Hello Fellow Student Philosophers!
Here’s another seemingly non-philosophical topic worthy of some consideration. One of the “tools of the trade” for any philosopher is the written word. Essays, books, and other publications are part of the territory that comes with the profession (as I’ve heard, at least).
However, I find this landscape to be a bit troubling, especially when one considers its relationship to academia. This post, thus, is the first of hopefully many to cover what I call “Meta-Philosophy.” I hope that we, as philosophers, can sometimes take a step back and look, from a third-person (disengaged) view, at the enterprise that we (as contributors) and others (as philosophers) are engaged in.
Firstly, I want to tackle the title’s namesake, what I call the “Questionable Trinity.” This stems from my concern about the relationship between writing, philosophy, and academia.
It especially comes to light when you think about this one simple fact: back when the “profession” was first starting, and during its first few centuries of existence, a lot of the philosophy (that would be later written down for others) came from small-group discussions between those interested in talking about some topic relating to reality, knowledge, religion, and so forth. Even in Plato’s academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum, and many others like them, arguing with the teacher was sometimes seen as a good thing, and the interaction between the student and teacher appeared (from my understanding) to be more of equals.
Yet, today, most of that seems to be gone. Philosophers in academia are expected to be more like printing presses rather than intellectual stimulators, with more concern attributed to what you publish rather than if and how you teach (or are able to get students to be interested in the topic and to discuss it amongst them). One’s “research” interests are more of a question-starter than what one thinks about this-and-that subject or such-and-such philosopher. And most classrooms are like mini-conferences (with lecture) than a combination of lecture and discussion, and have more emphasis on written work rather than reflection, thought, and presentations. The professor is given a higher status than the students themselves, as if there is no “two-way” relationship between student and teacher.
My impression — and correct me if I’m wrong — is that the discipline is first and foremost concerned with being able to critically think, and discuss with others, about views concerning Metaphysics, Epistemology, Morality, and so on and so forth. If I can write super well, yet my presentation skills are horrible, then I might as well be thought of as a mute. Granted, the opposite can also hold, and I certainly don’t want to entirely bash the importance of writing skills. But academia places way to much emphasis, from my experience as a T.A. and my conversations with professors and friends, on writing.
Don’t you think that whether a philosophy professor has published one journal article or 50 billion books has a far less impact on him/her as a teacher and a person than what academic institutions currently uphold?
What about that has anything to do with whether a candidate can teach (which, by the way, is what professor is technically supposed to be doing as a teacher at a university), or whether he or she can communicate, in words, about the subject-matter in question or his/her views?
And wouldn’t it be better if we went back to the more “ancient-period” style of learning about philosophy as opposed to the highly structured and apparently arbitrary system of honors, distinctions, and titles that comes with the writing that one does than the oral communication of one’s views?
Maybe I’m just crazy, but looking at the way the discipline is structured in academia at this point leaves with a bit of an uneasy feeling. And a concern for the future of the discipline itself as being a shell of its former self.
I’d be very interested in hearing what any of you guys have to say about this subject, and the idea of a “Meta-Philosophy” itself as being a worthy sub-field to consider and engage in from time to time.
As Philosophers, we might just learn a little bit about how we’ve deviated from what the enterprise once was, and whether we need to get back on track.
George (“The Meager Weakling”)
P.S. — With this post, I do not wish to offend any philosophy professor or faculty member. Please forgive me for any slight or offence you might take to this post.
P.P.S. — To whoever is the main administrator of the blog, you might want to add a “Meta-Philosophy” category to the list of those we can currently choose from, as I have the feeling I’ll be making more posts like this one in the future.