Six Studies in The Decline and Fall of Professional Academic Philosophy, And A Real and Relevant Alternative, #1–Introduction.

By Robert Hanna

“The Death of Socrates By Means of The American Philosophical Association,” by Q (2013), after “The Death of Socrates,” by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

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There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates…. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. (Thoreau, 1957: p. 9)

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ABSTRACT

Contemporary professional academic philosophy is careerist, conformist, coercive-&-authoritarian within its own social-institutional sphere, dogmatic, esoteric, hyper-specialized, and above all, irrelevant to the true needs of the rest of humanity outside the professional academy, even to the point of being fundamentally at odds with those needs. Although, as Kant, Schopenhauer, Thoreau, and Dewey all pointed out, these problems have been perennial since the emergence of professional academic philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries–“there are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers” (Thoreau)–they have currently reached their final crisis stage. To demonstrate this, I present six short studies in the decline and fall of 20th and 21st century professional academic philosophy, describing the going-down of post-classical Analytic philosophy–together with its social-institutional Other, so-called “Continental philosophy”–into the ash-heap of history, with social justice theorists and identitarian multiculturalists coercively-&-moralistically presiding over its cognitive collapse and suicide. But all is not lost. I also present an alternative model of philosophy–which I call “life-shaping philosophy”–that’s (i) real, i.e., authentic and serious, pursuing and practicing philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling, as sharply opposed to its being job-oriented, half-hearted, and Scholastically superficial, (ii) fully relevant-to-humanity by virtue of its being intellectually, morally, and politically autonomous, critical, collaborative, and creative, and that (iii) not only can but should be pursued and practiced outside the professional academy.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. Introduction

II. On the Meaning and Use of the Terms “Analytic Philosophy” and “Continental Philosophy”

III. The Question That Quine Refused To Answer

IV. Analytic Metaphysics as a Copernican Devolution in Philosophy

V. Conceptual Engineering Debunked and Replaced

VI. Social Justice Theory and The Paradox of Distributive Social Justice

VII. Eminent Identitarians: Social Justice Theory, Identitarian Multiculturalism, and Moral Fanaticism

VIII. A Real and Relevant Alternative: Life-Shaping Philosophy

IX. Conclusion

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You can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text of this essay HERE.

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I. Introduction

Being a professional and being an academic are different and logically independent things. Someone’s being a professional means that they belong to a social institution (aka “a profession”) which is composed of people (i) who are paid for doing a specific kind of work, and are also public practitioners of that kind of work, (ii) who must be accredited or certified by the governing body of that particular profession in order to be officially licensed, or otherwise explicitly permitted, to do and publicly practice that kind of work, (iii) who are further constrained by a set of special and highly restrictive normative rules for the doing and public practicing of that kind of work, and (iv) who are even further constrained by a special and highly restrictive code of conduct that goes beyond the work itself into their social-institutional lives more generally, such that, (v) if someone refuses to comply with either the highly restrictive normative rules for the doing and public practicing of the specific kind of work or the highly restrictive code of conduct, then they are publicly reprimanded, sanctioned, or expelled from the profession. By contrast, someone’s being an academic means that they belong to a scholarly or scientific (in the broad sense of “science” captured by the German term Wissenschaft) social institution devoted either to research alone or to research-&-teaching, originally Plato’s Academy, but since the medieval or Scholastic period, and especially since the 18th century, to a university, college, or other social institution of higher education, not only including social institutions that are mainly or specifically devoted to teaching, but also including more-or-less loosely organized circles, teams, or other organizations dedicated solely to scholarly or scientific research without teaching. Academies can operate without either payment (after all, that was one of Plato’s prime objections to the Sophists), normative rules for doing scholarly or scientific work, or codes of conduct. Therefore, it’s really possible to be a professional (say, a doctor or a lawyer) without also being an academic, and it’s also really possible to be an academic (say, a member of Plato’s Academy, The Vienna Circle, or any of various contemporary scholarly or scientific research groups or institutes not affiliated with or governed by the professional academy), without also being a professional.

Academics in general, and academic philosophers in particular, have often been gently or even sarcastically mocked for “living in an ivory tower.” But it’s simply a brute social fact that massively most contemporary philosophers are both academics and also professionals, which, in turn, leads to a serious metaphilosophical problem. For the vocational vices of professionalism are (i) careerism, (ii) conformism, and (iii) coercive authoritarianism as specifically applied to the members of the profession working under its highly restrictive normative rules of work and code of conduct; the vocational vices of academicism are (i) dogmatism, (ii) esotericism, and (iii) hyper-specialization; and contemporary professional academic philosophy not only has all six of these vocational vices, but also has them in superabundance. This naturally yields the alienation and insulation of professional academic philosophers from the basic beliefs, concerns, needs, and activities of the rest of humanity outside the professional academy, even to the point of being fundamentally theoretically, emotionally, morally, and/or sociopolitically at odds with the rest of humanity, thereby entrenching them in an ivory bunker, a dire philosophical, moral, and sociopolitical situation which can be capsulized and summed up under the rubric of essential irrelevance to humanity. So it’s an accurate and serious criticism of contemporary professional academic philosophy that it’s essentially irrelevant to humanity; as Carlo Cellucci correctly puts it, although perhaps also understating the problem,

[m]ost of the questions considered by today’s [professional academic] philosophers are of interest only to academics working in a little corner of philosophy, not to those working in other corners of philosophy, let alone to people working in other subjects or to cultured people at large. (Cellucci, 2018: p. 14)

Now, the metaphilosophical problem of essential-irrelevance-to-humanity is also a perennial problem for professional academic philosophy, as John Dewey pointed out at length a year before the end of World War I (Dewey, 1917), as Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out at similar length sixty-six years earlier, in 1851, (Schopenhauer, 2014), and as Henry David Thoreau formulated it very crisply and indeed epigramatically — as per the epigraph at the top of this essay — in 1854:

There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates…. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. (Thoreau, 1957: p. 9)

Indeed, if I’m right, then the problem of the essential-irrelevance-to-humanity of professional academic philosophy goes all the way back to 18th century philosophy, and more specifically to Leibnizian-Wolffian Rationalist philosophy, to Kant’s critical (and indeed Critical, and philosophically revolutionary) response to it in the Critique of Pure Reason, and also to Kant’s little-studied long essay or short book in metaphilosophy about philosophy’s relation to the professional academy, The Conflict of the Faculties (Kant, 1979; Hanna, 2021a: ch. XVIII).

Unfortunately — or perhaps, thinking presciently about the philosophy of the future, fortunately (Hanna, 2022a) — however, the 270 year-old metaphilosophical problem of essential-irrelevance-to-humanity has reached its final crisis stage in contemporary professional academic philosophy. Correspondingly, in what follows, I’ll present six short critical studies in the decline and fall of 20th and 21st century professional academic philosophy into its final crisis stage condition of essential-irrelevance-to-humanity, which is the bad news, and then I’ll offer a real and relevant alternative to it, which is the good news.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 637

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 21 February 2022

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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