I'm taking advantage of my status as guest blogger to respond to Brian's request for feedback on the Schneewind quote, and Brian's reaction to it. I don't see the case for the claim that there is any kind of crisis in analytic philosophy. Nor, as an analytic philosopher working in the trenches of philosophy, do I see any kind of sense that there is a crisis among its younger practitioners. To address the second point first, it is my impression from graduate applications and undergraduate enrollments at the universities I have taught that there is a great deal of excitement about philosophy. The discipline of philosophy seems to be attracting outstanding young people who have excelled in a wide variety of academic disciplines such as mathematics and economics, but have chosen to pursue philosophy rather than those other disciplines. My subjective impression is that this was less true in my generation of graduate students. My sense of current graduate students in philosophy (including the ones who have just applied to graduate school) is that they seem considerably more impressive than philosophy graduate students in the early 1990s, such as myself. This suggests that philosophy is doing a good job of attracting outstanding young scholars from across the academic disciplines, who have a sense that it is a discipline in which one can pursue foundational questions that intersect other disciplines in fruitful and productive ways.
This leads us to the second question: is the heady sense of excitement about philosophy a fiction? Are there any grounds, besides the usual skepticism about the nature of the enterprise that has always been part and parcel of our practice, to think that we are engaged in the final throes of an elaborate confusion? Schneewind is an outstanding historian, but he is simply not in contact with enough of the practice of non-historical philosophy to pass any kind of judgment on what is happening within it. Brian, however, is in a better position to provide commentary, and he does give one kind of argument for skepticism. Brian worries about the tendency (and it is a tendency) for philosophers to pursue a 'hot problem' that has a shelf life for 3-5 years (usually somewhat longer I think, but that's a quibble). I agree with Brian that this is a feature of our discipline. What I wonder is why we should take this as providing any evidence for the thesis that philosophy is in a kind of crisis.
Surely, the very fact that subparts of a discipline work collectively on a single problem doesn't *entail* that the discipline is in a crisis. In the sciences, this is exactly what happens. But surely it would be excessively hasty to conclude that biology (say) is in a crisis. So we need some special philosophy specific account of why the fact that philosophers tend to work collectively on problems suggests that philosophy is in a crisis.
Perhaps the claim is that none of the topics that were once considered 'hot problems' turned out to result in work of lasting interest. No doubt *some* of the topics that were once considered 'hot problems' failed to result in work of lasting interest. But I find it hard to believe that this is a general truth about topics that are ever considered hot problems. I also think we are often poorly placed to make judgments about which ideas will have lasting interest. Fichte was not a widely studied philosopher fifteen years ago, despite being 'hot' in the 19th century. Now, his views on the importance of the second-person perspective in ethics are being seriously reconsidered. Monism was hot among British Idealists in the late 19th century, then it wasn't. But now analytic metaphysicans (or at least Jonathan Schaffer) are taking it up again. Who knows what topics that have recently been considered to be 'hot problems', but are no longer intensively discussed, will turn out to have resonance in subsequent centuries?
When we call something a 'hot problem', there is occasionally an implicature that philosophers are led to investigate it because it is perceived as 'hot', and not because there is a sense that investigating it will lead to a new way of understanding some phenomenon. But I worry that this is just a meanspirited way to react to this general feature of academic disciplines.