, citations. Academic & intellectual rigor of course requires citing sources when appropriate, and citing them a great deal in some subjects, but not for everything in every subject.

    I am very inspired by the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College, with his “Socrates Meets” series. He has, “Socrates Meets Descartes” “Socrates Meets Hume” “Socrates Meets Kant” “Socrates Meets Marx” ect. Each one a dialogue in the style of Plato, where his Socrates cross-examines a great thinker of history about the contents of their books. Another great book of his is “The Best Things in Life.” These books represent the kind of thing I’d like to be writing someday.

    So despite my continued interest in philosophy, my patience with academia and it’s culture has waned severely, for reasons I think are largely related to the problem brought up here. So I am currently pursuing a career as a software developer with my other degree, a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.

    BTW, I think Searle’s Chinese Room is absolutely devastating to the strong AI optimists and am more interested in computer related ethics than the AI questions everyone throws at me as soon as they hear I do both computer science and philosophy.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s