Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Philosophy: Harrowing Tales from "the Discipline"

Lou Marinoff provides a compelling peek inside the process a philosophy department goes through when doing a hire. (For example, while a position at City College CUNY might be a particularly coveted position, it's still jarring to read that they received 637 applications for 1 job.) This should be sobering reading for any young scholar contemplating graduate study in philosophy. It's also quite "convicting" reading for current philosophy professors since it seems that the search committee (and the institution) worked with exemplary virtue. But despite this, Marinoff laments that "[a]lthough we were privileged to obtain two hires, I feel a deep and abiding sorrow that so many dozens – indeed, hundreds – of talented and promising young philosophers will not be hired by anyone."

But I especially appreciated some of his reflections in the conclusion of the article. There he writes:

While philosophy is an excellent component of preparation for a variety of non-philosophical careers – from law to medicine, from journalism to international affairs – philosophy also has intrinsic as well as instrumental values that are, at present, grossly underutilized by our society and unrecognized by far too many philosophy departments themselves.

Many of our finest young minds are being educated by departments and institutions whose myopic “vision” of philosophy limits young philosophers to becoming permanently institutionalized in the academy . They are insufficiently versed in the myriad ways in which philosophy can be usefully applied outside the groves of academe.
I can only add my "Amen!" What is a particular travesty, I think, is when undergraduate philosophy programs get sucked into the same narrow professionalization of philosophy and fail to help students imagine a way of life other than that as a tenured professor. We do so not only in our professional advising but also when we teach undergraduate philosophy as prepatory seminars for studying epistemology and metaphysics at Rutgers. Such a limited imagination is nothing short of unjust given what Marinoff recounts at the beginning of the article--that only the tiniest minority of philosophers will ever land that sort of gig. But on top of that, we are neglecting the revolutionary potential of philosophy to equip a generation of activists who are not just sitting around interpreting the world but trying to change it.

For quite a different vision of philosophy as activist engagement rather than cerebral speculation and puzzle-solving, listen to Eugene Rivers' lecture presented to the January Series in 2004: "On Christian Philosophy and Politics in an Age of Terror."