He told me flatly that it was wrong in principle to try to preserve all these provincial academic departments. Philosophy, he said, was a serious and highly technical subject which should only be studied at its own proper level. Any less professional approaches to it were useless and might even do harm.
That is Mary Midgley‘s account of Michael Dummett‘s response to her request (probably during the 1980s) that he publicly oppose the closing of philosophy departments at smaller universities around Britain. She recounts it in What Is Philosophy For?. The passage was recently shared online by Helen De Cruz (St. Louis University).
Midgley had asked Peter Strawson for help, too. According to her, he misunderstood her to be concerned primarily with putting forward a position about the value of philosophy instead of the issue of “who would now get a chance to study it”:
Strawson said he must refuse to support this project because I was suggesting that philosophy was to be valued for its effect on society. This, he said, was degrading to it: philosophy should only be practised and valued for its own sake.Despite Midgley being rebuffed by Dummett and Strawson, Jonathan Wolff (Oxford) notes on Twitter that:
The closure of Philosophy departments was treated as a major scandal and regular news story and there was a big campaign. The National Committee for Philosophy was founded to defend departments—it was eventually transformed into the British Philosophical Association.
Of course, the closure or threatened closure of philosophy departments is a continuing phenomenon, one with seeming increased frequency nowadays owing to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on university and college budgets. Midgley’s question is a good one to keep in mind: who should have a chance to study philosophy?