This Year in Philosophical Intellectual History

This Year in Philosophical Intellectual History

This fall, one of the most powerful institutions in the field of philosophy in this country began to collapse…

In “The Rise and Fall of the Philosophical Gourmet Report,” a brief post at the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, historian Ben Alpers takes a look at one of the major stories in the philosophy profession this year. Alpers is cautious about his account of the story—more marking it for future analysis than delving into it deeply. He is self-conscious about his status as an outsider to the profession, but he also takes a stab at understanding its significance:

I had wanted to write something about it… But I never felt that I really understood the details well enough to add anything interesting to the conversation you’ll find on philosophy blogs. But before the year is up, I wanted to post something on the controversy, because I think that the rise and fall of the PGR will be a wonderful future topic for U.S. intellectual historians. The appeal of such a ranked list tells us interesting things about the field of philosophy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as do the specific philosophical preferences of Leiter and the PGR.

I agree that this could be an interesting topic for future intellectual historians and sociologists studying the philosophy profession. Despite attempts to reduce it all to a personal smear campaign, what happened this year, in my view as an observer of the profession for over a decade, was the result of several important changes in attitude and power structure in the profession. In a previous and apparently divisive post, I gave the result of these changes a name: “The New Consensus“:*

Over the past couple of years, philosophers have witnessed the emergence of a new consensus—one that rejects acquiescence to abuses of power in philosophy, one that seeks to overturn rather than turn away from the profession’s problems, one that seeks to support rather than silence the vulnerable. At the same time, the consensus reinforces two very traditional pillars of philosophical practice: first, it recognizes that criticism is the currency with which philosophers pay respect to one another while insults are just cheap counterfeits, and second, that we should go wherever the arguments and inquiries take us, putting aside philosophical prejudices and erasing boundaries if need be.

What I had in mind with this admittedly somewhat purple prose was that there seemed, first, to be a greater recognition of the kinds of problems our profession faces and acceptance of and support for attempts to remedy them. Second, there seemed to be a wider range of voices confidently making themselves heard on a variety of issues, and, among other things, an increased willingness to call out more powerful people in the profession for making personal attacks on others. And third, there seemed to be a greater acceptance of a diversity of approaches to philosophy, and more skepticism about attempts to dismiss inquiries by saying “that’s not philosophy.”

I think these are improvements and I am happy for whatever small role Daily Nous played in helping them come about.

One thing I said in the New Consensus post that I think is often overlooked is: “There are still many with legitimate personal and structural complaints about our profession.” Things are far from perfect, clearly. One of the good things about the current state of affairs, though, is that there are so many outlets for bringing issues to light, discussing them, and working towards solutions. Daily Nous is one of those outlets, so feel free to bring your concerns here. I am not under the illusion that every or even any problem can get solved on a website, but at least information and perspectives and ideas can be shared.

Alpers notes, “It’s obviously much too soon to write this history.” That’s true. But what we can do now is draw attention to what we think would be important to include in that history.

(art: detail of “Nature” by Richard Tuttle)

*see first comment.

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