This is from the title essay of one of his new collections, Analytic Philosophy in America and Other Historical and Contemporary Essays (Princeton, 2014), p. 7:
[A]nalytic philosophy is not a fixed body of substantive doctrine, a precise methodology, or a radical break with most traditional philosophy of the past--save for varieties of romanticism, theism, and absolute idealism. Instead, it is a discrete historical tradition steeming from Frege, Moore, Russell, Wittgenstein and the logical positivists, characterized by respect for science and common sense, belief in the relevance of logic and language for philosophy, emphasis on precision and clarity in argumentation, suspicion of apriori metaphysics, and elevation of the goals of truth and knowledge over inspiration, moral uplift, and spiritual comfort--plus a dose of professional specialization.
A propos an earlier item, philosopher Bryan Frances (Fordham) writes: "I agree with the post about the non-career-oriented value of philosophy. Nevertheless, loads of students ask about careers and philosophy, as you know." Professor Frances kindly shared two "prezis" he made about philosophy and careers: a long version and a short version, the latter of which he says is "better for the classroom."
Anna Christina Ribeiro (Texas Tech) argues that it is. (Thanks to Miguel Dos Santos for the pointer.) Lots of areas of philosophy are under-represented in the leading departments, of course, in the sense that many departments have no specialists. Examples woudl include philosophy of law, mathematical logic, medieval philosophy, philosophy of religion, and 19th-century European philsophy. The latter neglect strikes me as particularly appalling: this is a century that includes Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, and Nietzsche, all major figures by almost anyone's accounting. Of the top ten departments (for 2011), Rutgers, MIT, and North Carolina have no one specializing in any of these figures; only NYU, Stanford, and perhaps Pittsburgh have specialists in at least two of these major 19th-century figures. Is that not as serious an omission? What do readers think? How do we evaluate the areas good philosophy departments must cover? Signed comments will be strongly preferred: full name and valid e-mail address.
This is well-said, by Scott Samuelson, who teaches philosophy at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa:
Thinking of the value of the humanities predominately in terms of earnings and employment is to miss the point. America should strive to be a society of free people deeply engaged in "the pursuit of happiness," not simply one of decently compensated and well-behaved employees.
A true liberal-arts education furnishes the mind with great art and ideas, empowers us to think for ourselves and appreciate the world in all its complexity and grandeur. Is there anyone who doesn't feel a pang of desire for a meaning that goes beyond work and politics, for a meaning that confronts the mysteries of life, love, suffering and death?
I once had a student, a factory worker, who read all of Schopenhauer just to find a few lines that I quoted in class. An ex-con wrote a searing essay for me about the injustice of mandatory minimum sentencing, arguing that it fails miserably to live up to either the retributive or utilitarian standards that he had studied in Introduction to Ethics. I watched a preschool music teacher light up at Plato's "Republic," a recovering alcoholic become obsessed by Stoicism, and a wayward vet fall in love with logic (he's now finishing law school at Berkeley). A Sudanese refugee asked me, trembling, if we could study arguments concerning religious freedom. Never more has John Locke—or, for that matter, the liberal arts—seemed so vital to me.
I'm glad that students who major in disciplines like philosophy may eventually make as much as or more than a business major. But that's far from the main reason I think we should invest in the humanities.
While Prospect Magazinedoes its thing, I thought it might be interesting to ask readers of this blog to vote on the same question concerning only philosophers, namely which ones are "engaging most originally and profoundly with the central questions of the world today." You can vote here.
I've included all those Prospect included, and a bunch of others, no doubt omitting some sensible choices, but also including some that Prospect inexplicably omitted. I've included plenty whom I manifestly do not think are meritorious, but others may disagree!
UPDATE: Whoops, Charles Taylor a (now obvious) omission from my list!
AND MORE: Another reader suggests Thomas Pogge. And yet another points out that Nick Bostrom was on the Prospect list, but I apparently missed it.
Curious, I'm not quite sure how this gets attributed, in part, to me. I would agree with a couple of those, but I think much more likely is that we have no idea what philosophical questions will prove important or central fifty years from now (though the professionalization of the discipline perhaps makes it somewhat easier to predict).
Philosophy graduate student Nick Byrd asked me to share this study he is conducting to explore the relationship between personality traits and philosophical views. He says it should take only 5-10 minutes to complete the survey.
There must be more to the "science" than what is described here:
They begin with a puppet show. In this show, a gray cat is seen trying to open a big plastic box. The cat tries repeatedly, but he just can't open the lid all the way. A bunny in a green T-shirt comes along and helps open the box. Then the scenario is repeated, but this time a bunny in an orange T-shirt comes along and slams the box shut before running away. The green bunny is nice and helpful. The orange bunny is mean and unhelpful.
The baby is then presented with the two bunnies from the show. A staff member who doesn't know which bunny was mean and which bunny was nice will offer both bunnies at the same time to the baby. The baby's mother, who is usually present during the study, closes her eyes so as not to influence the baby in any way.
Which bunny do the babies choose? More than 80% of the babies in the study showed their preference for the good bunny, either by reaching for the good bunny or staring at it. And with 3-month-olds, that number goes higher, to 87%.
As described, the result is obviously equally compatible with the hypothesis that babies are born with an innate sense of self-interest. So what's the real story here? Additional links welcome. (Thanks to Mark Couch for the pointer.)
...but I've been on the road (in California) first here and then here.
Visiting the wonderful UCR Department, as I've been fortunate to do several times in recent years, prompts some reflections on our field and also on the interests in the Continental traditions that I share with many others. There are, fortunately, lots of good places in the U.S. these days for students interested in Kant and post-Kantian European philosophy--Columbia, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Brown, BU and, in many ways, Chicago--but UCR is as good as any of them, and may be the best. It's not just that they have a first-rate group of scholars working on Kant and post-Kantian European philosophy (Clark, Keller, Reath, Wrathall)--and an impressive group of grad students as well--but that everyone in the Department is interested in philosophy, meaning that those with primarily "Continental" interests are conversant with "analytic" philosophy and other parts of the history of philosophy, and vice versa.
The term "pluralism" has, alas, been debased to the point that everyone now knows it is usually a code word for "crappy philosophy is welcome here." But if it had not been devalued, then it would apply to UCR, though I think the more appropriate appellation is that UCR is an actual philosophy department, in which everyone is interested in philosophy, even if different figures or themes are more important for some than others. When I left UT Austin some six years ago, part of the reason was that it had ceased to be a department of philosophy and had become something more like a "Department of Logic & Metaphysics," where that meant recent logic and metaphysics. That's fine, UT Austin has become a leading Department of "Logic & Metaphysics" in the recent 'analytic' tradition. I am (to the annoyance of my critics) a fan of the "analytic" tradition, but mostly I am a fan of philosophy, and most of the really important philosophy is not, by my lights, to be found in "recent logic and metaphysics".
The field needs more places like UCR. (The world needs more places with decent weather, but that's a separate issue!)
UPDATE: One current PhD student at UT Austin not working in M&E/Language/Mind/Logic wrote to say he felt the department was more supportive of his work than my commentary would suggest. I am happy to hear that, and I hope other students feel the same way.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM DECEMBER 21, 2013: THIS DESERVES MORE RESPONSES!
Signed comments only: full name and valid e-mail address. You can name more than one, but say a couple of words about each book or article you mention, why you liked it, why it's significant, what it's contribution is to a particular literature. I'll add my own at some point, but first I'd like readers to weigh in.
As a survivor from the wartime group [at Oxford], I can only say: sorry, but the reason was indeed that there were fewer men about then. The trouble is not, of course, men as such – men have done good enough philosophy in the past. What is wrong is a particular style of philosophising that results from encouraging a lot of clever young men to compete in winning arguments. These people then quickly build up a set of games out of simple oppositions and elaborate them until, in the end, nobody else can see what they are talking about. All this can go on until somebody from outside the circle finally explodes it by moving the conversation on to a quite different topic, after which the games are forgotten. Hobbes did this in the 1640s. Moore and Russell did it in the 1890s. And actually I think the time is about ripe for somebody to do it today. By contrast, in those wartime classes – which were small – men (conscientious objectors etc) were present as well as women, but they weren't keen on arguing.
It was clear that we were all more interested in understanding this deeply puzzling world than in putting each other down. That was how Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, Mary Warnock and I, in our various ways, all came to think out alternatives to the brash, unreal style of philosophising – based essentially on logical positivism – that was current at the time. And these were the ideas that we later expressed in our own writings.
A number of interesting and/or curious claims here (I am particularly struck by the confident dismissal of logical positivism, and by the implication that Oxford no longer produces talented female philosophers), but I'm curious what readers think? Signed comments will, of course, be preferred.
Mary Midgley, aged 81, may be the most frightening philosopher in the country: the one before whom it is least pleasant to appear a fool. One moment she sits by her fire in Newcastle like a round-cheeked tabby cat; the next she is deploying a savage Oxonian precision of language to dissect some error as a cat dissects a living mouse.
I have posted it here. This will be part of a wonderfully clever series that Topoi has run for a number of years, and which is explained here:
We take a classic of philosophy and ask an outstanding scholar in the same field to review it as if it had just been published. This implies that the classical work must be contrasted with both past and current literature and must be framed in the wider cultural context of the present day. The result is a litmus test for the work itself: Failure in accounting for relevant issues raised by contemporary literature reveals that, in those respects, our classic has indeed been outpaced by later works. On the other hand, any success in capturing core topics of current discussion, or even anticipating and clarifying issues not yet well brought into focus by contemporary scholars, is the strongest proof of the liveliness of the work, no matter how long ago it was written.
I have enjoyed reading some of the previous "Untimely Reviews," including for example Brandom on Hegel's Phenomenology (2008) and Leitgeb on Carnap's Aufbau (2009). Readers not familiar with the series should check it out.
(I should note that my "untimely review" will not include that many new ideas for those who have been reading some of my other Nietzsche essays of late--I've been working on, and writing about Twilight quite a bit over the last two years.)
The art world has a phenomenon known as outsider artists -- artists who don't emerge via what Arthur Danto has called the art world (art schools, galleries etc.) but seemingly come in from the outside. This inevitably leads to debates about who is really an outsider, whether they remain outsiders or get absorbed into the art world, and of course just how much recognition they should get. Is there a similar phenomenon of outsider philosophers?
In the photos above I've given some examples to spur discussion. Is Angela Davis (top) really an outsider? (She studied under Marcuse and has held philosophy positions; perhaps she is an insider?). Is Timothy Leary (bottom right) a philosopher? He described himself as America's MVP -- most valuable philosopher. And would Lucy Parsons (bottom left) even consider herself a philosopher? Well, I know some Chicago anarchists that would, and the Chicago police once described her as more dangerous that a thousand rioters, so there's that.
So are there outsider philosophers? Who are they? Are they worth reading? Are they worth reading qua philosophers? Discuss.
Jonathan Strassfeld is working on a doctoral dissertation in the History Department at Rochester on the history of philosophy in mid-20th-century America, especially an institutional history about the leading departments and their areas of focus. I've been helping him at various intervals with questions about faculty rosters, tenure status, and the like. He recently wrote with a question to which I don't know the answer, but perhaps some readers can help: "What were the circumstances leading to Nelson Goodman's exit from Pennsylvania's philosophy department?" I believe he initially went to Brandeis, then to Harvard. I have a dim recollection that Penn in the 1950s and 1960s was, like Yale, resisting the turn to "analytic" philosophy, with a large coteria of folks working in "classical" American philosophy. But I am not at all confident about any of this. Anyone know? Signed comments very strongly preferred, since Mr. Strassfeld would like to be able to follow up with knowledgealbe individuals.
Nigel Warburton comments. One characteristic of the various pseudo-philosophical cults that crop up now and then--the Straussian, the Randian, the Derridean are prime examples--is that their members stringently avoid such face-to-face conversation with their critics, and for obvious reasons.
As a first, crude attempt, I’ll describe philosophical work as work with and on "concepts". Philosophers are concerned with concepts in the same rigorous sort of way that, say, a pathologist is concerned with diseases, or a mathematician with numbers. This may look like philosophers apply their energies to other-worldly things (“staring at the ceiling”, “head in the clouds”) or to the contents of their own imaginations, but this is based on a misleading account of concepts.
Concepts are not the contents of so-called thought-bubbles. They are the hinges or links of reasoning processes. They describe those aspects of thought that enables it to make the right connections: connections with the rest of the world; with other thoughts; and with actions. I use the word "right" here to indicate the possibility of getting these connections wrong.
Looked at this way, a concern with concepts can seem important indeed. To recycle an idea from Aristotle, it’s the capacity for conceptual thought that allows us to reason and act on the basis of reasons, and not just react to environmental stimuli. That we all work with concepts at some level allows us to exercise reason and act freely—to be more than mere bundles of conditioned responses. Concepts are what make us distinctively us.
In the division of intellectual labour, philosophers work mainly at the level of the hinges between thoughts, on those concepts deeply embedded within the argumentative threads weaving through our culture. But these are threads that have started somewhere with the formation of beliefs, and end somewhere in actions. As the concepts on which philosophers work are typically located a long way from where these threads start or terminate, philosophical research is generally described as "pure" rather than "applied". But "pure" does not mean "irrelevant". Who would question that the activity of finding and attempting to fix problems in our collective thinking was a relevant thing to do?
Although that's not my conception of philosophy, it is certainly an important and legitimate one. Given Australia's out-sized place in the modern philosophy canon (relative to the size of the country), one may hope that the party now in power there will come to its senses and find more constructive things to do with its time and its power than trash philosophy.
Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems--or "problematics" to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.
This is both funny and apt, and it makes in pithier form one of the points Michael Weisberg and I made last fall in The Nation. Meanwhile, while I was travelling 'down under,' Nagel wrote a short (and basically fair) summary of his book for a New York Times blog. It was, unfortunately, prefaced with the utterly disingenous claim that Mind and Cosmos "has attracted a good deal of critical attention, which is not surprising, given the entrenchment of the world view that it attacks." This implies, falsely, that the critical reaction was due to the "entrenchment of the world view" the book attacks as opposed to the extraordinarily poor quality of the book's arguments and knowledge of the relevant science. Surely even Nagel realizes that were he, a formerly reputable philosopher, not the author of Mind and Cosmos, it never would have been published by OUP or any serious academic press.
This is really quite interesting; in retrospect, Adorno seems to have the better of the debate, though Marcuse responds effectively on many points. Alas, both suffered from taking the nonsense of Hegelian dialectics seriously, but there is still much worthwhile in the exchange notwithstanding that. Marcuse is upset that Horkheimer allegedly described his version of critical theory as "crude and simplified," which it was, but it wasn't, as far as I can see, inaccurate to the core ideas--indeed, as I often say to students, Marcuse often says clearly what Adorno says opaquely.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)