Someone posted at the Philosophy Metametablog recently the following excerpt from an interview with Nicholas Rescher (Pittsburgh) conducted by Charlie Hobbs (Texas State) and published in Kinesis which seems worth discussing, particularly in light of all of various recent issues in the profession (though note that the interview was conducted in 2004).
Hobbs: Is there something about doing philosophy that makes us better people?
Rescher: One would like to think so, but I don’t think this is in fact the case, and, well, there are two aspects to it. One is that people are drawn to philosophy often as not, not by sympathies, but by aversions, that is to say the motivation is not so much to build forward something that they see as simply positive and to be approved of, but one goes into to because one wants to set people straight because one thinks they’re being wrong-headed and doing things that don’t make any sense, so that there is often in the motivation to go into philosophy a somewhat negative view of what others are doing. Moreover, of course, philosophy is sort of often practiced as an adversary procedure. We do in fact help others by criticizing and by trying to pick holes in what they’re doing. That is a way of being helpful. It does help to eliminate problems and strengthen their case and so on, but it does create sort of non-cooperative frame of mind that doesn’t tend to socialize people. Moreover, academic life doesn’t really socialize people. In more business oriented things, you have to live with people. You have to get on with them, whereas in academic life there is a tendency to go our own way. We have our own little range of concern, and we stick with it. We have the security of tenure, so we don’t have to worry about staying on good terms with our colleagues. I think the nature of academic life and the nature of philosophical interaction is such as really not to give much positive reinforcement to the affective, positive, sharing, interactive side of humans. So, no, I don’t think so, certainly not philosophy as a professional activity. It’s an interesting question. If you look at philosophers, as opposed to people picked on any other basis, have they been better people? Well, there aren’t any outstandingly bad guys among them, I guess. I can’t think of a philosopher-serial-killer or something of that nature.
(Art: Still, a sculpture by Rob Mulholland)