The Future of the Philosophy Profession


Many graduate philosophy programs rely upon what could be characterized as a game of bait and switch. These programs exist not because there is a job market for their graduates. They exist for a variety of reasons, including the intrinsic value of philosophy and institutional mandates to produce Ph.D.’s. But they also exist in part to help universities reduce the cost of tuition while providing faculty members with the opportunity to conduct research…

In the majority of graduate programs, students are overworked and underpaid during their time in school, and they have few prospects for work once they graduate. And the beneficiaries of this system—again, setting aside the pleasure of studying philosophy for a period of one’s life—are the universities, which save costs on instruction, and the professors, who practice their specialties in graduate courses and use their reduced workload to produce philosophical research.

Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman (both at University of North Texas) take a hard look at the prospects of a “future for philosophy” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

guest
4 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
John Protevi
7 years ago

The article has some good points, but I object to some of the phrasing.

1) “Yes, he will accumulate some debt, but for good reason. And he can pay back his loans when he starts working.” BUT HE IS *ALREADY* WORKING — THAT’S THE WHOLE PREMISE OF THE ARTICLE.

2) “These programs exist not because there is a job market for their graduates.” THIS IS MADDENING — THEY EXIST BECAUSE THERE’S A JOB MARKET FOR THE STUDENTS QUA TA

However, this seems right: “To sum up our argument: In the majority of graduate programs, students are overworked and underpaid during their time in school, and they have few prospects for work once they graduate. And the beneficiaries of this system—again, setting aside the pleasure of studying philosophy for a period of one’s life—are the universities, which save costs on instruction, and the professors, who practice their specialties in graduate courses and use their reduced workload to produce philosophical research.”Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
7 years ago

I agree that the future of (academic) philosophy is at stake. But I’m astonished that the authors didn’t even hint at the problem of adjunct labor.

And the apt points about phrasing John Protevi makes above should apply all to the final paragraph he quotes: “they have few prospects for [full-time] work [that pays a livable/professional wage] once they graduate.” The problem is not that there is no demand for the labor of trained philosophy PhDs – the problem is just that too many universities have figured out how to get that labor dirt cheap, and too many philosophers have allowed ourselves to be complicit in that hiring system.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
7 years ago

I would also raise a substantive point of disagreement with this remark:

“Because most philosophers work at public universities, a significant part of their research should be on issues relevant to the wider community. This is in keeping with our Socratic heritage. (Again, at UNT we regularly engage scientists, engineers, and policy makers, bring in significant grant dollars, and even operate a field station in Chile.)”

I can hardly think of anything less in keeping with philosophy’s Socratic heritage than bringing in grant money, operating ‘field stations,’ and providing the public with that they think they want. If we really want to take our Socratic heritage seriously, we should be seriously asking ourselves whether we can justify taking money for teaching at all.

Part of the value of a philosophical education is that it provides a space in which people can safely disengage from the concerns and assumptions of daily life in order to gain a perspective from which those concerns and assumptions can be critically evaluated. This is all the more true for those students are only taking one class to fill a core requirement on the way to a specific career path. If the structure of the university allows us to feed ourselves and care for our families while providing a space that encourages and incentives such reflection on the part of our students, then great. But if it instead impoverishes teachers while loading students up with the kind of debt that forces us all to be more concerned with the economic realities of our daily lives, then why keep fighting to keep philosophy in the universities?Report

Alex Jones
7 years ago

Outside academia philosophers might be a useful employee for companies because of their ability to think. Having met many academics I have reservations because after a time in academia such people are locked into a way of thinking which in the outside world is inflexible and narrow, which is useless to a business that needs to survive in a constantly changing and challenging environment.Report