Deeper Diversity and the Game of Professional Philosophy

Deeper Diversity and the Game of Professional Philosophy


[What follows are some quick, schematized, and not particularly novel thoughts inspired by some recent experiences and conversations. Others have thought about these issues much more than I have, so please forgive any naïveté on display or important omissions.]

On one understanding of diversity—perhaps an understanding that was once the dominant one—making professional philosophy more diverse means making it the case that it is not exclusively the province of just a few kinds of people (with “kind” understood in terms of sex, race, culture, ethnicity, class, sexuality, physical ability, education, experiences). The idea is that all sorts of people should have a robust opportunity to do philosophy, and by “philosophy” it was meant the kind of activity that philosophy professors at Western universities in the 20th Century characteristically engaged in. Efforts to achieve this kind of diversity are like saying, “Come play our game.”

Yet, as philosophy slowly, modestly, diversifies in various ways, our understanding of “diversity” deepens. Providing opportunity for “others” to do what “we” do is still part of it (how gracious of us, right?). But that is not all there is, for there’s the very reasonable question of why the standards for what counts as philosophy are what they are. We invited people to play our game, and eventually some of them asked, “Why is the game set up this way?” Some said, “We need to change the rules.”

Some people object to this questioning of the rules: “If we change the rules, we’re no longer playing philosophy.”
This seems false as an understanding of games or practices, which are capable of drastic change over time. Also, it seems to, strangely and arbitrarily, elevate the practices of philosophy during one historical period (of about a century) in a limited geographic area—not coincidentally the time and place in which most of us and our teachers and our teachers’ teachers were trained—into definitive standards. (Relatedly, see the writings of Justin E.H. Smith, referenced here and here; also this piece by Karsten Struhl.)

“Wait, we invited them to play our game, and now they want to change the rules? Why should they get to do that?”
But why not? We’ll need more than “I was here first!”

Perhaps there are other people who say, “Yes, let’s change the rules—in fact, let’s get rid of the idea of the rules, since there are different sets of rules, and each way to play is no better than any other.” Yet this seems unsatisfactory, too. For one thing it’s not obviously true that each way to play is no better than any other. For another, there is something to be said for there being some shared understanding of what we’re doing when we’re doing philosophy. It helps us figure out whether we’re doing well or poorly, whether we are improving, or making progress. It needn’t be objectionable “boundary policing” to seek to understand and identify the kind of inquiry one’s engaged in, and it can be necessary for making qualitative assessments and various practical and professional decisions. Yes, standards for what counts as philosophy can be used in problematically exclusive ways (see Kristie Dotson’s paper here), but they needn’t, and they do have some practical value.

Another way to put it, perhaps: some of the resistance to standards by which to identify philosophy comes from the impression that to have standards is to be objectionably exclusive. Some of the resistance to deeper inclusiveness in philosophy comes from the impression that it would require us to abandon standards. Both views seem mistaken to me.

So what’s left is some intermediate position, and it’s hard to figure out what it should be. It’s hard epistemically, it’s hard politically, and—let’s be honest—it can be hard emotionally. People are invested in the rules as they are—they’re good at playing their game, and it’s what they like to do. And people are invested in changing the rules, too—like anyone, they want to play a game on their own terms and have it still be possible for them to win. After having been thoughtlessly or even maliciously excluded, they want their work to count as the love of wisdom, too.

At root the problem is philosophical: how do we, in a non-question-begging and useful way, set even rough standards for what counts as philosophy? I don’t know how to answer that question. Perhaps others do.

(image: “Firewall” by Odili Donald Odita)
Odita - Firewall

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Tom Digby
Tom Digby
5 years ago

But isn’t thinking of philosophy as a game that can be won or lost a problem itself? I think so.Report

Catherine Hundleby
Reply to  Tom Digby
5 years ago

Tom: You might be interested in Jim Lang’s article. Your concerns are important and I think he does a good job of addressing both sides of this while encouraging a playful notion of philosophy. Perhaps not win-lose but open ended play: http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/informal_logic/article/view/3036Report

John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
5 years ago

It’s a different question, to be sure, but David Foster Wallace’s moderate defense of prescriptivist views of grammar and usage could be relevant here: http://harpers.org/wp-content/uploads/HarpersMagazine-2001-04-0070913.pdfReport

UG
UG
5 years ago

Question: “with “kind” understood in terms of sex, race, culture, ethnicity, class, sexuality, physical ability, education, experiences”

Why is that the diversity that we favor? Why don’t we want, you know, ideological diversity? This kind of diversity seems superficial to me. Why not seek to increase the number of minority philosophical positions? Or do we just want to look different from the outside to others? Report

Grad Student of Color
Grad Student of Color
Reply to  UG
5 years ago

1.I’m not really sure what “ideological diversity means.” Would a logical positivist be included, or are you thinking more about political conservatives and theists? If the latter, then I wonder whether they are actually excluded (e.g. they apply for positions and get rejected because they hold view x) or whether people with these ideologies simply are not interested in philosophy.

2. If we define ‘kind’ as Justin did, departments would not just look different from the outside (I’m gay, but I doubt you could tell just by looking). But I do worry that departments do not actively seek diversity besides race and gender (perhaps someone knows otherwise).

3. One reason we define ‘kind’ in this way is because these groups of people are often denied various positions/privileges for reasons unrelated to their philosophical abilities, character, or desire to succeed in the field. These groups also face various barriers, that individuals with various political/theistic ideologies do not, that make it harder for them to succeed academically in the first place (e.g. white male professors (i.e. professors) flirt with female students and write worse letters of rec for women and people of color) . Report

UG
UG
Reply to  Grad Student of Color
5 years ago

1. I thought the term was pretty clear, but I guess I mean minority positions such as substance dualists, identity theorists, nominalists, moral anti-realists, scientific anti-realists, etc. I suppose that would also apply to political conservatives (presumably they are a minority?), perhaps theists as well (though, I’m not inclined to think that they are much of a minority (as in, they are larger than many other minorities)).

2. It seems to me that diversity is often valued without ever explaining why it should be: I don’t see it as a problem that departments don’t actively *seek* diversity. If more homosexuals want to partake in philosophy, then great (provided that they have the necessary skills). However, I don’t see why we should go about actively recruiting them (Though, I’m fully against grading a homosexual lower because of her sexuality, and I’m against not hiring a homosexual because of her sexuality. It’s a sad fact of our society that I have to make this explicit or it will be assumed otherwise.). (And, I mean, the (arguably) greatest philosopher of all time was a homosexual (Witt.), so the work of homosexuals (at least one) is *highly* valued.) Anyway, I guess my point is this: if diversity happens it happens, but I don’t know why we should seek diversity for its own sake–though, I could be wrong about this, it’s just that I’ve never been given a good reason to think the contrary. (If you disagree (which I assume you do), feel free to enlighten me on this issue.)

3. Who decides which barriers are worse? (Would the conservative philosophers agree with this? I have no idea given that I’m not a conservative philosopher, so this is a serious question.). (Not sure about your last “e.g.”, but perhaps it’s true.)Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  UG
5 years ago

Per the philpapers survey, there are more scientific anti-realists than theists, and many more non-physicalists (though the data doesn’t break down what kinds of non-physicalists), moral anti-realists, and nominalists. I also would be very wary of basic self-selection arguments against theists and conservatives in philosophy. Sure, a great many of the arguments made in Sunday school can be torn down with a bit of philosophical education, but then so can a great many popular atheist arguments. The same goes for basic right-wing positions. There would be a great uproar, and rightly so, if such remarks were made about women, PoC, and GSM groups; so I would be skeptical of applying them to groups that are ideologically out of fit with the majority of philosophers.

Megan McArdle has a good summary: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-01-07/academics-are-so-lefty-they-don-t-even-see-itReport

UG
UG
Reply to  Tom
5 years ago

I didn’t mean to suggest that (though, I think the specific physicalist positions I mentioned are a small minority). Thank you for the link, that was an interesting (and surprising) read.Report

Daniel Garber
Daniel Garber
5 years ago

“…how do we, in a non-question-begging and useful way, set even rough standards for what counts as philosophy?” I think that the answer is that we don’t. Standards arise from practice, and evolve in ways that no one can control. As an historian of philosophy, I have seen conceptions of what counts as philosophy evolve and change radically over the centuries. We may think that we are in the same business as Aristotle or Descartes or Hume, but I think that we are not. And as someone who has been in the profession for a number of years, I have seen the standards evolve. Philosophy is now rather different than it was in the early 1970s when I was in grad school. Which is to say that philosophy is not an eternal category that has persisted since the ancients to our day, but an historical (and cultural) object. New projects or transformations of older projects are proposed, and if enough people find them convincing enough to jump on the bandwagon, then philosophy moves on; if not, it doesn’t. Not all of the innovations proposed are worth pursuing, but enough are that over the years, things do change.

The problem is that we want to make philosophy more open and inclusive. How can this be done without being seen to abandon standards altogether? I think that the first step is to make peace with the fact that the boundaries of philosophy are not fixed, but change and evolve over time. The next step is to encourage people with different ideas to express them. We must then adopt an open-minded attitude toward those who are proposing projects that will stretch the current boundaries of the subject. Not all of the proposals will be worth accepting. But unless we are open to change, the subject will quickly become a dull scholastic exercise and die on the vine. Utopian, perhaps, but does anyone have a better suggestion?
Report

Ethan Mills
5 years ago

In addition to encouraging efforts to increase the diversity among the players of the game of philosophy, perhaps the discipline should give careful consideration to the lack of diversity in our syllabi, as recently discovered by the Open Syllabus Project (http://dailynous.com/2016/02/05/philosophy-data-from-the-open-syllabus-project-guest-post-by-andrew-higgins/). If students almost never see non-Western people or women on their philosophy syllabi, is it any wonder our discipline looks the way it does?Report

Catherine Hundleby
5 years ago

I suggest if philosophers took their methods seriously and held each other accountable to the philosophical research on argumentation, it would entail more inclusive discourse. Exclusivity is perpetuated by keeping the rules implicit which means those with social authority get to determine how they are interpreted and applied. One way to start that is to demand critical thinking courses be taught by people with actual expertise in argumentation. The other of course is to learn and apply it ourselves.Report

Catherine Hundleby
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

Yes! Check out Informal Logic volume 30(3) for papers by me, Phyllis Rooney, Sylvia Burrow, and Jim Lang: http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/informal_logic/issue/view/359. Rooney has a further article in philosophy as a discipline in The Journal of Social Philosophy: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/resolve/doi?DOI=10.1111/j.1467-9833.2012.01568.x. I have further work about the critical thinking aspects here: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.apaonline.org/resource/collection/D03EBDAB-82D7-4B28-B897-C050FDC1ACB4/FeminismV13n1.pdf. Rooney and I refer to a classic article by Janice Moulton on “The Adversary Paradigm in Philosophy” from Harding and Hintikka’s 1983 collection (also a Synthese issue) “Discovering Reality.” Another piece by me taking up issues that Burrow points to about the inadequacy of politeness, again in IL, is here: http://windsor.scholarsportal.info/ojs/leddy/index.php/informal_logic/article/view/3895.Report

Bharath
Bharath
5 years ago

The question at the end, “how do we, in a non-question-begging and useful way, set even rough standards for what counts as philosophy?” is confusing. It mixes together the issue of standards with the issue of fostering diversity.

No one can come up with, or justify fully, standards ahead of time of how philosophical practice can be diversified. By their nature, standards can only be articulated when a group of people share forms of life and ways of living together. When the issue is including people who have been left out of the privilege of articulating standards, what is first at issue isn’t how to articulate shared standards, but how to live and work together, to do philosophy together. The new standards for diverse philosophy only can come after the process of diversification happens, and is so ingrained that it is so some extent taken for granted.

How then to foster diversity if the issues of standards can’t first be resolved? Just how we ended segregation or colonialism without first coming up a template for an ideal world. If you feel something is deeply wrong with academic philosophy, get with liked minded people. In those interactions there will be plenty of “small” decisions to be made about how to change things. Those “small” decisions might nonetheless have “big” consequences, especially for one’s day to day life. Dealing with those big consequences in ones life is the way to make the most difference. When thousands of people make small scale changes in their day to day lives but deal with the big effects of those small changes, new ways of life will emerge, and from that new standards for diverse philosophy.Report

Terence Blake
Reply to  Bharath
5 years ago

The idea of “standards of diversity” is not necessarily self-contradictory, but it does contain a tension between the two terms. I agree with Bharath that diversification comes first, and that it is already here. There are people all over the place who think philosophically, in some senses of philosophy, but outside the institutions, or the canons, or the entrenched standards. But behind the question of diversity and philosophy the desired solution is often more than proposing or canonising or institutionalising a diversity of standards. Standards themselves need to be used in new ways, that officialise, or at least foreground, their ambiguity, multiplicity, contingency, and mutability. There has been for some time now an increasing demand for “non-standard” philosophy, which does not mean no standards or simply multiple standards. Diversify the people acceding to institutional position and recognition is a good thing, but may be a way of neutralising diversity by incorporating it into established standards that remain unquestioned and unchanged. Diversify the positions and traditions that gain recognition, support, publication, a place on the syllabus, argumentative clout, this opens up the game to new moves and not just to new players. But many people want more than this, they want to call into question and to diversify the rules of the game, to transform the game or to help it evolve.

I like Bharath’s idea to “foster diversity”. To foster means to welcome, to encourage, and also to promote something that is already there, to assist (and even to participate in) its flourishing.. Yet his solution is fraught with difficulties. “Get with like-minded people” – this is harder than it seems. Those with the standards dominate the institutions, the accepted channels, the recognisable pathways. They have the most visibility, and inspire the most emulation. So finding like minded people is more difficult, as they are less visible. They may also, like oneself, be more confused: seeking recognition, approval from those that they distance themselves from. There is also the question of resources, whether financial, bibliographical, or even just conversational.Report

Bharath
Bharath
Reply to  Terence Blake
5 years ago

I completely agree that getting with “like-minded people” can be very hard for all the reasons Terence mentions. A main difficulty is even knowing what “like-minded people” means; that others want to diversify philosophy is not enough to feel a solidarity with them, since there are so many, often conflicting ways, to diversify. The status quo is not one block of like minded people, nor are those who want to resist the status quo. I think this is what sets the stage for Justin’s question in the post: how to navigate this intrinsic plurality all around while fostering shared practices? Where in this sea of diversity can one find a grounding for being, and acting, together?

If diversity isn’t to mean splintering into a million pieces, there has to be something that the diverse individuals can say “this is what we have in common”. What is that common thing? I suggest it is: every person is “mixed”. It is not that some people are just white, some just brown, some just black, and diversity means getting them in the same room. Rather: gaining a certain heightened awareness of myself means seeing that I am already a mixture of white, black, Indian, etc. cultures and ideals. The current status offends not my status as an Indian-American, but my status as a truly mixed individual, who carries the heritages of the world within me. If it was “only” my Indian-Americanness which is at issue, what do I have in common with someone who is “just” white, or an African-American? In fostering diversity we have to retain to ability to make claims on each other as “fellow”, “like minded” people. This is not firstly a matter of having new standards, but of having and fostering new identities such as that everyone is mixed. New standards are the modes of self-awareness of new identities. Live into a new identity which recognizes that everyone, including oneself, is mixed, and then even if one is physically alone or poor or not going to the cool conferences, one is already contributing in the greatest way possible – from the bottom up, changing one’s own habits and letting the world catch up to one.Report

Terence Blake
Reply to  Bharath
5 years ago

I think this awareness of being a mixture is very important, and makes us wary of standards of demarcation that are too hard and fast and unambiguous. At the same time, there are different phases that this awareness can go through. Sometimes it is necessary to embrace the mixity, to see that everything is philosophical to some extent, that philosophy does not stop at the walls of the academy. Sometimes we need more precise perceptions of our mixity, to be able to say, provisionally, this is philosophica and that is something else (fiction, spirituality, emotional intelligence, etc.). Sometimes if one is physically alone or poor or not going to the cool conferences, one can feel one’s “philosophicality” rotting away or on the contrary affirming itself with new strength. Many affects, sad and joyful, are at play in this Anaxagorean consciousness. Cultivating an awareness of diversity, of oneself and others as variable mixtures, of one’s affects and phases, working on changing one’s habits of thought and of action, all that is no doubt very good. But there is a split in the world, even if we can overcome it privately. There are filters that determine who is listened to, what is heard, who can speak. This means that much philosophical work outside existing standards can be neglected or ignored, reduced to silence, or treated as equivalent to silence. Work should be acknowledged, encouraged, shared, even if it is not remunerated financially. Professional philosophy is just that: a profession. Changes (or not) in philosophy cannot be separated from questions of work and pay, of entitlement and publication. This raises the more general question of power relations. Diversity is becoming a more pressing problem within philosophy because it has been gaining ground in society at large. Diversity does not stop at the walls of the academy either, the walls are porous in both directions.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
5 years ago

It seems fairly simple to me. If a proposed modification to philosophical methodology is more likely to get us to a better representation of the world then we should adopt it. Similarly, if some subject can be shown to require abstract conceptual work to the extent that it is unlikely that scientists will be able to handle it, or scientists simply don’t have an interest in it, then philosophers should be allowed to work on it.

Of course, postmodernists will likely disagree with this. But this is a fundamental and irreconcilable disagreement. I won’t compromise on the goal of seeking to represent the world accurately to allow for deliberate obscurantism.

But other than that, go for it. I’m not going to poo-poo things for being sociology or psychology rather than philosophy. (Though I might criticize them if they fail to meet the standards of rigor necessary to establish the empirical claims they make, which can be a problem when philosophers try to do empirical work). If scientists aren’t bothering to do it and it raises some interesting questions, then I see no need to restrict philosophers from doing it. Philosophy is at its best when it is fully integrated with the rest of human inquiry.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  YAAGS
5 years ago

“If a proposed modification to philosophical methodology is more likely to get us to a better representation of the world then we should adopt it.” I agree with the general tenor of your comment, but this principle would seem to suggest that we all become scientists.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

I’m not sure why you’d think that, unless you subscribe to a particularly hardcore version of the analytic/synthetic distinction.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  YAAGS
5 years ago

I just mean that the methods of philosophy are less likely to get us better representations of the world than the methods of science. So, unless we’ve already demarcated what count as *philosophical* methods, that conditional implies that we should adopt the methods of science, no? I’m not trying to disparage philosophy, I just think it’s clear that there’s much less progress in philosophy than there is in science.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

In general I agree that the scientific method is quite obviously the most reliable method of producing knowledge, second perhaps to the deductive methods of logic and mathematics. But that is not relevant considering that the subject-matter of philosophy just isn’t amenable to the scientific method. This should be quite obvious even if we leave room for quite a bit of disagreement about how to delineate that subject-matter. For virtually everyone will agree that some things, i.e., the nature of knowledge, the good life, properties and individuals, etc. *do* fall within the purview of philosophy. The primary disagreement is about what else we should include. And it is fairly clear that those questions cannot be answered directly through the scientific method (though we can and should also acknowledge that evidence from the sciences can be very relevant).

So the claim isn’t that we should adopt those methods that are the most likely to produce accurate representations of reality *in general*. Rather, it is that we should adopt those methods that are the most likely to produce accurate representations of the aspects of reality that we are interested in qua philosophers. What we should be interested in qua philosophers is a related but ultimately distinct question.

I think the best answer to that latter question should be understood in sociological terms, and specifically in terms of intellectual division of labor, rather than by attempting to carve the subject-matter of inquiry at its joints. Philosophy is the highest (i.e. most general and abstract) form of inquiry. Basically, it is what we do when we need to ask a question but don’t really know quite how to go about answering it. The first step in attempting to answer a question that one doesn’t know how to solve is to get clear on one’s concepts, and this is why philosophy tends to primarily focus on armchair reflection and conceptual analysis. Once a particular form of inquiry starts to get clear on its concepts and methods its practice tends to become more fixed and algorithmic and it can then be classified as a science. Though nothing can be considered strictly non-philosophical because one can always take a step back and ask what one is doing. All the sciences involve philosophical assumptions that can be questioned if the methods of the science cease to be fruitful. But it should also come as no surprise that there are some questions which are so abstract that they will always remain philosophical. So it makes sense to have an intellectual division of labor wherein some people are trained to handle highly abstract questions and to analyze concepts, and these people are philosophers.

This way of understanding philosophy is fairly permissive, but not so permissive as to destroy the distinctions between philosophy and other fields altogether. Generally speaking, if you are doing nothing but experiments with very little abstract argumentation it doesn’t make much sense to count what you’re doing as philosophy. This makes the X-phi movement a little tricky. Under some conceptions it is simply an added layer of methodological rigor that is needed because philosophers in certain areas have come to depend upon claims about what is or is not intuitive. But I could also see it as evolving into a subdiscipline of psychology constituting a sort of empirically informed version of conceptual analysis. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it shouldn’t be surprising that a scientific field could arise out of the work of philosophers, especially under the conception of philosophy I just gave. Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  YAAGS
5 years ago

This all seems fairly sensible to me, thanks.Report

Phil
Phil
5 years ago

Justin distinguished between two understandings of diversity. I’m confused about the second. The idea is that some people want us to diversity philosophy by “changing the rules of the game,” so that “philosophy” doesn’t necessarily mean “the kind of activity that philosophy professors at Western universities in the 20th Century characteristically engaged in”. One issue, here, is that 20th Century philosophers employed many different methodologies, even within the analytic tradition (conceptual analysis, Wittgensteinian ordinary language philosophy, more recently X-Phi, etc., etc.). More importantly, I wonder who Justin has in mind when he refers to these people who want to “change the rules of the game.” Change them in what way? It would be useful if Justin provided some concrete examples. He wouldn’t have to name names, just give us examples of the ways in which people want the rules to be changed. Otherwise I’m not really sure what the subject of his post is. (I admit that this is probably just my own ignorance, and that everyone else knows exactly what Justin is talking about, but I would still like to some concrete examples, just for my own benefit.) Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

“the use of the political consequences of accepting a thesis as a reason for thinking the thesis is true or false”

I’ve seen a lot of this too. It seems like poor work to me. If someone wants to argue this way, they have to contend with the fact that political expediency and truth seem to easily come apart. Works that make the inference you describe without contending with this fact are leaving the most controversial part of their argument undefended. That’s lazy.

Here’s a suggestion: there’s a consensus that if an argument commits one of the fallacies defined in introductory critical thinking textbooks, then the argument fails. If someone commits one of these fallacies but insists that their argument succeeds, then they should explain why the consensus has it wrong. (The example quoted above is an argumentum ad consequentiam and so, according to basic critical thinking, fails.) This seems like a pretty natural conversational norm. If you say something that everyone in the room presupposes to be wrong, you should address this presupposition.

“philosophers working on non-standard topics (e.g., race, cities)”

This is an easy one. Surely work on any topic is fine, so long as it has some significance for something we care about, e.g., society, science, knowledge, politics, etc. (I think “standard” topics are at least as likely to be ruled out by this criterion as non-standard.) Have you actually met a philosopher who gave cogent reasons against philosophical analysis of race or cities? I can’t imagine it.

There will be hard cases (is this really related to this important topic? Is the topic really important?). But that’s inevitable.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

One other thing: it’s not so clear that race is a non-standard topic. According to Mills, the notion of the non-white savage is central to the great European contract thinkers’ conceptions of the state of nature.Report

Terence Blake
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

The considerations brought up here involve both internal and external aspects (although this distinction itself is called into question by “diverse” philosophies).

1) Internal: we are talking at a great level of generality, although no doubt people have specific examples in mind. There is a sort of phenomenological epoche that we must effectuate, so that the examples are viewed solely in relation to the question of whether they can be regarded as philosophy or not. The question here is not whether we agree with the examples or find them to be good examples of philosophy, but only whether they are philosophy even though they stretch the entrenched standards of demarcation. The relevant examples are ones which embody a sufficient amount of theoretical work, a sufficient conceptual level, sufficient argumentation (implicit or explicit), sufficient relation to acknowledged problems or problematics or texts or figures. I have proposed three criteria, not in the abstract, but to be mobilised when the question of “philosophy or not?” comes up in a specific instance. In each case I have qualified the criterion with the intentionally vague “sufficient”, which sufficiency can be rationally discussed and argued about, but not determined by some fixed and sharply-demarcated judgement.

2) External: there are “gatekeepers”, and they are not just “we philosophers” (of which I am a member) nor “we university philosophy teachers” (of which I am not currently a member, although I was once). The academics need to be persuaded or obliged to modify their standards, or may just drift into a modification that they perceive only afterwards. There is a sociology of philosophy, whether we like it or not. University philosophy teachers are paid a salary, and can be induced to modify their curriculum by administrative means. Student interest, or pressure, can lead to changes. There are also other social forces. Decades ago, the first course in feminist philosophy in my old university only got accepted, after much resistance, after a student strike backed up by the builders’ union going on strike too. The student strike alone was not enough. Nowadays such courses are a banality.

A third consideration is that the discussion is mostly on the “receiving” side, asking whether “we” should accept innovations that in some important way change the rules of the game. But there is also the productive side. What innovations or transformations do we desire, or do we feel necessary in order to say what we have to say?Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I have never understood the urgency or importance of the “does it count as philosophy?” question. To me, it evinces an embarrassing and misplaced insecurity and anxiety. Historians have their archives and scientists their data and philosophers are left naked and ashamed with nothing “external” to ground their practices, and so they grope desperately for a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for what counts as philosophy. The fact that they can then use this definition to exclude others is just a sweet bonus for the powerful.

Philosophers shouldn’t give in to this anxiety. Philosophers think deeply and carefully about fundamental questions. That’s it, and that’s enough. There are better and worse ways to do this, so I don’t think it leaves us without standards.

If some people in other academic departments count as philosophers according to this description, why is that a problem? Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

I can’t speak for Prof. Plum, but I have personally never gone to a talk and thought that it was a really bad *philosophy* talk. That’s rather strange and unnatural. I just think it was a bad talk simpliciter. My reasons are always specific:

“Well of course all of that follows if you assume p. I just wish A had given us some reason to think that p was plausible in the first place.”
or
“Well, it’s pretty easy to establish p if you think that your intuition that p trumps all other forms of evidence. And that seems to be A’s response to every single objection.”
or
“You can’t just say that the lack of any apparent principled way to determine whether p applies to a given case is “an epistemological problem”. Last time I checked, arbitrariness was generally considered a significant theoretical cost.”
or
“Well, it’s interesting to know that the folk don’t actually find p intuitive. But p is already so theoretically loaded that I’m not sure why you’d expect them to in the first place, and the vignettes are so odd that all sorts of things could be underwriting their judgments. It may be that p is “common sense” only in the attenuated sense that most people would judge that p after being introduced to the problem.”
or
“A is right to point out that the so-and-sos would benefit from framing the debate in terms of p. But that doesn’t block the objections the so-and-sos raise against attempts to avoid framing the debate in terms of p.”

Settling some questions regarding the nature of philosophy will be relevant some of the time (e.g., if philosophy is just supposed to be descriptive conceptual analysis where intuitions issue from a “voice of competence” then intuitions should override considerations of parsimony, etc.). But it just isn’t the case that what counts as a good argument is an open-ended question that depends upon one’s conception of philosophy. These sorts of worries should not be thrown under the bus alongside the “How is this philosophy?” objection. I agree that the latter is generally bullcrap. But these sorts of objections could just as easily be raised against papers outside of philosophy. Whether they are valid depends more on the general nature of evidence than on the nature of philosophy.

Moreover, work that pushes the boundaries will also be more prone to make mistakes. Some hiccups and dead ends are inevitable when you try something new. There’s an important difference between (1) being tolerant, open, and patient, and (2) accepting things uncritically because you want to be more welcoming or because you want to make up for past injustices. If some people sound a little skeptical of talk of inclusiveness and challenging standards it is likely because they fear the former will collapse into the latter. (Putting aside the occasional obdurate jerks, of course.)Report

Carnap
Carnap
5 years ago

Prof. Plum,

One of those fundamental questions, some of us think, is what individuates philosophy from other disciplines. Asking that question need not be a symptom of anxiety or embarassment.
Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  Carnap
5 years ago

Fair point. Asking the question need not *necessarily* be a symptom of anxiety and a desire to exclude. But every instance I’ve seen could be described in this way, and I think looking at the history of why a question has been raised is relevant to whether it is a good question to be asking.

I take Justin’s point about the difficulty of judgment, but I guess I’d just agree that making judgments about the quality of philosophy is hard and vexed. I don’t see how trying to come up with a detailed accout of what counts as philosophy that will sort all the cases “we” want to rule out and rule in will help us navigate thie hard work of judgment. At best, it just relocates the difficulty; at worst, it reinforces philosophical anxiety and continues to exclude people from philosophy. Report

Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey
5 years ago

I think the game metaphor is entirely apt.

Philosophy has standards of respectability that are pretty harshly enforced. This comes out particularly when we look at which philosophers it is acceptable to discuss in a serious way (who is “respectable”, that is).

I think changes in philosophy will come about organically–they already are. I personally favor a discipline that is less policed by a privileged elite (such as the advisory board of the Leiter report) whose standards of what counts are serious, respectable philosophy are questionable at best. We know that philosophy will continue to come under attack and continue to be marginalized within our university system if it keeps playing the same old game.

Of course, those who will want to keep playing the current game are the ones who are already winning at it. Thus, any attempt to question the game will be interpreted as the whining of losers. We all know how that goes.

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Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
5 years ago

It’s refreshing to see so many commenters wanting to do away with constraints on what counts as philosophy. The reason I find it refreshing is that I’ve gradually come to see philosophy as a matter of pouring soy sauce into a little dish. If you do that well, then you’re a great philosopher. It doesn’t require practice or discipline. Just get your soy sauce and pour. That’s it.

Who’s to say that that’s not ‘real’ philosophy, just because it challenges the status quo? Let’s not be hidebound in our bigotry against different ways of doing things.

Oh, and did I mention that I expect the public to keep paying for philosophy departments and for students to keep taking our courses? They really should, no matter what we use the term to refer to. I think we’ve earned it. If anything, this completely open-ended project should increase public esteem for philosophy. Also, pouring soy sauce into a little dish is a very valuable skill. As is anything else some random person might call ‘philosophy’, which is to say absolutely anything whatsoever.Report

JDRox
JDRox
5 years ago

I myself think that ‘we were here first’ is a pretty good argument. I mean, it seems like a premise of the OP is that boundaries are arbitrary to some extent. Even if you think philosophy and other disciplines have an “essence” (as I guess I do), I still think that there is plenty of grey area. In my view, the boundaries between (certain parts of) philosophy and (certain parts of) political science, anthropology, math, sociology, psychology, etc. are all somewhat arbitrary. But they are *there*. We shouldn’t go overboard about enforcing those boundaries, but it would be silly, or at least massively inefficient, to ignore them. If you want to play the anthropology game, become an anthropologist! Even if there is no principled boundary between that and the games we play in philosophy. In any case, I myself rather like the game we play in philosophy, and since I’ve invested a huge amount into a career playing that game I have strong feelings about proposals to change it. That is surely a natural and defensible position, even if it were true that if we changed the game more people of underrepresented group XX would want to play. Report

Rob
Rob
5 years ago

The boundaries of philosophy, though vague, are not arbitrary. Not all thinking about “fundamental questions” is philosophy.

Philosophy involves a distinctive method of reasoning, a method which many people (perhaps most people) use but which one can engage in more effectively with practice and training. This method of reasoning aims to derive significant knowledge from two sources: propositions whose justification does not come from experience and propositions whose justification comes from universal or near-universal human experience. An inquiry is not philosophy (though it might be an application of philosophy) if it relies centrally on an appeal to experience that is not widely shared, such as access to data from a scientific experiment, information culled from an archive, experience of a particular culture, experience of a religious revelation, or introspection of personally distinctive aspects of one’s emotional life.

The boundary matters for at least two reasons. First, knowledge that derives only from these two sources has a sort of universality that merits recognition. Second, classifying other sorts of inquiry as “philosophy” for institutional purposes would undermine educational institutions’ ability to train students in philosophy’s distinctive methods.Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

This is an interesting post and thread, but I’m frankly shocked by some deeply immersed assumptions in it all about the limits, methods, and concerns of philosophy. Much of my shock can be confined to the assumption that philosophy is a discipline like, say, math or physics or history.

If philosophy is a discipline it is a meta-discipline–the discipline of disciplines, and in two different senses of “discipline” as first in that last phrase. In my 101s the first day I say what philosophy does–but refuse to say exactly how it does it except in the most general terms. What does it do? Examine all interesting concepts or ideas. It’s a meta-discipline in the sense that its concerns are all the concerns of human interest–math, science, literature, history, art and music, religion, etc. etc.–all those other classes my students are taking–and some they are not, like morality and what it is to live meaningfully. Give me an interest in some concept in discipline x, and there is a philosophy of x. Philosophy is not just another discipline–it is the attempt to be the wise parent of all those other disciplines, and aspires just to be a model of wise reflection overall even for questions the child disciplines won’t even touch.

How to be the wise parent? There’s the other sense of “discipline” which is value-laden about norms of how it does what it does. Philosophy as the discipline of disciplines imposes forms of inquiry and rigor and clear thinking, some formal, some less so. But it always seeks some sort of insight or understanding of what it examines–and thus is usually thought of as seeking truth and dividing it from the dross of ignorance taken as truth. Every position from radical skepticism to rock-bottom realism about this or that wishes to be taken seriously, and that seems to be a function of interest in expressing truth.

What this all means to me is that philosophy’s arms must be pretty all-embracing in terms of subject-matter, but those arms must maintain some real strength and tone in the embrace. If the embrace of some idea has no toned grasp–well, it’s probably bullshit all around.

Excuse my metaphors–but i have to say that multiple approaches to philosophy in the second sense of “discipline” probably have some sound basis in producing that well-toned embrace. I suppose one question I might ask the reader of this post: exactly what approach(es) to philosophy did I use to make my point about the goals and methodology of philosophy? I have to say, I’m not exactly sure myself, but what I’ve said–argued?–seems to make sense (to me).Report

Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

What is truly diverse philosophy? Simple: whatever is left of philosophy once the faction that can hurl most accusations of racism and sexism at its opponents has conquered the fanciest departments, endowed chairs, and journals.Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

Aw, Diogenes! C’mon man. Report

LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

It’s not good enough for you, poor Diogenes, that only “1.32 percent of the total number of people professionally affiliated (as grad students or faculty) with U.S. philosophy departments” are black? Or that “in highly regarded philosophy journals from 2003-2012,” black philosophers in the U.S. authored only “0.19% of the research articles published”?
http://dailynous.com/2014/08/28/blacks-in-philosophy-in-the-us/
http://dailynous.com/2016/01/18/publications-by-u-s-black-authors-in-top-philosophy-journals-the-numbers/

Regardless of “accusations of racism,” those apparently are the facts. George Wallace, circa 1963, would be proud: “the great freedom of our American founding fathers” is that “each race, within its own framework has the freedom to teach, to instruct, to develop, to ask for and receive deserved help from others of separate racial stations.” By whatever mechanisms, philosophy appears to be doing an excellent job of carrying on that spirit.

So remain calm, Diogenes: at least one type of barbarian is much farther away from the gate than you’re imagining.Report

Grad Student of Color
Grad Student of Color
Reply to  Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

Comments like these and the number of likes they get disturb me in two ways (neither the fault of the commentator!):

First, they highlight just how insane and unreasonable many philosophers, social justice activists, etc. have become in their fight for increasing diversity and eliminating discrimination in the field (e.g. the recent demands made by POCs that universities fire tenured faculty members and the demands made in the comment section of Daily Nous pieces asking for comments that use “ableist language”, like this comment, to be banned).

Second, they demonstrate that social justice activists are actually disenfranchising people who might otherwise be sympathetic and causing people to reduce calls for diversity and equality to their outrageous actions and demands.

I hope people know that not all people who want diversity in philosophy also want to get rid of free speech and “take over.” Some of us, like myself, would simply like to have a person of color in their university’s philosophy department (there is not one in my 12 person department, despite the department’s frequently emphasized “commitment” to diversity).Report

Someone else
Someone else
Reply to  Grad Student of Color
5 years ago

Grad Student of Color, I agree that it would be a good thing if your department had a philosopher of color among its 12 person faculty.

However, as I’m sure you know, there really aren’t that many people of color earning PhDs, let alone BAs, in philosophy. The reasons for this seem to have most to do with economic factors, cultural expectations, which professions count as high status or even reasonable things to pursue among various ethnic groups, etc.

In other words, there is good reason to believe that the path toward increasing the number of nonwhite philosophy professors has little or nothing to do with hiring or discrimination or other things the department can control. Such a successful path would involve sweeping economic and sociological changes, many of which would have to take place within the ethnic communities themselves.

The fact that there’s no way for a department or even the entire discipline to bring about those sweeping economic and social changes, and not any evidence that it will or should work, appears to be what’s driving the push to expand philosophy in a way that makes it more inviting to nonwhite people. Rather than considering how difficult and possibly hopeless the issue is, the whole thing is an empty but noisy gesture to help white liberals assuage their guilt feelings. Perhaps that’s why some are so passionately in favor of it despite how poorly thought through the whole thing is.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  Someone else
5 years ago

Thank you for setting us all straight on a deeply complicated problem that social scientists are still struggling to understand. I feel bad that people in other fields are still busy “gathering data” and “doing studies” when you clearly have privileged access to the full truth about what explains the whiteness and maleness of some academic fields. I’m also relieved to hear that your oracle has informed you that there is absolutely nothing we can do to try and rectify the situation. Undistracted by all that diversity nonsense, we can recommit ourselves writing papers that no one will read and inviting our friends to give distinguished lectures to our departments. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I don’t see how we can address what the boundaries of philosophy as a discipline should be without addressing what the value of philosophy is and how it is obtained. If it were just a game, the right thing to do would be to stop playing it at public expense. If it isn’t just a game, we had better proceed from some idea of what we are supposed to be doing.

One thing that would be useful is explaining how philosophy is similar to or differs from other disciplines or even sub-disciplines. Few people would claim that scientific departments should diversify by changing what counts as doing science.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

“Few people would claim that scientific departments should diversify by changing what counts as doing science.”

Is that right? Consider what Geoffrey West calls “physics”, in his study of cities: http://www.ttbook.org/book/physics-cities

And consider the existence of contemporary scientific disciplines that didn’t exist a couple decades ago (cognitive science is the most obvious one, and nanoscience isn’t yet a discipline, but I’m fairly sure there are others).

And consider the debate physicists are going through over whether string theory counts as science: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2015/02/falsifiability/Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
5 years ago

I haven’t read Geoffrey West’s book, so I can’t talk about it and how it relates, or does not relate, to the topic of this conversation. But I don’t see how the other examples you mention address Hey Nonny Mouse’s point.

The point, as I understand it, was not that people in scientific fields don’t have discussions about what the boundaries of their field should be or that the boundaries of scientific fields never change. It’s that, when people in scientific fields have those discussions, and when the boundaries of their field change, it isn’t, and nobody believes that it should be, because people think that it will increase diversity. I suppose that, in some cases, it might have that effect, but when it does that’s merely by accident or, at least, nobody thinks that increasing diversity justifies redrawing the boundaries of their field unless there is also a good philosophical/scientific reason to redraw them.

For instance, nobody is arguing that string theory should or should not count as physics because whether or not it does will affect diversity in the field, but rather people argue that it shouldn’t count as physics because it’s too speculative or that it should because it holds a lot of promises to unify various types of phenomena, etc. Even if the decision that string theory falls outside of the realm of physics somehow resulted in more diversity in the field, which I doubt, people would not think that it justifies kicking string theorists out of physics departments unless there was also a good philosophical/scientific reason to redraw the boundaries of the field in that way.Report

Justin E. H. Smith
5 years ago

This is a very interesting and useful discussion. Thanks for starting it, Justin. I am by and large sympathetic to Dan Garber’s comments above. It was largely thanks to his willingness to see and promote some of my own interests as legitimately philosophical interests that I have been able to have the research career I have: a concrete example of a senior philosopher actively pushing the boundaries on behalf of a junior philosopher, and thereby expanding the range of what can count as philosophy. It does seem to me that we are, like it or not, in a discipline that is by definition indefinable: we cannot do as geologists do, say, and look at a given object and know immediately whether it belongs to our science or not. This generates a natural and understandable worry, that if ‘philosophy’ is indefinable it will lose its identity and bleed into other endeavours. But I think this is all things considered a danger we would do better to live with, than to insist on artificial and dogmatic boundaries. Report

Wesley Buckwalter
Wesley Buckwalter
5 years ago

Justin I think you make a great point above in response to Plum. Incidentally to rules of the game and methodological revision, a very basic change to behaviour could really help with the diversity question you are pointing to. The change would be to step back, and with more charity and thoughtfulness, examine the content of arguments and possible contributions they could make to topics of study in our discipline before allowing personal prejudice about “what philosophy should be” to dismiss those potential contributions. Humans are very good at dismissing things they don’t like as stupid, and charity is our ability to suppress that response. This may begin to alleviate prejudice against contributions from fields like feminist or experimental philosophy, but also just improve our understanding of philosophical phenomenon in our field.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
5 years ago

Many people in this thread seem to be arguing roughly as follows: “I have here an example of a very limited departure from what was once considered by many to be a constraint on what counts as philosophy, and that very limited departure led to good things in the end. Therefore, we should avoid any constraints whatsoever on what counts as philosophy.” I hope I’m misreading this. It would be depressing if several professional philosophers were really that bad at thinking about things.

I raised an issue above that I hope someone on the ‘few or no limitations’ will address. One suggestion of what counts as philosophy is, quite literally, that philosophy consists in sitting at a table with a soy sauce container and a little dish and pouring the sauce into the dish. That’s it. My question is twofold. If that is not to count as philosophy, then what exactly is the reason why it isn’t? (That could be the first step in sorting out a set of reasonable constraints on what counts as philosophy). Or if you think that anything at all counts as philosophy, even just sitting at a table and pouring soy sauce into a little dish, then why exactly do you think anyone should support so many people, or for that matter anyone, doing ‘philosophy’ at the public expense, or indeed at anyone’s expense? And why should anyone take courses with us, if there are no or virtually no constraints on what counts as philosophy?

Thanks.Report

Jamie
Jamie
Reply to  Justin Kalef
5 years ago

“Soy” is the conclusion of the most famous argument in the history of European philosophy.
¿Coincidencia? ¡Creo que no!Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Jamie
5 years ago

So, nobody has any response at all to my obvious objection? That’s depressing, but it confirms my suspicion that nobody in this thread is that interested in ensuring the boundaries of the discipline aren’t moved to the point of ridiculousness. Seems to me we should watch out for that, particularly now that we’ve seen how little concern there seems to be about it.

And to state the obvious, watching out for the expansion of ‘philosophy’ to cover the most ridiculous cases is consistent with acknowledging that in some limited cases, a slight expansion (or apparent expansion) of the discipline is salutary.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Justin Kalef
5 years ago

“Many people in this thread seem to be arguing roughly as follows: “I have here an example of a very limited departure from what was once considered by many to be a constraint on what counts as philosophy, and that very limited departure led to good things in the end. Therefore, we should avoid any constraints whatsoever on what counts as philosophy.””

I haven’t read all of the comments, but none of those I’ve read argue in this way. My guess is that no one has responded to you because no one who has read your comment disagrees with you (except, maybe, with your claim that “many people” are arguing as you claim).Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
5 years ago

Perhaps you’re right, Johnny Thunder. But in that case, mightn’t we discuss what some of the legitimate constraints are? I think that would be helpful. And if you’re right and nobody is arguing that there shouldn’t be any constraints, then discussing what they are seems a natural way to continue the conversation.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Justin Kalef
5 years ago

Philosophy is a field of intellectual endeavor. That obviously doesn’t do anything to distinguish philosophy from poetry, history, physics, theology, etc. I think it also doesn’t yet rule out any of the instances that Justin has mentioned in comments above (except maybe the philosophy through physical motion one). But it clearly does seem to rule out the soy sauce thing.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
5 years ago

“The idea is that all sorts of people should have a robust opportunity to do philosophy, and by “philosophy” it was meant the kind of activity that philosophy professors at Western universities in the 20th Century characteristically engaged in. Efforts to achieve this kind of diversity are like saying, “Come play our game.”

I think this is useful but it obscures a particular hurdle towards change. No-one is being prevented from ‘doing philosophy’ in the sense of engaging in critical thought or inquiry, personal research into an area, or communicating ideas to an audience. What the people who feel excluded really want is to have their efforts *recognised* as philosophy, and this ultimately means convincing the ‘gamekeepers’. This recognition comes in degrees – the gamekeepers can ‘recognise’ that “…philosophy through physical movement, the applied use of non-classical logics” etc. ‘count’ as philosophy in terms of meeting some standards that we’ve collectively agreed upon, but it’s much harder for them to ‘recognise’ these as philosophy in the sense of being able to engage with them, discuss, critically analyse, and most importantly be able to take on board and communicate this philosophy elsewhere. Basically, if we change the rules the ‘gamekeepers’ will play with you, but they’ll play differently in comparison to playing with people who agree with the original rules. Some because they don’t like the new rules, but I suspect most because they’re unsure of how to truly play, what strategies and conventions are allowed.

I’m sure many of us have had the experience of being at a talk on an unfamiliar area which you have no idea what idea is being communicated, but you’re sure it’s good philosophy because there are others whose expertise you trust who are engaging with the talk and asking questions and taking some of the messages on board. But if that other person wasn’t there to take that role and provide validation, then the presenter would be granted only a superficial recognition, no matter how objectively of good quality the content was. I think this is what is happening. It’s not just a matter of changing the rules, but also getting getting the type of active and engaged recognition. How to do this, I am not sure.Report

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
5 years ago

Whose Diversity? Whose Game?
Yesterday, I posted evidence on the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog that some philosophy departments (like many other employers) are explicitly discriminating against disabled people with their jobs ads.
Not a single philosopher expressed outrage at this appalling state of affairs.
I linked to the posting on Facebook, including on philosophy group pages.
Not a single philosopher shared the post, nor commented on it.
Had the situation arisen with respect to other marginalized groups in the profession, I’m sure that many philosophers would have aggressively denounced it. More evidence of the indifference of the profession for the grievous exclusion of disabled philosophers and philosophy of disability. You can see the Discrimination and Disadvantage post here: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/2016/02/disabled-people-need-not-apply.html
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YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Shelley Tremain
5 years ago

Wow. Just… wow. How has there not been a class action lawsuit? This should be our #1 anti-discrimination priority. These administrative asshats wouldn’t hire Euler or Stephen Hawking. Even if you set aside the fact that it’s a wildly unfair– and downright slimey–thing to do, it would still be totally unacceptable on the simple grounds that it will ultimately promote incompetence.

Btw, this should be an object-lesson for safety-first activists. It’s these same administrators that you’re going to have to entrust to decide when someone should be punished for behaving in an insensitive manner. Trust me, it will backfire. You might intend it to protect the disenfranchised, but it is more likely to be used against you the next time you write a provocative political piece.Report

paco
paco
5 years ago

I am sometimes a bit concerned about certain aspects of the diversity debate. I do not have any problems, in fact, I fully support racial,gender, disability and so on diversity. However, I become concerned when there is demand to recognize as philosophy various kinds of wisdom literature, mythologies, orally transmitted stories, and so on. Nobody thinks that Homer, Hesiod, are philosophers, or that the story of Gilgamesh or the Volsunga saga are philosophical treatises. Nobody thinks that the Slavic oral tradition of wisdom and stories are to be taught or thought of as philosophy. They are taught in anthropology. literature, history and so on. Of course, one can approach these sorts of literature philosophically, but that is not to say that they constitute philosophy. In the same vein, there are many European identities and nations who have place per se in philosophy as academic discipline in US/Europe insofar as their national identity is concerned. If they do, this is often something supported by nationalist governments, based on appealing to exactly the kind of things one wish governments were not appealing to. Nobody complains about it as far as I can see. I do not see much calls for Russian, (Modern) Greek, Albanian, Czech, Swedish, Basque, Roma, Catalan, Sorbian, Ruthenian, or Icelandic philosophy to be included. But it is arguable that these ethnicities and identities deserve to be recognized and acknowledged alongside Ancient Greek, Roman, French, German and British philosophers. After all, many of them have been subjected to just as much discrimination, exploitation, prejudice, and cultural stereotyping as many others. Howevever, coming from a country like that, I remember, as philosophers, the last thing we wanted to do was study “our” philosophy, mainly because we wanted to do philosophy, as such, not work on us being who we are – we did that anyway, but we did not think it’s doing philosophy. We did not see a problem saying that we did not produce any philosophy up to 20th century – it was just true and obvious to anyone who studied history and was not a revisionist nationalist. But that did not mean we did not want to do philosophy as it is practiced – and the reason we wanted to do so was that it was an appealing way to reflect morality, science, psychology, literature, and so on. I often find the demand to recognize certain things as philosophy akin to recognizing that alternative “medicines” are the same as experiment/evidence based medicine. But, as far as I can see, they are not. Perhaps it is imperialistic of the West to insist on it, but I do not know why one should recognize as equally “valid” practices that are either easy to show to be harmful or have no more than a placebo effect. And, to be sure, such alternative medicines are by no means the provenance of non-Western world…plenty abound everywhere. Now perhaps philosophy is not like medicine and it is more like literature. But I cannot see it – from Plato’s discussions of what constitutes knowledge through Aristotle’s theory of science and explanation, philosophy is closely tied with the development of science. And looking at other philosophical traditions – Indian, for example – one can see the same features – that is why we recognize them as philosophies (even if, for reasons of tradition, we have not yet incorporated them into our thinking here in US as much as we should). Anyways, sorry about the rant…

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Juliette
Juliette
5 years ago

You say (Paco) that philosophy is closely tied with science, however there seems to be no principled way to distinguish one from the other in certain cases, especially in the area of philosophy of mathematics.

So when does a work in philosophy of mathematics cease to be considered a work in philosophy? Is it the problems it seeks to address? I am really curious. Report