This blog is, remarkably, ten years old today. It's the most widely read philosophy blog in the world, as best I can tell, with nearly 23 million visits and more than 30 million page views during its decade of life (I recall how surprising it was the first time it got 200 hits in one day way back in 2003! Now, even in the summer, it's running an average of 10,000 hits per day). Issues raised here have made it into The New York Times, The Guardian, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, The Boston Globe, and many other traditional media. My thanks to all you readers for making it a success and making it worth continuing.
Here's three things I never would have guessed way back in 2003:
1. The extent to which blogs would become part of the mainstream of the profession.
2. The extent to which academic philosophers, though overall a more enlightened group, would still have representatives of every political and moral pathology of the United States. (I shall have to do another survey of the readership like this one from a few years ago.)
3. The extent to which airing on the Internet the kind of moral and political views I express all the time to friends and colleagues would make me an object of widespread cyber-vilification--yes, in retrospect, I realize that was naive. Cyberspace, alas, enables an extraordinary amount of shameless defamation by people with political or philosophical axes to grind; and American libel and cyber-law mostly gives them cover.
I've posted some reflections at various milestones in the past, but the realization that ten years have passed inspires more verbosity. I've put most of it below the fold, to spare those of you who are not interested.
1. Some of you reading this were probably 9 or 12 or 15 years old when the blog started. (The story of how it started is here.) Who is this guy, you reasonably wonder? Here's the short version: I studied philosophy at Princeton, graduated in 1984; was keen on philosophy, but worried about job prospects (what else is new?), so got a law degree at Michigan in 1987, and studied a lot more philosophy in the process; then practiced law, then went back to Michigan and got a PhD in philosophy. During that time, I was fortunate to be exposed to lots of really good philosophers--thank you to Christia Mercer, Gilbert Harman, Richard Rorty, T.M. Scanlon, Michael Frede, Raymond Geuss, Crispin Wright, Peter Carruthers, Paul Boghossian, Michael Forster, David Velleman, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, among many others. At Michigan, I wrote an actual dissertation on Nietzsche's critique of morality, but while in law school and then graduate school, I wrote my "other dissertation," as I called it, on American Legal Realism and their attack on the determinacy of legal reasoning. While living in New York finishing my dissertation, I hung out at Columbia, where Julia Annas and Thomas Pogge were very welcoming, and I had the remarkable good fortune to get to know Scott Shapiro, then writing his thesis in legal philosophy. I also spent time at NYU with John Richardson and Ken Gemes, among others, who were a great help to my Nietzsche work, as was Maudemarie Clark during our extended correspondence during those years. Through utter happenstance (I'll tell the story another time, but let me say, "Thank you Dennis Patterson!"), I ended up on the law teaching market as well as the philosophy teaching market in the fall of 1992. I ended up going with a tenure-track home in law, which is where the money and the professional support was (I discussed the choice back in 2004), but fortunately have been able to work with super philosophy students the whole time, first at Texas, now at Chicago (as well as lots of terrific law students). While in the PhD program at Michigan in 1989, I hatched (details here) the odd idea of producing a report that woudl give guidance to students about where to get a PhD. That caught on, needless to say, and also became controversial (mostly with self-serving and often idiotic objections), but the result was that some people thought I was "the most powerful man in philosophy" (I think the line was due to MIT's Alex Byrne originally, but he'll correct me). I wish it were true, it would make my life simpler! It is true that, compared to most leading figures in the less well-known sub-fields of philosophy, I am better-known than most (how many of you can name the top 3 contributors to philosophy of art, or Hegel studies, or medieval philosophy--you get the idea). This pisses a lot of people off, just like the fact that their departments don't rank better in peer evaluations which I run pisses them off. So some folks don't like me as much as my kids do. Such is life. Anyway, that's who I am, at least superficially.
2. It didn't take long after my arrival in the blogosphere ten years ago for controversy to come my way. I had, and still have, bad "blogospheric manners." It's partly that I'm a New Yorker, partly that I'm a lawyer, and partly that reading philosophy (and especially reading Nietzsche) encourages a certain level of, shall we say, intellectual aggression. Anyway, I tended to call morons "morons," to excorciate fakers and moral reprobates, and, more generally, to fail to observe any of the norms of bloggers, as they existed then and now. But the norms that arose among bloggers (like the "slave revolt in morals," as a certain German philosopher noted) were clearly norms of prudence: they were meant to protect the vanity and unwarranted credibility of assorted idiots, jokers, and poseurs. I have never had any respect for them, and never will. What probably gets me most in trouble is my consistent disregard for the faux egaliatarianism of cyber-space.
3. Having a widely read blog creates, whether one likes it or not, an alternate identity: there's Cyber Brian and Real Brian, and while they're related, they definitely are not the same. Cyber Brian (per #2) is "rude" and "uncivil," for example, whereas Real Brian is (usually!) polite to a fault, kind to colleagues and students (and small animals!), and so good-natured (usually!) that sometimes people profess confusion about how Real Brian can be related to Cyber Brian. There's a simple explanation, of course (I've even written a scholarly piece related to the topic): in real life, whether in the classroom or in my professional interactions with colleagues and scholars, I rarely encounter sanctimonious morons, right-wing blowhards, or presumptuous know-nothings, whereas cyberspace is awash with them. Students want to learn, colleagues want to exchange ideas and arguments, and everyone (typically) treats everyone else with constructive courtesy and consideration. Once in a blue moon, Real Brian comes face-to-face with a walking Dunning-Kruger Effect, complete with attitude, and the results are never pretty. Cyber Brian seems so different from Real Brian because the world that I, happily, inhabit in reality is so civilized and serious, unlike the cyber-world.
4. Cyber Brian, due to the blog and the PGR, has also become identified with various philosophical views that Real Brian can barely recognize. (We saw an instance of this earlier this summer.) When I'm described as "totally committed" to "analytic philosophy" and "hostile to Continental philosophy," I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Most of what people call “analytic” philosophy is, in my view, crap of one kind or another (sometimes badly done, mostly just irrelevant, pointless, dull, etc.), and most of what the SPEP crowds calls “Continental” philosophy is also crap (more often badly done, philosophically confused, and also often irrelevant and dull). But there's "analytic" and "Continental" philosophy that I love and admire. Quine, Hempel, Kim, Hart, Railton; Nietzsche, Marx, Foucault, Schopenhauer. I love them all!
Philosophy is always deeply contested, but my loyalties are to figures, ideas, and styles that just don't seem to fit into any existing categories (I've suggested "naturalist" and "realist," but I don't know if that really helps). If anything, I identify most closely with aspects of the Continental traditions in philosophy, but the label "Continental" obscures more than it reveals. Philosophically, Nietzsche and Marx are most important to me, but I am also very interested in, and often sympathetic with, Foucault, Schopenhauer, Marcuse, Feuerbach, and Adorno, among others--but I'm not especially interested in, nor sympathetic with, Hegel or phenomenology or Habermas, for example. From my point of view, that someone like Hegel continues to command attention among even "analytic" philosophers interested in metaphysics and epistemology (broadly speaking) just shows that lots of philosophers still do not recognize that Quine was right, that if you want to know what there is and what we can know, those are scientific questions, for which philosophers have no distinctive methods or tools. (Marx would have sympathized with that!) The really interesting parts of the Continental traditions are those that go to the central ethical, political, and existential questions of the human situation, and what makes Nietzsche and Marx and their rightful heirs so interesting is precisely that they aim to diagnose, explain and critique this situation (not to produce, as so many "analytic" philosophers do, manuals of moral etiquette, documents of ethnograpic but little philosophical interest), and to do so in a way that blurs all the lines between philosophy, history, psychology, and anthropology. There are no existing vocabularies or categories to adequately describe this mix of Real Brian's philosophical sympathies, alas. I can say that one thing I particularly like about contemporary philosophers like Joshua Knobe and Jesse Prinz is that neither Gilbert Ryle nor Martin Heidegger would have recognized what they were doing. But Nietzsche would have!