“Negative attitudes toward philosophy and philosophers”
Yesterday morning, Laura Kennedy, a writer and freelance journalist who often writes about philosophy (and who recently earned her PhD in philosophy at Trinity College Dublin), asked on Twitter: “Philosophers – have you observed that academics in other disciplines tend to have negative attitudes toward philosophy and philosophers? If so, why do you think that might be?”
She added: “I find myself continually encountering academics in varied disciplines who exhibit this attitude.” There were lots of responses.
The smugness of some of them was itself an answer (as at least one person pointed out; not to mention the historical precedent).
That said, I think Nathan Nobis (Morehouse) is right when he identifies as one likely contributing factor that people “don’t have an accurate idea what many philosophers actually do.”
But clearly “Blibdoolpoolp Servant” is onto something, too:
because we're hot https://t.co/VpbX5NCNw4
— Blibdoolpoolp Servant (@GalacticCamaro) February 17, 2022
Still, as I read comments from those who think this negative attitude towards philosophers isn’t too common, and perhaps pretty rare, I found my inner optimist nodding along. Or was that my inner ignoramus? Sometimes I don’t know how to tell those two apart, but I hope it doesn’t matter.
It may be that philosophers aren’t in the best position to explain the reasons why others have a negative attitude towards us (if they actually do). But perhaps attempts at such explanations will demonstrate such reasons. Or perhaps they will give us something informative to contrast with answers from non-philosophers.
So, in short, do people like us, and if not, why not?
See also: “The Purpose of a University / Negativity about Philosophers”
I think one (partially deserved) reason for being disliked by other academics is that as a discipline there’s a distinctive tendency to think we can understand and criticise the work of other disciplines even if we lack training or expertise in that discipline (guided by logic and reflection alone!) – it’s a somewhat arrogant academic personality for a discipline to have! Another related but distinct reason is that we often interpreted as being unjustly aggressive: a lot of dialogue that is considered standard in philosophy comes across as aggressive to other disciplines (our questions are normally criticisms instead of genuine questions where the questioner expects to be enlightened by the knowledge of the speaker; we nitpick and analyse everything someone else says; etc.)Report
When I was in grad school, a philosopher joined our professional society in order to study it as it went through a paradigm shift. I remember the folks I talked to about this being flattered by the attention and pretty sure he had the answers to the questions we were all arguing about. It was sort of frustrating that he wouldn’t tell them to us… but he managed to avoid the mistake you mention, and remained a well-liked member of the community so far as I know.
I did eventually develop some negative feelings toward a few individual philosophers, mainly because of sexist and other experiences on internet forums. But more significant, I think, is that I gradually lost my default assumption that philosophers knew any more than the rest of us, and began to look at whether they deserved the elevated status they enjoyed. Once you lose that default assumption, it’s easy to become a little impatient of people who opine as if their superior knowledge were still evident. Also, most everything I could see of the field was deconstructing itself and trying to deconstruct science as well, which was not appreciated. Things came full circle when I attended a conference where a philosopher said they needed a bunch of scientists to join the field and save it from itself.Report
You are a philosopher whether you think so or not. So is your neighbor. Everything is presuppositionally based, so keep thinking and know you’re changing. As obvious as this is it’s good to be reminded.Report
Um, has anyone read (usually famous) scientists discuss philosophical topics?Report
Extensively, and it varies from deeply insightful to cringingly bad (with the more interesting bits normally being on philosophy of science).
However, I took Junior Woman’s point to be that philosophers opine on other areas as part of our professional activity, which mostly isn’t true conversely. Lawrence Krauss or Steven Hawking say silly things about philosophy in popular books, not in their research papers. I’ve very rarely read a science paper that explicitly comments on philosophy and gets its facts badly wrong; I’ve read dozens of philosophy papers that make confused or flat wrong references to science.Report
The free will theorem is the main reason I wrote ‘very rarely’ and not ‘never’. Do you have other examples in mind? I can think of a couple but they’re fairly obscure, and mostly asides.
(Even in the case of the free will theorem, the core result is solid and (moderately) interesting, even if there are some shaky motivational comments and discursive claims.)Report
I mean, the framing that no experimenter could have free will unless some subatomic particle has free will just seems to wildly misunderstand whether subatomic particles need to possess a will at all, etc.
I don’t have a huge array of examples at the ready. I tend to think that more common is things like that aspect of unreflectively imported weird assumptions (e.g. that organisms can’t have free will unless particles have free will) casually cloaking the actual result they proved (something about indeterminacy at both levels).Report
I was thinking about your first reason, too. But while philosophers are definitely guilty of this sometimes, so are smart folks from all walks of life, in my experience. I’ve met plenty of folks who, upon learning that I’m a philosopher, will offer me their own profound take on topic X and insist that it corrects many (or even all!) of the classical mistakes of the so-called great philosophers. And while there’s some annoyance here (the condescension), I’ve learned to enjoy it–another enthusiastic interlocutor! But it can be a little tiresome to keep encountering the belief that my expertise means very little, when it comes to “real life,” so I can understand the annoyance if philosophers are doing this to others too much, from a sense of entitlement to criticize any-and-all thought.Report
Yes, philosophers being perceived as aggressive (even those who seem to be the most mild-mannered of the philosophers) is my experience as well.Report
At least in some science disciplines I think it has a lot to do with the demarcation of science. A commitment to the notion of a single scientific method and a clear distinction between scientific and non-scientific studies is convenient and allows for a clear understanding of a scientific project, even if it isn’t very nuanced. I think some scientists (especially ones who are perhaps insecure about the validity of their own research, for example psychologists with “physics envy”) think that acknowledging that philosophy may offer some insight to their field/research somehow makes their research less scientific. Susan Haacks paper “6 signs of Scientism” is an interesting read.
I think it’s interesting how some famous scientists like Albert Einstein and Alan Turing where very interested in philosophy.Report
So how is this different from pure Mathematics?Report
Eemmmm you’ve kind of have upside-down (don’t intend to be arrogant, or pretentious)but it’s the analysis, stipulations,hypothesis, that drives the science…we even stipulate the formulas,but then go back to junk pile,and jerk off with the dogs!!!! Fine.Report
I feel it is advantages to study philosophy. It makes ones wiser. I think it is less usefully to be a professional one. Since each school of philosophy has its adherence and opponents. It is only usefully and noble, to teach a course in philosophy, comparing the different schools of philosophy. This will provide a base for the audience to select a personal philosophy to live by. For me it Is St. Thomas with reservation.Report
My own experience is that there are more negative attitudes toward a certain approach to philosophy from philosophers who dislike this approach.
I also think the negative attitudes toward philosophy from other disciplines are usually expressed by some “big names” in certain disciplines. In my institution (a public state school), there are negative attitudes toward humanities from STEM areas, but philosophy is not singled out in any particular way.Report
To me, it is one of the foundations of our learning to have common sense, appreciate history and religion. Growing up never heard or learned about it. Yet today it answers so much for me. I feel that many times it is the people that are intimated by the subject, not the ones who study it. what other professions, would you expect to have all the answers? We are asking questions like we should expect a to How much will money do you make. Why should some have to prove moral religion and values? It ” and like art and poetry that gives what you need to see.gives you what you seeReport
There’s a pretty brilliant portrait of how analytic philosophers are often perceived by other disciplines in Hari Kunzru’s novel “Red Pill.” The analytic philosopher in that book, Edgar, is needlessly aggressive in any and all discussions; he turns every single conversation in a battle where he tries to humiliate the other person. He tries to lecture any and all other academics about how their disciplines are other worthless, they’re wrong about them, or both. He also takes any and all calls for civility and treating conversation partners with basic respect as either intellectual flabbiness or PC culture, and is a world champion mansplainer. As a whole I wouldn’t recommend the book (it goes very badly off the rails in the last third), but Kunzru, who studied philosophy, does an excellent job of distilling a lot of the awfulness and ugliness associated with analytic philosophers into one horrible and memorable guy. I get the distinct impression Edgar may be based on a real philosopher Kunzru the misfortune to spend some time with in a fellowship, though I haven’t tried to figure out who. There are so many likely suspects!Report
“The analytic philosopher in that book, Edgar, is needlessly aggressive in any and all discussions; he turns every single conversation in a battle where he tries to humiliate the other person. He tries to lecture any and all other academics about how their disciplines are worthless, they’re wrong about them, or both.”
That statement could serve equally well as a description of Socrates in the early Platonic dialogues. He tells the poets, the politicians, and all the other alleged experts that they don’t really know much of anything at all. He harasses everyone, very aggressively, about their values and beliefs, and he aims to refute everyone. Naturally, people don’t take that very well.
I have a student who is a double major in Anthropology and Philosophy. When I teach Socrates, I have a hard time hiding my utter reverence for Socrates, who I see as a hero. By contrast, when her Anthropology profs teach Socrates, they have a hard time hiding their utter disdain for Socrates — as one of them told her bluntly “He was a complete asshole.” Of course, some philosophers agree with the Anthropology prof.)
Well, in sum, I bet this is an old, old story.Report
It’s pretty weird and uncharitable to read Socrates as trying to humiliate his interlocutors. Debasing conversation into that sort of nasty game sounds more like the sophists. Yes he’s willing to humiliate others in search of knowledge but he’s not trying to do that as his purpose. That’s one thing that separates him from the Edgars of the world. An even bigger one is he actually listens and tries to understand the people he talks to. Finally, Socratic wisdom— knowing what you don’t know— is quite different than thinking you know everything already.Report
A tragic confusion between ‘parrhesia’ and intellectual bullying / scapegoating was too common in the Boomer generation of academic philosophy, in my experience. Sadly now the (justified) pushback against those behaviours risks dissolving disciplinary focus and academic standards.Report
I believe there may be a feedback loop on Twitter. Philosophers are rewarded for bashing their discipline with likes and retweets, so the bashing continues; and when non-philosophers read negative tweets about philosophy, their negative opinions are reinforced, so they become even more likely to like and retweet negative tweets about philosophy.Report
I think it stems from academic philosophy’s by-and-large failure to own up to the task that philosophy in general is charged with: offering insight on how to live well (and presumably setting some sort of example).
What’s a good life? What constitutes meaning in life? Where does meaning come from?
These are, I surmise, what people generally hope to get out of philosophers. Imagine their dismay when they realize very, very few living philosophers (and a relatively small amount of historically renowned philosophers) actually deal/dealt with these questions extensively.
“Wait, philosophers don’t have any better of an idea than the rest of us? You guys don’t even really think about these things all that much? Well then what good are you?!”
That may be a bit of a playful exaggeration of their perspective, but I think it’s fairly accurate.
Philosophers by and large aren’t doing what they’re expected to do, and instead they often are seen as sort of dabbling from afar in other fields.
Combine the two, and it would make sense why philosophers are seen as sort of “useless” or “pointless” and presumptuous/annoying.Report
Philosophy is the base of all disciplines. No one can deny the fact.Report
yeah, once upon a time.Report
As one said about disciplines in education, ‘educators have a silo mentally.’ Their discipline must not be touch by unapproved presuppositions. This allows them security in the “university” blanket. In a phrase, to hell with what other disciplines say.Report
Granting that philosophy is important to other disciplines in academia: I think that point is entirely unrelated to people’s attitudes towards it! Without the people who pick our fruits and vegetables, we’d starve to death, but somehow people manage to wiggle out of respecting farm workers. The attitudes people have toward things do not automatically reflect how important those things are.
(I’m also not sure any other discipline should care about philosophers just because philosophy is the base of their discipline, but that’s a deeper question.)Report
It’s dead easy to deny the fact. Just utter the sentence ‘Philosophy is not the base of all disciplines’, and voila.
On an unrelated note, I think partly philosophers are unpopular because of their tendency to be pedantic.Report
This isn’t really true. Most of the Arts for example but also, even within the classical Greek world, History, Geography, and if Plato is of any importance, Rhetoric, have firm roots outside of Philosophy.Report
Yes, philosophy goes beyond the history of all disciplines, classic and modern ones. Michel Foucault calls it: epistemology, archeology or history of the knowledgesystems.Report
While those impressions may generalize, this is a better venue for this discussion since drawing from the toxic cesspool that is Twitter does not provide the best sample.Report
It says something about twitter that, in comparison to it, blog comments can be seen as relatively pure waters!Report
Over the long run, I think think people’s attitudes toward philosophy and philosopher have improved quite a bit. I can’t think of a single philosopher who has been made to drink hemlock lately.Report
I go to a bar we call church. Drink our favorite beverage and talk face to face with a human I can reach out and touch. I want change, go to the place everyone goes to change…even for a night.Report
I’ve worked with academics from a wide variety of disciplines (humanities and STEM). While there are certainly delightful individuals in the mix (some of my best friends, etc.), philosophers as a group are the worst. It’s not even close. The absolute worst.Report
I’m curious as to why.Report
Blibdoolpoolp, if I recall correctly, is the (Dungeons and Dragons) goddess of the fish-men, generally portrayed as a gigantic human woman with the head and claws of a crayfish and the shell of a lobster.
That being the case, I’m not sure “Blibdoolpoolp Servant”‘s statement that philosophers are hot is as unequivocal a compliment as Justin’s OP suggests.Report
She’s the goddess of the kuo-toa, in case anyone thought “fish-men” referred to sahuagin or merrow.
And this is why people hate philosophers.Report
One thing philosophers can do to be less unpopular is to avoid jargon terms and try to explain things in simple language.Report
As a person whose degrees are in philosophy, and who spent my several years post-PhD teaching in philosophy departments (but not TT), and then I got a TT job in a Communication Studies department, here is what I have observed.
Most people assumed I was smart when they knew I was a philosopher. When they think of me as a comm guy, I find people doing things like, trying to explain to me who Michel Foucault was. Yes dear colleagues, I have published multiple papers on biopolitics, but please go on.
On the other hand, the thought that philosophers are arrogant and rude unless proven otherwise is also common. And also that analytics don’t care about what happens in other humanities disciplines.Report
So I’ve spent a lot of time in arts related departments, and generally there seems to be a positive perception of philosophy. As an undergrad who doubled majored in philosophy and dance, people and professors in dance seemed to actively encourage that connection.
The exception seemed to be the main dance historian at our department who seemed to be fundamentally suspicious of philosophy. I’ve never quite understood why. From what I can gather it was rooted in a bit of territorialism or concern for autonomy of dance studies as a field, along with a general rejection of something like systematic analysis.Report
It’s because we’re located in the humanities and arts, but we aspire (successfully or not) to standards closer to the sciences. The latter dislike us because we’re insufficiently empirical. The former dislike us because we insufficiently fluffy. And also because we call what other humanists do “fluffy”.Report
Some of my work is in non-medical bioethics. I certainly find that many physical scientists tend to view bioethics as a field of study that celebrates articulate statements of ignorant, unscientific, baseless fears about technology. The discipline is still haunted by the ghost of Leonard Kass.Report
The slander of bioethics (and the assumption that “bioethics” unqualified does not include or mean philosophical bioethics) is its own quite disturbing issue… Bioethics should be one of the places where philosophers can really shine, and I really hope philosophers can at least partially help rescue it from its medical (read: not philosophically rigorous) roots.Report
Jonny Thakkar wrote a nice piece for The Point a few years ago about how vigorous disagreement is a virtue in philosophy but outside philosophy is generally taken to be the mark of an “arsehole”: https://thepointmag.com/examined-life/on-being-an-arsehole/Report
I think this varies wildly from field to field. In my experience, people working in the cognitive sciences tend to be very willing to go at each other. The grad intro to cogsci class at my university was structured as a weekly debate to encourage spirited disagreements. Of course, things are probably different elsewhere in the humanities and science.Report
I don’t object to the journalist’s tweet, nor to this blog post.
But I do regret when senior Ivy League philosophers with hundreds of thousands of followers openly malign philosophers in general—a set that includes thousands of philosophers in precarious positions—on Twitter.
I do get the temptation. When a person openly and (seemingly boldly) discusses or reveals (purported) negative aspects of their own group/organization, this is a well-known way to engineer credibility and legitimacy: it signals a sense of self-assuredness and willingness to “call it as it is”—this effect is heightened especially with people who are already predisposed to be cautious of that group. We’ve seen this in politics recently, but also in other aspects of academia, when academics rail on how worthless a university education is—it’s a fast track to the podcast circuit.
I’m not suggesting that this is the particular motivation of philosophers who’ve done such things in this case—ironically, it may have just been pure empirical speculation. Or an attempt at self-deprecating humor. I don’t know.
But in a world with widespread budget cuts and entire departments of philosophers being fired, I really wish such prominent philosophers would think about the effects they’re having on less secure members of the profession. Tweets like that from leading academic philosophers simply makes life harder for philosophers in institutions with lower stature or for philosophers outside of philosophy departments (engineering schools, business schools, medical schools, etc.).
There are lots of criticisms of the APA. But I’m pretty sure most think that at least one of its roles should be public outreach and outreach across the academy. Tweets like the ones we’ve seen involving sweeping character attacks of members of a discipline by its own leading members do more to harm the standing of philosophers than the APA could possibly make up for. Report
On the one hand, the philosophers who shit on philosophy from on high (mostly the very active social media types) may be doing some philosophers a favor–there aren’t enough jobs and to the extent that negative perceptions of philosophy or philosophers keep people away, there will be less employment pressure.
On the other hand (and this is what confuses me), the unduly negative portrayals are likely to deter the very people who might make the kind of difference that those who offer the unduly negative criticisms want to see made. Racist, sexist, overly-aggressive creeps are unlikely to avoid the profession just because they are constantly told it’s full of racist, sexist, overly-aggressive creeps.Report
A bit tangential, but I recently read this article and was surprised at how much this person dislikes philosophy:
Of course, he engages in a sort of philosophical discussion in the article itself (proposing bad arguments, in my opinion). But, I guess, this is the ironic character of philosophy and denying that it is not a worthy enterprise.Report
I think it is our extreme discomfort with any unexamined consensus. This is something I appreciate about my philosophy friends — that I can count on them to scrutinize even self-serving claims such as “studies show that philosophy majors outperform business majors.” As an aside, I was recently in a meeting with a fellow philosopher who respectfully pointed out the flaws in the dean’s example meant to show that the new economic system would not weaken our academic mission. Without missing a beat, the Dean replied, “I can see that you are a philosopher.” And he didn’t mean it as a compliment.Report
Unlike other disciplines ours is confused with an oft used term that is synonymous with “idea” or “theory” in the pejorative sense that everyone has one. This is different that what astronomers face where when confused with astrology there is an actual spelling difference.Report
Who wouldn’t hate the “good person department” lol
But in all seriousness, I find most academic philosopher’s don’t like academic philosophy. Most wish the system was completely different and prioritized things that matter. But alas, it’s all better than another job right? I think other departments can smell the self loathing.Report
You guys are lucky. Only other academics dislike philosophers, regular people are mostly bemused or indifferent. I’m a management consultant (interested in philosophy): everyone hates us.Report
Don’t be concerned, no one is thinking about us at all.Report
The discussion reminds me a bit of one of my favorite moments early in college. I was taking an “interdisciplinary humanities” class called “views on human nature”, team-taught by a philosopher, an English professor, and a historian. One day, the English professor was leading the discussion, and he said (in a context I no longer remember), “Now, there is this one philosopher that I just really hate..”, and the philosopher immediate shot out, from the back of the room, “It’s not me, is it?” The English professor replied, “No, no. But don’t worry, we’ll come back to you later.” (It was a great class, and they all seemed to get along well.)Report
I’ve very rarely (if ever) encountered hostility towards philosophy from other academics. I have encountered many academics who repeat (often from twitter or some other social media) bad things that philosophers say about philosophy. As others above have mentioned, I get angry every time some extremely privileged philosopher lashes out at the entire discipline.
I find it very hard, if not impossible, to bring the norms of philosophy into ordinary discourse on social media. I’m in several Facebook groups where philosophical topics are often discussed (groups dealing with naturalism, new religious movements, atheism, etc.). The discussions are usually horrible in every way. Incoherent rambling, bad reasoning, sheer lunacy, outright falsehoods. If you criticize anything, even gently, you’re an asshole. I try to be nice, and to learn how to be nicer, but it doesn’t matter. If you point out that something is false, people get angry with you. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that if I point out that something somebody said is *unethical*, then others will be sympathetic and will often tend to agree and be supportive of my criticism. Thus:
(A) “X is false/wrong/invalid” gets attacked; while
(B) “It’s not ethical to say X” gets supported.
I find this very strange.Report
“… and I welcome their hatred.”Report
In my personal experience, mathematicians tend to have rather positive attitudes towards philosophers, or else they are indifferent. This may be just because they suppose we philosophers know a lot about logic and because have the time to think about why one should accept axioms.Report
Michèle Lamont, How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment (Harvard University Press, 2009) contains a few pages where the author recounts the reasons given by members of interdisciplinary grant review panels that she studied for finding philosophy to be a “problem case.” Her study provides systematically collected evidence that the negative views are likely to be widely shared. She says that this can put philosophers at a significant disadvantage in securing grant money, relative even to other humanities disciplines.
Do many academics hold analogous views about pure mathematicians and pure mathematics?Report
My experience, as a mathematician, is yes. It’s by no means universal, but it’s common for non-math STEM people to deride pure maths as irrelevant navel-gazing disconnected from any ‘real’ concerns.Report
My own experience kinda goes in the opposite direction. Some academics in other fields have woefully inaccurate, negative stereotypes of what philosophers do. But philosophy also gets a lot of undeserved prestige and veneration. Sometimes, I don’t like telling other academics what I do because it gets awkward: the big secret is…it’s just another field of academic labor. So sorry to ruin the illusion; would you like another glass of wine?
Think about how many people who really dump on philosophy do so because they think it’s somehow went astray or betrayed its *true* mission or purpose. It’s more disappointment than out and out hostility. Sure, sure – we still have proprietary and ancestral rights on considerations about how to live your best life and all that. But also: the theory of reference, the Sleeping Beauty problem, vagueness, mereology, philosophy of mind, which modal logic is best for your needs, etc. (And notice which specializations these issues are in and how many people concentrate in them!) When non-philosophy academics find out about *that* stuff, their reaction doesn’t tend to be positive. More like the opposite: “I came here looking for moral and political guidance and all I got was these damned technical issues in language and metaphysics!”Report
I used to get sucked in by philosophical papers with titles that promised answers to vital moral issues, and they would always spend eight pages defining one term and end with ‘the application of these principles is left as an exercise for the reader.’ It became a catchphrase among my circle.Report
… but I think the more dogmatic a field is, the more its most prominent spokespersons are likely to dislike any questioning of their basic postulates. Philosophers seem a inherently likely to uphold such an approach, and therefore to be disliked.Report
Often questioning basic postulates is being an asshole. For instance, I work on normative ethics, applied ethics, political philosophy and epistemology. One of the basic postulates of the work I do is that there are epistemic and moral truths. While no-one who has come to any of my talks has ever questioned this postulate, anyone who ever has the bad sense to do so has a “go f*** yourself reserved for them” This is not to say that I just dogmatically assume moral and epistemological realism. I do think I have some reason to think that these postulates are true. I just don’t think it particularly appropriate to question these postulates most of the time.Report
From my experience, i have concluded two reasons why people show no interest or dislike philosophers
1. They feel philosopher are against their beliefs and lifestyles, and they feel them to be judgemental towards them, even before they have not said a word. The common problem i have met is the feeling that i do not believe God or their system of belief which is fundamental to their life, even when i have nor spoken anything
2. They feel that philosophers consider themselves superior on every aspect considering the meaning and quality of life, and this creates a room of conflict even in areas which require not any argument
3. They believe philosopher is an outdated discipline, and is inferior to modern science, so it is not applicable to modern life. This results in viewing philosopher as people who are in a wrong path, wasting their time and doing something wastefulReport
I think that philosophy is ostensibly seen as pretentious, but sensed on a deeper level to be ‘upsetting’. A great example is the resistance by oh so many to Derrida’s philosophical claims, saying that he undermines and undermines and leaves nothing intact, as though he was some kind of nihilist. Academics in other disciplines will resist his operations, because they hold onto some columns of their field with a crypto-religious belief. But Derrida gonna do philosophy, and the embrace of uncertainty and possibility is surely the essence of that enterprise?Report
Philosophy can attract an arguably uniquely insufferable type of know-it-all. This type is often the one in the graduate program who has affected a vaguely British, quasi-laconic way of speaking, and who responds to others’ points with pandering locutions like ‘Yes, good’, as if they’re your ontological tee-ball coach.
Using such a specific description to describe a general type is no doubt odd. But 15 years in the academic pyramid scheme I keep on running into (most often, but not always) him.Report
Perhaps it’s just my vague Britishness, but I’m not sure what response is preferable to ‘yes, good’ if someone makes a point that is both correct and important.
It also seems a bit of an unfair strike against the British. Others can avoid being uniquely insufferable by either avoiding a vaguely British way of speaking, or by not being quasi-laconic. We’re stuck with the Britishness; if we but slip into quasi-laconicity, we are undone.Report
Hah, right. Yeah. But I want to say that ‘affected’ is pulling a lot of weight in my comment.
As for ‘Yes, good’–a lot depends on tone. Even flipping it around would sound better: ‘Good, yeah!’.Report
There is something particularly insufferable about phrases like “yes, good,” “right, so, you might think that,” etc., which get peppered throughout conversations with philosophers. (Not that I’m innocent of this…) It has nothing to do with the content of those phrases, and I don’t think it has to do with Britishness or other forms of condescension (just a joke). I think it’s instead a matter of repeatedly hearing a slightly uncommon way of speaking over and over again. It becomes grating, almost like pop business phrases (synergy, circling back, etc.).Report
I cringe a little when I hear ‘Good’ as a one-word evaluative claim in those contexts, unless it should be taken for granted that the speaker has superior knowledge or insight on the matter in question. I do think it has to do with its content.
If someone makes a point I think is correct, the normal thing for me to say would be something like, “I agree” or “That seems right to me also” or “Right! Because such-and-such.” If I instead say “Yes, good,” then the implication seems to be that I take myself to be in a position to look down from my superior position and evaluate what was just said. I’ve never heard someone do this under normal circumstances in which it’s presumed that the two people are peers. If we’re at the pub on trivia night and the quizmaster asks what the capital of Burkina Faso is, and you say ‘Ouagadougou’ (which I was also about to say), it would seem normal for me to say ‘Yes’, but not ‘Good.’ We don’t usually take the liberty of declaring our evaluations of our epistemic peers.Report
That’s a fair point, I agree (I’m resisting the urge to say “good”). Although, speaking only for myself, I *also* find it annoying because of its buzzword-quality. The condescending content only makes it worse.Report
Also, I think ‘That’s a fair point’ and ‘That’s a good point’ are different. Those comments typically seem to indicate that the other party has just added something one had not considered before.Report
Right, and this is why I find myself drawn to “Yes, good”: it feels like a natural response to objections/comments that I *have* considered before and think my view can withstand, but that are nevertheless forceful enough to push me to nuance my view toward accommodating them — or simply to expose a bullet I have to bite. “Yes, good” seems to acknowledge the force in a way that gives due credit and keeps the conversation friendly, but without feigning surprise. And since quite a lot of the comments I get fall into this bucket, I find myself inclined to say it often. Clearly I’ve got to find an alternative that doesn’t seem so patronizing to so many people, though, if anyone has an alternative to suggest, it’d be welcome!Report
I think ‘Good’ is an odd response there. You assert that P; the other person objects that Q; you have already considered Q and have a defense, which is R.
In what sense, then, is Q ‘good’? You’re about to explain why Q is incorrect! In that context, ‘Good’ makes it seem as though your role is to look down upon this other person and make an assessment of comments on the basis of how well they fit your rhetorical purposes, and as though the other person’s role has just made an attempt to win your approval, which you now bestow.
Some natural-sounding responses to Q don’t seem to imply that:
– “I’m glad you made that point / raised that objection.”
– “Ah. But R!”
– “I think I can understand where you’re coming from: Until recently, I believed Q myself. But then someone pointed out to me that R, and I can’t see how I could maintain Q against it.”
“Interesting. But is it really so clear that Q is such a problem for P? Here’s a reply that I think undermines Q: R.”Report
‘You might think that’ is perfectly acceptable if followed by ‘but I couldn’t possibly comment.’Report
“You might think that” is one which I don’t find at all condescending. I just find it aesthetically unpleasant due to constant overuse (similarly for: “look,” “right, so…”, etc.). However, it *is* better with your caveat!Report
I’d be inclined to say don’t worry about it, since every discipline has its detractors. Expertise is increasingly devalued, even medicine and healthcare, as we’ve seen in this pandemic; so this isn’t a unique problem, even if some disciplines get it worse than others. (Hi, lawyers!)
However, since philosophy departments and budgets are still being threatened, and since we have less political power than (say) lawyers, this is a PR problem that could lead to real harm or more of it. So, we should pay attention to this and do something.
One thing could be to engage in more public philosophy to help show what philosophy is and what we do. Of course, we would have to do it in a diplomatic way that avoids the things that people think are bad about philosophy and philosophers; otherwise, we’d be throwing fuel to the fire.
Identifying the “pain points”, then, would seem to be a necessary first step, as we’re doing on this thread. But we might want to get better data than intuitions and anecdotes…Report
No one likes their faults or short comings exposed. Ideals are just that – impossible to be realized under today’s Political regimes. Philosophical musings therefore, are akin to “mental masturbation”.Report
Maybe it is the disdain an expert has for the dilettante? Others have mentioned that it can be tough when a philosopher is “stepping on toes”, so to speak. There is also the concrete and practical information and knowledge that a chemist deals in, while philosophy could be seen as too abstract in it’s advances. It’s like the builder vs. the engineer or the manager vs. the accountant. Everyone respects and understands the value of everyone else, but people choose the fields they do based in a large part on temperament and it can create friction when they have to accommodate a field they chose not to go into.Report
I left the room to go out into the world and came back with a more tangible anthropological grounding to ‘philosophy.’Report
I think we need to look at this through a historical context. The classic philosopher people imagine is the stoic. We prop these classical philosophers up, but rarely push any new thought. People, in my opinion, have a negative attitude towards talk in general unless it has an applied purpose such as psychology or witty jokes.Report
As someone from a religious studies background, with a handful of philosophy courses, I’ve noticed a few big differences in the disciplines. I think the philosophers at our small humanities school enjoyed a bit of rock star status, especially from white men. The exclusive take on the “Truth” from philosophy professors who always made assumptions that religion is irrational, yet at the same time ironically worshipped historical figures themselves, like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the founders of their “religion,” which they always presented as the truest and most noble examples of thinking and living. As an Indigenous student sitting in those philosophy debates about “love,” for example (I recall we read The Symposium), it felt more like a religious preaching that was not only intolerant of other views, but was expressed by the professor as being the truest (despite not having any inclusion of female or maternal love). This was a common occurrence in those philosophy “debates,” and the professor would always invoke the historical philosopher, “well Aristotle would think X, and Plato would think Y” when those statements were no where to be found in the original texts. This is where religious studies differs, in that there is much more emphasis on acknowledgement of scholarly bias (for example, JZ Smith who famously said “there is no data for religion,” meaning that religion only exists insofar as the student categories x,y, and z as “religion” for their scholarly purposes). In addition to the presumption that modern translations of ancient Greek philosophy was somehow completed without bias, there is such a narrow European focus (for example, most discussions came from dead, European, white man’s philosophy) which begged for some contrasting perspectives (women, BIPOC) making the overall experience feel limited in its ability to ascertain “Truth.” Perhaps its this insistence on “Truth” that rubs people the wrong way, because we know there are many truths.Report
I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience with philosophy professors, especially in a class that covers the symposium, which as you know provides multiple perspectives on love and hardly ends with something like a “T” truth. But I don’t think your description is characteristic of philosophers in general or those who teach ancient Greek philosophy in particular. I can see how individual philosophers might prefer one theory over another, or espouse a particular ethical orientation, say virtue ethics, but the majority of philosophers I know don’t worship philosophers as gods or consider their own theories to be infallible. At least, that is my experience.Report
As a professional philosopher I can say they don’t hate us.Report
Intellect is ego and is the primary barrier to conscious.
” those who know do not say, those who say do not know ” Tao Te ChingReport
Let me begin by saying I don’t know much of anything, and this is completely derived from my subjective views. One may relate or not.
I can say that I am one of those who are often critical of those who claim the titles of “philosophers” or really any title associated with pursuits of knowledge or wisdom. These claims all too often appear to offer certainty, endless circular semantical debates and when you peer into the lives of those said philosophers there are glaring inconsistencies. I often see no rigorous testing or application of many times superficially beautiful views that lack any practicalities. What’s the use of a claiming a knowledge of philosophy that doesn’t have any tangible use or application? Why feel the need to be right? Or to be liked in the first place?
Philosophy as an ascetic is valid, but call a spade a spade. It’s too often just a hat or a title, to be aquired and discarded.
To calibrate some of my syntax.
What I typically use the word philosophy to mean: Simply an approach to life.
For example.. What do you do when your confronted with opposition? How do I see my own hatreds? Howabout my loves? What is my favorite song? Why do I like sunflowers the best? Why am I here? What is the nature of life? What are my exceptions? What are my expectations of life? Will my favorite actress get married? Do any of these things even matter? Etc..
To define another way, philosophy is any topic, any method that one may find subjectively practical or impractical, in any capacity. No right or wrong, just what is, what is done, what is thought. Anything can be a philosophy, or not, or both.
A good case can be made that everyone is a philosopher in some context, but some add notions of authority. Why?.. because you studied a book? Or took a test? I see claims of understanding yet no ability to enact in actual life. The title of “philosopher” is often mixed with ideas of incompentency, hipocrit and charlatan when this mismatch is detected.
To give a self diagnosis from the position of a critic of “philosophers” I do mostly make appraisals based on consistency between word and actions.
My biases include but are not limited to: That I personally do not like conformity, people who won’t admit their underlying motives either due to deliberate concealment or lack of self awareness and claim any form of piety.
I must claim I’m no pious person, nor could I claim to not have any piety. I generally feel no obligation to participate in group thought, and often feel protective of people who are often taken down perverbial rabbit holes by those offering salvation, that really have all the chance of coin flip for helping or betraying them.. all because said person wanted to feel smart or powerful or needed. I’d personally recommend getting a dog.
My critical nature of philosophers is almost completely predicated on PUBLIC claims of any knowledge, truth, wisdom that cannot be backed up by practical applications. Not to be confused with “scientist” which also have no business in concrete subjective or abstract subjuctive experiences. (Whole other can of worms.. I’m just as critical of so called scientists who seem to hold fashion over fact, but I digress)
Now I must say, I don’t know you, thus I don’t have any opinions of you or about you. I can also say decisively that this is really just a cobbled together text written on a phone with a myriad of grammatical errors. That this is from only one subjective set of experiences, which may or may not be relatable to anyone else’s subjective set of experiences.
I really only answered because I felt like you were asking genuinely. I have no classical training and am self taught. Like I said I don’t know much but hope at most this to be a view into a mind of one that often is critical of “philosophers.” Whether is useful or not is outside of my purview.
Hope I wasn’t too harsh!! 🙂 I really do love philosophy in all it’s pursuits.Report
There’s a widespread belief that philosophy is populated by sanctimonious pseudo-know-it-alls. ‘Pseudo’, because of a widespread (and not unfounded) belief that philosophy’s methods and work products are complete bunk. This is not restricted to views about analytic philosophers by any means.
Seriously. Sorry to report.Report
As a logician who got the chance to do philosophy and mathematics at the same time in an environment where you would find both STEM people and Humanities/Social Science folks I can say that a pure mathematician or logician dislikes someone (not the person but what they are saying, of course) when there is:
* a lack of technical knowledge
* a lot of words but no actual ideas that make scientific or mathematical sense
* an absence of precise definitions
* an attempt to make literary work look like an academic work (literature is nice and all but it is obviously not science and academia is a place for doing science)Report
This is just my own view and no doubt reflects my own biases. Personal disclosure: although I consider myself a scientist rather than a philosopher, I work in a field where philosophers are very active, and some of my work has been published in philosophy journals. Over the course of my academic career, I have found myself more and more frustrated with philosophers and their contributions to my own discipline. I don’t think I can succinctly articulate all of the reasons for this frustration, so I’ll just do my best to give a flavour of them. Sorry for the length of this comment!
Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that there is a noticeable distinction, for me at least, between philosophy in the “analytic” tradition and philosophy in the “continental” tradition. The former too often seems, as it were, like a parody of science; the latter like a parody of anti-science (with post-structuralist critiques of truth a notorious case in point). I take the readership of this site to skew quite heavily towards the analytic, so I’ll focus on the issues I observe there.
An Daily Nous interview with Claire Kirwin (https://dailynous.com/2021/12/13/philosophy-that-tries-to-get-you-to-see-something/) puts it well: “It seemed like [analytic] philosophers were trying to do maths – trying to create proofs for theorems, or something like it – but with the wrong tools.” I’d add the observation that analytic philosophers often seem like they are constructing simplified formal models of complex phenomena; scientists would call models of this sort “useful approximations”, but philosophers invest them with significantly more metaphysical weight. It is as though analytic philosophers bizarrely imagine that the complex considerations of real life can be adequately captured – without loss or distortion – by rigid combinations of pared-down concepts.
Another way of putting this frustration is that analytic philosophers have a tendency to be blind to the possibility that important distinctions might be only partially articulable – not because of some mystical ineffability, but because of numerical limitations on the complexity of distinctions that humans can practically articulate. Is it an unspoken axiom of analytical philosophy that the world’s relevant richness must fit into sentences (or paragraphs, or books) that are short enough to be read and comprehended by humans? If so, it seems profoundly misguided, and (I would argue) is actively counterproductive in the study of complex phenomena such as embodied cognition.
A different frustration is that philosophers often seem to privilege the weirdest sorts of distinction. Metaphysical considerations are usually more or less epiphenomenal from a scientific perspective: they concern things that, by definition, do not impact the behaviour (as scientists construe it) of matter and energy. And yet philosophers talk as though these things (which appear to make no difference) are actually more important than what happens concretely. These are, according to philosophers, the profoundest matters of inquiry. An example from ontology might help here: like philosophers, I care about what things exist in the physical world and what things don’t, because it makes a difference to what I can (at least in principle) observe; unlike philosophers, I do not care about which of these things exist “more fundamentally” than other things. As far as I can see, a world in which hippos were more metaphysically fundamental than electrons would exhibit measurements no different from one in which electrons were the more fundamental entity.
I’ll add one final point, which echoes what some others have said. Philosophers frequently get science (and sometimes maths) wrong, water it down, and dismiss findings that are intellectually inconvenient. I once remarked to a group of faculty philosophers that a recent paper in quantum physics, based on empirical evidence, explicitly argued that the notion of objective truth in physics was problematic (this was the Proietti et al. preprint of the Wigner’s friend experiment). The philosophers insisted that the physicists must have confused epistemic relations with objective physical relations. I am not a quantum physicist, but this response looks pretty blinkered to me: at best, scientifically illiterate; at worst, actively anti-scientific. Either way, smug.Report
It seems to me you are assuming here that analytic philosophy is a project parallel to science, but with more or less the same goals: accurately describing and systematizing the world. While some analytic philosophers, especially metaphysicians, may think the same, I believe this is a misconception. Analytic philosophy is arguably still predominantly a study of concepts, theories, logic and reasoning. So I don’t think we analytic philosophers are trying to squeeze everything into sentence form. It’s rather the sentences – and their function in reasoning – which we’re studying.Report
I’m well aware that philosophers study concepts, theories and reasoning. But as a cognitive scientist, I see these things themselves – the concepts, theories and reasoning – as themselves, unavoidably, part of the complex world.
Hence, it does not remotely surprise me that satisfactory biconditionals, for important abstract concepts, have been so hard for philosophers to come by. Even when philosophers claim to be studying “normatively ideal” or “theoretical” rationality, the richness of the external physical world (and the physical human brains that have evolved to interact with it) always ends up poking through.Report
I disagree to a certain extent. That extent is any science which is successful and heavily mathematicized. Philosophical inquiry into the foundations of math has brought mathematical logic and thus an unprecedented clarification of mathematics. So I want to suggest that wherever math is successfully applied to empirical reality, there is also a good fit between philosophical /logical theorising and idealizing on the one hand and empirical reality on the other. A late success for Pythagoras and Plato, if you will.Report
Do you think claiming that the notion of objective truth is problematic is something a scientist can “read off” of some empirical results without any philosophical or conceptual work? If seems weird to say that someone who resists this is “anti-science”, esp. when I’m sure we’d have no trouble finding physicists who give a different interpretation of the study in question…
To me, it looks philosophical illiterate to think that the conceptual and philosophical issues aren’t entangled with the empirical in cases like this..
Smug it may be, but philosophers are (usually) the ones that spend more time thinking about what exactly “objective truth” might mean, and what the difference between the epistemic and ontological is, etc. Of course there is no shortage of philosophers who get confused about these points, too. Maybe that’s your point.Report
Sadly there’s no shortage of scientists (or lay people) who suppose that data has a self-evident message, free of conceptual interpretation. But I’m not one of them.
Yes, conceptual work (of the sort that philosophers like to call “philosophical”) is crucial. I think that physicists are capable of doing that work without specific philosophical training, and I do not think that philosophers are well-placed to do it. True, philosophers spend a lot of time thinking about what “objective truth” might mean, but they usually do this in an intellectual silo, in which the specific considerations that actually motivated the physicists’ statement are not even on the horizon.
Of course there are physicists who offer a different interpretation of the study. They are qualified to do so, and they are responsive to arguments involving the maths of quantum theory, or to further empirical observations. This is how the conceptual work needs to be done: not by a priori argument based on philosophers’ intuitions. Report
I think communication and cooperation is key here. While there is a tendency of philosophers to drift away (or upwards 😉 to more abstract and idealised ideas, there is in my opinion an opposing tendency of physicists to bring any conceptual question back to some questions about details in physics proper, thinking that the established method of physics is all any serious science should ever need.
Even if it’s cheap advice: the truth lies probably somewhere in between.Report
Another rather positive experience of mine is with classicists. In my experience classicists respect philosophers because they know more philosophy, obviously, when it comes to ancient philosophy. On the other hand they criticise us philosophers for not being careful enough about historical and philological details. Often with good reason. But the general spirit is one of cooperation and constructive criticism.
Ok, I have previously commented on mathematicians, now on classicists. I notice that I don’t have too much contacts with other academic colleagues.Report
This is a very good question.If u wanna really find the historical hermeneutical path to start answering it u have to do a very good and slow reading to the “concept of angst” of Kierkegaard and connect it with the prefaces of ” the birth of tragedy” and ” beyond good and evil” of Nietzsche.Soren will enlight you like no one else about this question and will help u with the past the present and the future of this problematic like no one else …if u wanna really answer it .Report
Philosophy has the reputation unfortunately for nutty metaphysics — like your fork doesn’t exit, or the madhouse writings of Hegel.Report
Sure, I’ve come across this attitude of disdain towards both philosophy and philosophers. However, this disdain also exists within philosophy itself, it becomes a lot more nuanced once you enter the field, but most of the disdain I’ve felt toward my school of philosophical thought, has come from other philosophers. Being from the pragmatic contextualist school, I tend to get along better with those from other fields. But I think that is because the pragmatic contextualist process makes sincere efforts to find things to praise as much as it makes sincere efforts to offer constructive criticism.
To put that simply, that school of thought doesn’t concern itself with saying something is completely right or wrong, but when, where, how and why something is right AND wrong. Observing what is at play in our great big diverse universe and society. Not prescribing to it, just strongly suggesting it to use what it sees.
It involves a lot of intellectual humility. Easier said than done. Philosophy is an awesome field with applications in all areas of life, most philosophers however, genuinely suck at the field and are out of touch with their purpose. If you ask most of us what our purpose is, you’ll get very mixed answers. But what we all appear to be attempting to do, is to help people figure out who they are and how to live their idea of a good life with logical consistency.
Personally, I like to think of the relationship between science and natural philosophy, as a system of checks and balances on the other. Sometimes a philosophers head is up their own a**, sometimes it’s the scientists. However I’d say these are due to human fallibility. Two different fields, successes and fuck ups have the same cause. Humanness.Report