Philosophy in 10 Years

Philosophy in 10 Years


Here are five predictions about the state of philosophy in ten years:

1. Philosophy’s popularity as a major will increase. This will be owed in part to the swing of the cultural pendulum, to economic growth making people more comfortable with a major lacking a clearly-defined career path, to efforts by the profession to emphasize the practical value of philosophy, and also to attempts to bring philosophy to previously under-served populations.

2. Philosophy will have an increased presence in the business world—especially moral philosophy, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, philosophy of science, and experimental philosophy—as humans become increasingly served by “intelligent” automated services and goods. Think of the questions arising now—regarding, say, the uses of social media, or the programming of autonomous robots and self-driving cars—applied to all of the things we use. Relatedly, the American Philosophical Association will move from three annual meetings to just two: one focused on academic philosophy and one focused on “philosophy in practice,” aimed to attract philosophers and those doing philosophical work in the worlds of business, technology, medicine, and elsewhere outside academia.

3. The topic of “women in philosophy” will not be newsworthy.

4. Continuing a current trend, those working in academic philosophy will increasingly seek interdisciplinary collaborations with those outside the liberal arts. Disciplinary standards regarding the need for support for empirical claims made in philosophical works will be more stringent.

5. At the same time, philosophy will continue to be a refuge for those who insist that most important philosophical questions are not empirical, and who wish to study those questions. Additionally, atheism will become more commonplace in the broader culture, leading fewer atheists to feel the need to go into philosophy to argue about gods. For these and other reasons, there will be a higher proportion of philosophers who are theists. This could result in another fracturing of the discipline (along the lines of what happened in the 20th Century with analytic and Continental philosophy).

I’ve marked my calendar for October 27, 2025 to look back and see if any of these are right.

(Related: The Chronicle of  Higher Education looks back to the predictions it made in 2005 about the state of higher education.)

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(image: detail of “A Single Note” by Ben Sack)

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Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

1. Major popularity. I hope you are right Justin, though it may be that our visibility will be so low that we won’t get our old momentum back.
2. The Business World. I hope the business world will listen. In order to have much of an effect, we will have to be producing more work for business people to read.
3. I don’t see any sign that women in philosophy will stop being an issue. We just aren’t attracting that many female students. We’re working to diversity our faculty through affirmative action, but somehow we’ve got to do a better job of getting undergraduate women interested in philosophy.
4. Interdisciplinary work. I agree with the prediction.
5. Atheists. I don’t believe that a lower proportion of philosophers will be atheists. As atheism grows more popular in general, I expect it to grow more popular in philosophy too.Report

Jason
Jason
5 years ago

Hi Justin,

Can you find a way to operationalize these predictions, so that we could accurately measure whether they’ve come true or not? If you can, then, depending on how exactly you measure them, I might want to bet you that you’re incorrect.Report

Ryan Lake
5 years ago

6. Comic strips will have become a respected medium for doing serious philosophical work, thanks in no small part to the pioneering efforts of the Daily Nous Cartoonists.Report

Sara Protasi
Sara Protasi
5 years ago

Hi Justin, this is interesting. I wish you were right about 3, but like Nonny Mouse I am not so sure. Also, a related question is about other underrepresented groups, and I’m afraid it will take a lot more than 10 years to truly diversify philosophy, both with regard to people and topics. But as I say “philosophy”, and I read your predictions, I am struck by how it just means “philosophy in the Anglophone” world and context. I don’t know enough about professional philosophy in Africa, or Asia or Latin America, but as to Europe, prediction 5 strikes me as not too relevant. Atheism is much less of an issue in Europe than in it is in North America. I’m ready to bet that, while there are more avowed atheists among philosophers in Europe too, there is more diversity with regard to religiosity (although I imagine most religious people are Christian, with some exceptions in Germany and France).Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Sara Protasi
5 years ago

I agree with Sara–I think it will take a lot more than 10 years to diversify philosophy, including to bring it to the point where the discipline’s shabby treatment of women isn’t an issue. The tenured professors of ten years from now will almost all be people who are already in the discipline, since even in the best case (finishing grad school quickly, tenure-track job right away) someone who is just starting grad school will usually take ten years or more to get tenure. I hope those of us who are in the discipline already will be able to change enough so that the treatment of women in philosophy is no longer newsworthy before we all retire, but I think it’s going to take more than ten years to completely solve the problem.Report

Andrew Sepielli
Andrew Sepielli
5 years ago

2025…If man is still aliiiiiive!

Any predictions re: citations counts of dead philosophers? I’m bullish on Dewey.Report

M
M
5 years ago

I don’t see why the theist/nontheist distinction is in the same ballpark as the analytic/Continental distinction. These cases just look totally different to me. Can you say a little more on why the scenario you predict would have any interesting tendency to fracture the philosophical community?Report

gradjunct
gradjunct
5 years ago

I predict that in 10 years, less than 30% of college philosophy courses will be taught by people with tenure track positions.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

10 years is awfully optimistic for 3.Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

The only one of those predictions I would judge to be a ‘good bet’ would be #4 on interdisciplinary cooperation. I would love to believe 1 is correct, but I see no reason to believe it. Philosophy and the Humanities are struggling and both institutional funding and cultural pressures are against us.
2. Strikes me as a coin toss. We might have a slight increase, so more than zero presence in business is possible as some of the smarter businesses recognize applications of philosophy.
3. Women will continue to be an issue in philosophy. I would bet against you. There aren’t enough women in graduate school to eliminate the issue concerning the number of women faculty within the decade. So, even if there is a sharp increase among women going into philosophy (which I don’t see much evidence of), it still wouldn’t end the issue that quickly.
5. Might be correct, more theists might enter philosophy but not for these reasons. As cultural pressure increases against traditional religion, smarter theists may realize that the way to defend their faith isn’t going to some dogmatic seminary but entering philosophy. But, I would not expect a split in philosophy over it. Lots of competing worldviews have always co existed in philosophy.Report

JCM
JCM
5 years ago

I would be astonished if a single one of these predictions were borne out, but #5 in particular seems to me very strange. In my experience of philosophers, religiosity is on the rise. I even know young feminists who, now that the most egregious political injustices have been curbed, are looking for finer notions of, e.g., freedom and respect, notions which have been extensively theorised in religious traditions (and in quasi-religious traditions like Hegelianism), and who (the philosophers) are open to religion in a way that would have astonished me – and them! – only five years ago.

The a/theism distinction also strikes me as unhelpful because what seems particularly urgently valuable about religion at the moment is how well it can act, and has been acting, as a bulwark against neo-liberalism and its tendency to quantify the meaning out of things. The resistance to this on the political (and atheist) Left strikes me as deeply parallel to religious resistance to it. If these two strands of resistance can be united, their philosophical/spiritual resources marshalled, then there could be a rise in religiosity among the anti-neo-liberal Left and so in the broader culture, in a way that sidesteps questions about whether there is a God – a question which is meaningless when understood in the way that atheists typically currently understand it. If religion is seen as a way of resisting neo-liberalism through its rich philosophical resources, then this could lead to an increase in philosophy students.Report

Amanda
Amanda
5 years ago

What kind of utopia are you anticipating living in? All indicators are pointing to increasing global unrest with large numbers of displaced peoples moving across national boundaries due to the impacts of global warming and localised social and economic upheavals from sectarian and global violence. Economic and political power is consolidating in fewer and fewer hands due to the corporatisation of the planet, facilitated by global trade deals which circumvent sovereign courts. Those fewer hands control the MSM which in turn ensures that the population focus on external fears rather than fearing the very people who are creating said global unrest and the disenfranchisement of the population. Where will philosophy fit in such a scenario? People will be struggling to survive let alone survive let alone thrive.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I predict that soon, very soon, The Feminists will finally be revealed as the self serving, all powerful puppet masters we have always known them to be. After that: all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

Plum, if I were going to show my hand, I’d wait more than ten years to do it.Report

Leah Carr
Leah Carr
5 years ago

I think (1) may depend more on the willingness of government/political parties (on the right, in particular) to “black box” issues of higher-education funding – ie, the humanities does /not/ benefit from intense scrutiny by the general public. This is what has been happening in Australia since Brenda Nelson took over the Education portfolio. Nelson basically allowed himself to be pushed around by right-wing media shock jocks, Andrew Bolt in particular, who deliberately targeted humanities applications made to the Australian Research Council. The humanities are an easy target for this kind of “common sense” anti-intellectualism and tax payer reservations about wasted dollars on parasitic dilettantes. (Good article on it here: https://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-gideon-haigh-nelson-touch-research-funding-new-censorship-214).

You can pump up the idea of outreach programs all you want, but at the end of the day, I think philosophy is always going to be a hard sell to the general public. The best thing we can hope for is that we get a political status quo where all sides of politics agree to not draw undue attention to the issue, while at the same time selling higher education reform/contribution in terms of scientific progress, ie, magic cancer curing pills etc. Much depends on whether those who can deliver what the government wants, ie the scientists, want to throw us under a bus or not. Whining and yelling at the sciences will probably just accelerate the demise of the humanities. One question is whether the attitude towards the humanities held by Sokal and his ilk still have a grip on the imagination of most scientists, particularly the generation that now find themselves in high-level administrative positions? If that’s still an issue then it would seem that an overt science/humanities gap will need to be repaired if things are going to pick up for disciplines like philosophy. I think Science Communication is the discipline to watch, insofar as it promises a vision of the sciences and humanities working in synergy and is well-positioned to advise governments on how to sell research policy to the public.Report

Coherentist
Coherentist
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” –Noam ChomskyReport

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

My predictions:
1. Existential Comics will be a regular feature in the JAPA in order to bolster dues-paying membership (and it will succeed in doing so).
2. Philosophy of humor/satire will become the #2 AOS (and explains #1 above) just after neuro-political philosophy and X-Phi ethics (tied for #1).
3. The Walmart Chair of Rhetorical EconoPhilosophy at UA-Fayetteville will become the most sought-after position in the discipline (4.2 million annual salary, just ahead of the Target Chair of Moroeconomics at UM–Twin Cities 3.9 million).
4. Dissertations assembled from AIditor(c) that takes random bits of data from net sources and produces, under some guidance from the owner of the app (at least 42 guidance points required), an intelligible dissertation, will be accepted by UA-Fayetteville and UM–Twin cities for the PhD in humanities. The PhD in philosophy at UM will require additional rigor from being further processed by an I-Logic (Apple tm) module (open source alternatives not acceptable by UM contract) with only 2 formal deviations allowed, but 42 informal deviations at maximum.
5. DN receives one of the very first E-Pulitzer nominations in that year, only to be beat out by the Existential Comics feature of the JAPA.Report

felonius screwtape
felonius screwtape
5 years ago

Because i am a pessimist, i have a somewhat more glum vision of the future:

1. Philosophy will not exist as an independent department in the majority of non-R1 institutions; it will have been subsumed in mixed departments like “Philosophy and Religion” or “Liberal Studies”

2. New PhDs in philosophy will not receive tenure because tenure will no longer exist.

3. Academic publishers will cave to market demands and no longer publish most philosophy monographs, particularly those that used to be dissertations

4. All philosophy journals of any repute and interest will have switched to open-access online versions.

5. There will be fewer PhDs produced, and most of them will work in non-academic jobs that do not likely call for a PhD as a qualification.

6. There will be no more Leiter reports or rankings to rankle us. (maybe i’m not a pessimist after all).Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
5 years ago

” At the same time, philosophy will continue to be a refuge for those who insist that most important philosophical questions are not empirical, and who wish to study those questions. Additionally, atheism will become more commonplace in the broader culture, leading fewer atheists to feel the need to go into philosophy to argue about gods. For these and other reasons, there will be a higher proportion of philosophers who are theists. This could result in another fracturing of the discipline”

I think this has already happened except for the “fracturing of the discipline” part–as I see it, the discipline is already fractured in deeper ways (metaphysics, epistemology, language vs ethics, philosophy of science, political philosophy, cognitive stuff, etc.).Report

feminist all-powerful puppet-master
feminist all-powerful puppet-master
5 years ago

I think these are pretty good predictions. But I think without 2 & 4 you don’t get 1, and if you don’t get 1 then you probably don’t get 3. In other words, if philosophy doesn’t reach out for collaboration with other disciplines and seek more practical connections with the world at large it will not increase in popularity, and if it does not increase its appeal to those it views as “other,” universities will stop funding it. Though I suppose in this case 3 might still be a good bet; not because women have gained some parity, but because they will have long since given up trying to save philosophy from itself.Report