Seen by accident, “ganked” off Colin McGinn’s blog this morning, this comment caught my eye. Writing back in April 2017 under the title “Philosophy in Five Years” he predicted:
I think the field will be a complete shambles. It’s already imploding from the inside, but in five years most of the distinguished people will be gone. Political schism will continue to tear the profession apart, probably getting even worse. Intellectually things are not going in a good direction. Maybe other countries will assert themselves, leaving American philosophy to deteriorate. I would say that American philosophy is about half as good as it was fifteen years ago and that it will be half as good again in five years.
In terms of general outline, he’s right.
One could accuse McGinn of bitterness, I suppose, if one wanted. He resigned from his position at the University of Miami in the wake of a widely-discussed sexual harassment allegation. One of many to dog academic philosophy.
He and other parties settled the lawsuit. He probably figured, What’s the use?
To dismiss the above view as the product of a bitter man would be fallacious. Do I need to point this out?
Academic philosophy has been disintegrating for a long time. Arguably it never really recovered from the attempted intellectual suicide logical positivism represented.
The past 50 years have presented a whole host of new problems.
As I’ve often observed, most of the “distinguished people” that made the subject worth studying in the past are long gone.
There are no Wittgensteins, Quines, Kuhns, Feyerabends, or Rortys active in professional philosophy today. No one “professing” philosophy on the inside rises to greatness. A few rise to the level of goodness, with works that are worth reading. Harry Frankfurt comes to mind. As does Thomas Nagel. Or John Searle. Or John Kekes (if he is still living).
You can count the important and challenging professional philosophers on your fingers.
If anyone wishes to challenge me on this point, he/she is free to do so. Name names. Cite works.
The backdrop of the die-off of the leaders of the past is the open anti-intellectualism of American popular culture that rose during the 1980s and has arguably worsened over time. Not that the U.S. was ever truly a haven for intellectuals.
If by some change you did not like university teaching, you were screwed….
Looking at a roster of the average degree-granting department today, you see names and sometimes lists of publications … all micro-micro-specialized. Almost none of this material deals with issues crying out for philosophical analysis and constructive commentary. (Do I need to list them?)
Now, a few universities have severely curtailed what philosophy programs they had, or even closed down their departments.
A sweeping essay of the sort I posted below will receive no notice or comment (probably not a single professional philosopher read it).
Identity politics has largely destroyed the field, although academic philosophy isn’t in worse shape from this ongoing disaster than other humanities. If one works on a college or university campus, one simply cannot avoid encountering seeing and hearing evidence of preferential treatment of one sort or another for the officially-designated victims of Western civilization.
We’re seeing the retribalizing of the West. Opponents have left (or been driven from) dying intellectual professions. Unless we — some of us! — can find our way to a higher mindset, if not my Fifth Stage renewed spirituality and recognition of limits than something else able to serve that purpose, the future will not be pretty.
Especially when Trump finally falls and is replaced by …
Neither party’s mainstream has a single worthwhile, i.e., workable idea.
One would think someone would have noticed that the collapse of both party mainstreams contributed majorly to getting Trump elected. Not that these are all that different, both serving corporate-plutocrat interests … something about which you’d think more philosophers would have something to say in the context of their professional work (as opposed to blog posts, op-eds, and other asides). You’d be wrong….