That was the question put to ten philosophers in the 10th anniversary issue of The Philosophers' Magazine (which, alas, is not on-line). Here are some of the answers that struck me as most interesting.
Simon Blackburn (Cambridge University & University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill):
The return of a highly scholastic metaphysics means it's worse: there is a return of "intuition" masquerading as the a priori and a highly suspect self-image that metaphysics is just like science, except without the need toleave the armchair, which is about parallel to entering Formula 1 races without an engine. I suspect that political and moral philosophy are better.
While Professor Blackburn thinks the glass is half empty, Jerry Fodor (Rutgers University, New Brunswick) thinks it half full:
It's better in one respect: Philosophical inquiry is increasingly informed by discussion with adjacent subjects (psychology, biology, cognitive science, physics, and so forth). In consequence, a priorism is less widely prevalent than it was at the height of the "analytical" philosophy movement. That's surely a good thing.
Jaakko Hintikka (Boston University), by contrast, seems to be looking at a wholly different glass:
Intellectually, philosophy is now in the same or worse state of stagnation as in 1997. With a few exceptions, the paradigm of philosophical thinking and writing is no longer like that of a scientist inquiring into the deepest secrets of nature or of the human mind, but an interpreter of the great works of literature or perhaps of a religious teacher interpreting the sacred texts. The truth of what is commented on is either irrelevant or taken for granted. For instance, in the immense secondary literature on Wittgenstein, I have never found anything that would help me to understand better the subject matter Wittgenstein was inquiring into. The main reason for the Byzantine state of affairs is the lack of fresh new ideas that would open up specific problems for philosophers--especially young philosophers--to tackle.
Alasdair MacIntyre (University of Notre Dame), meanwhile, presumably plans to stop writing:
If the philosophy published between 1907 and 1967 were to vanish without a trace, it would be an intellectual catastrophe. If the philosophy published between 1967 and 1997 were to vanish without trace, it would be a very serious loss. If the philosophy published between 1997 and 2007 were to vanish similarly, it would matter a little, but not that much.
Colin McGinn (University of Miami) is less gloomy than Professor MacIntyre, but still a bit nostalgic:
Better in some respects, worse in others. It seems more democratic now, less centralised; but philosophy is not as exciting these days as it used to be. I'd even say that a kind of graduate student mentality has taken over: being an expert in "the literature" is too highly prized, while originality is looked on with suspicion. Also, it's just got more nerdy. The people are less amusing, shallower, more one-dimensional (I'm speaking generally).
Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago) starts by noting (she is alone among respondents to mention this) that "the job market for young philosophers is considerably worse," meaning that "talented young people are increasingly deterred from choosing philosophy as a career." She continues:
As for the people who are still in the profession, I think that the basic quality of work in moral and political philosophy is pretty high, but I wonder where the people of large insight and imagination are in the younger generation, people with the sort of humanistic breadth exemplified by [Bernard] Williams. I sometimes think that we are becoming smaller, and that it would be a good thing if people who wrote on moral and political philosophy read more novels and poems, and spent more time encountering real human beings in different parts of the world.
John Searle (University of California, Berkeley) sounds a note of optimism, pointing to "the increasing 'globalisation' of philosophy," noting that one can "go to just about any major university in the world and lecture in English to audiences who are sophisticated, informed, and enthusiastic about philosophy." Peter Singer (Princeton University & University of Melbourne) is similarly upbeat (and even more succinct):
In better shape. At least so it seems to me--there appear to be more philosophers being widely read, beyond the profession, and a broader public interest in philosophy than there was 10 years ago.
So what do philosophers think? Do you share the diagnoses of the philosophers quoted above? It would be especially interesting to know whether younger philosophers are as gloomy as many of those senior scholars quoted above (McGinn, at 57, and Nussbaum, at 60 are the youngest philosophers quoted).
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