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John McCumber
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Many years ago,I developed a little shtick for my intro classes about the usefulness of the humanities for life. I got a lot of feedback on it from students and eventually wrote it down. I haven't seen its ideas stated fully by anyone in this latest round of skirmishes, so... Continue reading
It bears noting that David Hull was not only a great philosopher, but a great human being; we know how rare a combination that is. I am making a trip to Chicago for his memorial service Saturday. He was not only a philosopher of science, but in my view an important Hegelian (human species as evolving individual = Geist; Science as a Process = cunning of reason). Every year when we were colleagues I would put in his mailbox the page where Nietzsche say "ohne Hegel, kein Darwin," and write on it "from a well-meaning friend." And every year, he laughed,
Étienne Balibar has come up with some very serious question for Hegel—questions to which Hegel, however, has some very serious answers. Continue reading
Does America have an official philosophy? How absurd. When the Soviet Union had an official philosophy, Marxism, everybody was required to pretend they believed it. Nobody has to do that here. The Catholic Church has an official theologian, Thomas Aquinas, but Catholics are not required to be Thomists; Aquinas’ position... Continue reading
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Seriously, yes; literally, no. It ought to be a tip-off when someone begins a post by saying he is going to “pilfer the irony” of Jonathan Swift. Do I really want to close down all philosophy departments? Did Swift really want the Irish to eat their children? Philosophy departments teach more students per professor than almost any other department, and that is because the students want and need to learn what the philosophers are teaching: basic critical thinking and writing skills. I could have mentioned that in my post, of course; but who wants nuance in a satire? That said, numerous points in your response deserve further comment. I will limit myself to four. First, you take me to task for using an old (1947-1953) example of how anti-critical-thinking people keep special watch on philosophy departments. You then say that though you know of such cases in recent years in “political science, anthropology, sociology, history, and others … I know of none in philosophy.” And you take this to be a good thing? Those forces are out there, as you imply, and in scary strength; I don’t think it’s exactly a badge of honor that philosophers seem to be passing their tests. Second, you take me to be denigrating philosophers who, and approaches which, are already opening out to other fields. Au contraire: in my view these are people who have seen the problem and are taking steps to solve it. My question is, how far will they have to go? Are those new approaches most appropriately housed in philosophy departments? Or should they, like philosophy of science, increasingly go their own ways? And would those individuals find it easier to do their best work if they were not in a philosophy department? Third: the German railway system is notable for violating very canon of ousia advanced in the central books of Aristotle’s Metaphysics—every aspect of his recipe for what makes a being a being. The French railway system, right next door, exemplifies them. This leads to many thoughts, some of which may be profound, about the relationship of metaphysics to human experience. It seems to be more complicated than the vulgar Kantian “none.” Finally, the Analytic/Continental Split is not, these days, primarily a matter of trash-talking the other side; that phase ended thirty years ago. It is now, most urgently, a matter of ignorance—of philosophers on each side of the split knowing far too little about the other side. Hiring a couple of people in a prestigious department or two is a good start, but students have to be forced to take their courses. It is impressive for Georgetown to have a policy of not hiring anyone who expresses contempt for the other side (though the fact that such a policy is needed is a rather depressing indication of where thing now stand); but a policy of hiring only people who have seriously grappled with figures and ideas on both sides of the Split would be more impressive. Though probably unworkable in today’s climate. Since I am occasionally accused of animus against analytical philosophy (which anyone who knows me personally knows is utterly false), let me close by saying as clearly as I can: I do not see how anyone can hope to have a lasting influence on philosophy without a solid acquaintance with the methods and insights of Hegel; and I do not see how you can get the right bearings on Hegel without Quine. If that’s the kind of view that makes people happy in German departments, then philosophy is in trouble indeed.
When Jonathan Swift had a rather outrageous proposal to make about the Irish and their children, he entitled his essay “A Modest Proposal.” I, too, have a proposal. Being not as swift as Jonathan, I am going to pilfer from his irony and call my rather modest proposal “outrageous.” Just... Continue reading