The Last Philosopher in Alaska’s Interior


As reported last month, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks is losing its philosophy major and eliminating philosophy as its own department. Now, the last remaining tenured philosopher at UAF, Eduardo Wilner, has published a column in which he recounts the death of the department:

When I arrived here 17 years ago there were five faculty in our department. But colleagues retired, or left, or passed away… Instead of renewal, the university reabsorbed the vacant positions. And the department shrank until it could almost shrink no more. Now, we’re down to two temporary appointments, and only one permanent position (mine). The number of students, however, barely changed (around 25).

He also offers a defense of philosophy, writing, of the cuts:

This amounts to one of the most significant amputations in UAF’s history. Am I exaggerating? No, and if it sounds like it, it’s because we’ve forgotten what philosophy is for. Philosophy is not about farfetched, untestable ideas. Philosophy is the mercilessly critical analysis of our most profound assumptions. We humans think in a scaffolding-like way. Our ideas pile in layers, each one resting on the one below. We naturally shy away from messing with the very bottom, fearing the collapse of the scaffolding. But the outside world can be brutal to those who hang on to false ideas. And just like with any superstructure (think about your home), a good scaffolding of ideas requires constant reassessment — foundation’s level included.

The column is at Alaska Dispatch News.

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