• snowleopard
    128
    Not sure this is the right subforum for this topic, or if it meets the criteria of being worthy of discussion, however not having been immersed in academic philosophy, being more eclectically informed mystic than strictly trained philosopher, I'm curious as to what the feedback may be on this article, given that presumably quite a few in this forum have come through the academic system ... Why I Left Academic Philosophy

    Attn mods: if for whatever reason this topic starter is not deemed appropriate here, please advise.
  • T Clark
    3k


    I'm not from academic anything. I took two philosophy courses in college 45 years ago and swore I'd never touch the stuff again. Over the years, I've come back from time to time to try again. After all, ideas are the most wonderful things in the world and ideas about the nature of reality are the best of those. Where else can you discuss them. The forum is the first place I've been where I've found intellectual satisfaction talking about ideas other than technical issues at work.

    Two things I agree with strongly in the article 1) Much philosophy talks about goofy, unrealistic, pointless subjects that have nothing to do with anything any real person needs guidance with and 2) Much of it is horribly written.

    I remember the first time I came across an article on Justified True Belief (JTB). I couldn't believe anyone would spend their time on something so pointless. Then I read about the Gettier Problem and I was even more amazed. And everything was so hard to understand. The world is just the world. You don't normally need fancy shmancy words to describe it.

    On the other hand, I've found many of the articles recommended by others on the forum are wonderfully written. Difficult when they're writing about a difficult technical subject, but not unnecessarily so. Technical language when it's needed, but clear and conversational when it's not. Also, many of the people on this forum are good writers. I know that my writing has improved during the year I've been here.
  • JupiterJess
    90
    Technical language when it's needed, but clear and conversational when it's not. Also, many of the people on this forum are good writers. I know that my writing has improved during the year I've been hereT Clark

    I agree. I've learned a lot reading Apokrisis' posts and he's one of the more philosophically technical writers here. I really only use technical jargon to try to be specific with what I am talking about since I see philosophy as being about refining mind and clarifying concepts.
    I notice she said she did her master's on Heidegger who deliberately made his work impenetrable. On the whole, when I read something from a modern philosopher I can usually understand what they are getting at. One popular philosopher I did struggle with though was Dennett who has gone out of his way to call philosophy self-indulgent.
  • T Clark
    3k
    On the whole, when I read something from a modern philosopher I can usually understand what they are getting at. One popular philosopher I did struggle with though was Dennett who has gone out of his way to call philosophy self-indulgent.JupiterJess

    I'm sure it reflects a character weakness on my part, but if I come across philosophical writing that's poorly expressed and confusing, I just stop reading. On the other hand, if it's clear the difficulty is with the subject and not the writer, I'm willing to struggle through.
  • unenlightened
    2.4k
    Hmm. It seems factually largely correct, but if anyone is studying at this level to advance their career, to become rich or famous, to influence the world, then they have made a serious miscalculation. But here is a counter- argument in favour of obscure, pedantic overspecialisation 'for its own sake'.
  • snowleopard
    128
    I concur ... What I enjoy and appreciate about this forum is that it compels and demands that one be exacting and eloquent in the expression of very nuanced ideas and speculations. Indeed, there are many excellent writers here to learn from in that regard, without having to slog through all that twitter speak that now often pervades such forums, social media, and the internet in general -- even sorry to say from some graduates of academia.
  • Kym
    86
    I seriously toyed with the notion of working in this field. So I did my Philo degree back in the early 90's (in a second-tier, formerly leftish Australian university). Did ok.

    Most of the faculty were blessed with exceedingly competitive instincts. Something they delighted in exercising, not only upon on each other, but also upon their undergrad students.

    I went on the do other kinds of teaching. Until a couple of days ago I hadn't written a single word on a philosophical topic.

    So it is with confidence I can say that university has made a lasting impact upon its students.
  • Larynx
    17
    Parts of this article are interesting - as a currently practicing academic I am sympathetic to aspects of this but hesitant on others. To be sure: the publishing game is nonsense - we spend a tremendous amount of time working on papers just to have option to either submit them to a reputable journal and have them published behind the pay wall at no cost to us (where they will be read by maybe a total of two people ever) or shell out ridiculous amounts of money to make those articles free and accessible to everyone. Granted, publishing problems are not merely indexed to philosophy or the humanities more generally. I just read a paper yesterday entitled "Electric-Magneto-Optical Kerr Effect in a Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Perovskite" - it was published last year in a high impact factor chemistry journal, but - if I were to guess - probably only 20-30 people in the world will skim the paper, 10-15 will read it earnest, 7-10 will understand it completely (myself not included), and 3-5 will use it as a published citation.
    Now the reason that matters to academics is two-fold, only one of which is identified in the linked article: first off, yes, academics do need those little CV notations so they can get a job and it behooves them to publish so they can have an increased chance of being able to afford groceries and pay their mortgage. The second component is ego, which was comically avoided in this article. I’ve spent a long term around other academics and many of them are ego-driven jerks – certainly not all of them, but many are. Interestingly enough a disproportionate amount of them do seem to come from philosophy departments. Part of it is the field itself: philosophy as an academic field is all about feeling intellectually superior to your peers; it’s about criticizing other’s work so your looks betters; it’s about trying to argue how correct you in opposition to other academics criticizing you; and frequently it is about the subtle sense of power you feel when you say you’re an “expert” and get to stand in front of a class and tell them how much you know.
    The real joke to me has always been that if you say you’re doing academic work (specifically philosophy, but other fields in the humanities are similar) because you love it, you are immediately looked at as a liar, a buffoon, or as if your peddling the line you tell all your students for political purposes. If you commit to the “because I love it” approach in academia you likely will be very lonely because many academics do not love their field or the content which they study – they like having a job and, again, that feeling that comes from saying they are an expert in something.
    On separate note: I do get a little irritated with the whole argument that philosophy writing is too complex and inaccessible. Sure, there is no doubt in my mind that a lot of writing done in academia is garbage – it’s often unnecessarily complex and many writers (old and new) often assume that by making a paper more complex in terms of readability it means they are necessarily smarter (and often times, making something incomprehensible does – in fact – lead to published papers). That’s absolutely an issue, and that mentally begins to form during your undergraduate career and is rarely stifled by professors and even encouraged during your tenor as a graduate student. Does that mean that all complex ideas can/should be reduced down to into completely accessible and simple terms? Of course not. What the author of this article is likely frustrated with is that there isn’t any balance to that type of writing academics are doing. Most academic philosophers simply run headlong into the realm of complexity without any care in the world that their writing is so opaque that it has no chance of making a greater philosophical impact on society. There are times when complexity is needed, and there are also probably more instances where simplicity is needed. Striking that balance is the issue.
  • jm0
    12
    I can just imagine the part where she talks about being in a room filled with people that disagrees with everything you say. Must be difficult. Nevertheless. The exchange of opinions between humans, might be the phenomenon she was witnessing, and that can become quite brutal very quickly if you run into the wrong people.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    626
    I'm not an academic, but wonder if the complaints made regarding academic philosophy would also apply to other academic disciplines/studies. I suspect they would. I also wonder whether some of the problems complained of should have been expected by a person getting into graduate studies in philosophy (e.g., low pay, publish or perish, abstract issues of little practical significance).

    I've found the ignorance of academic philosophers regarding sexual harassment and its legal consequences, in the instances I've read of, pretty remarkable, however. So I can understand if someone in the system found that shocking and disturbing.
  • Hanover
    3.7k
    I found the article unpersuasive for reasons not to seek work in academia as a philosopher. Limited pay, limited mobility in terms of meaningful promotion and job variety, limited job opportunities, and that the skills you will possess could be used better somewhere else are good reasons. A mediocre lawyer mid-career makes more than a tenured full professor, despite the professor likely having the skill set of a superior, established lawyer.

    I've always viewed philosophy as a calling of sorts. If it's in you, it's in you.
  • Wayfarer
    6.2k
    I did two years of undergraduate philosophy including units on early modern philosophy, David Hume, logical positivism, and philosophy of science. At the time, I was [and still am] interested in the various traditions concerned with spiritual enlightenment.

    Of course, I didn’t find much about this subject in academic philosophy - there was much more relevant material in anthropology and comparative religion, which I ended up majoring in. But my observation about academic philosophy was that it overall assumed a materialist philosophy - at the time, the head of department was a professor whose most famous book was Materialist Theory of Mind. On the other hand, there were also plenty of academic leftists who were versed in social theory and the like. Nobody had the vaguest clue of what I was interested in, although I have to say they were generally extremely courteous and very open-minded, which I don’t think I properly appreciated at the time.

    [The philosophy of science courses were especially interesting. My very first ever lecture was from Alan Chalmers, whose book What is this Thing called Science, has become a standard text all over the world. There was something almost monastic about Chalmers - he would eat lunch by himself in the student cafeteria and seemed a rather solitary and completely dedicated bachelor, from what I could discern. I did later units on the same subject and would recommend it.]

    I didn’t much care for the tone of that article, even though I think she makes a good case. But it’s obviously written to get page-views, or seems so to me. I still say what’s wrong with current academic philosophy is that it has no conception of higher truth or the sapiential tradition which is at the basis of Western philosophy [for which see Pierre Hadot]. Western philosophy has been taken over from within by a parasitic intelligence in the form of scientific materialism, grounded in the fatal delusion that Darwinism is a school of philosophy.
  • andrewk
    1.4k
    I'm not an academic, but wonder if the complaints made regarding academic philosophy would also apply to other academic disciplines/studies.Ciceronianus the White
    I think they do. In particular, the observation:
    Although there is already a growing mountain of philosophical research that’s impossible to keep up with, it’s common for journal referees to reject your paper because you didn’t engage with [X] paper/book, where often [X] is either written by the referee themselves or someone they’re chummy with. — Rachel Williams
    seems to apply equally to any other discipline that has mountains of research, including natural and social sciences.

    As regards that problem at least, and more generally the unhealthy culture of KPIs based on publications and citations rather than meaningful innovation, the illness pervades all of academia, not just philosophy. Those people that have a strong enough vocation to persist in academia despite this repellant feature, and the many other drawbacks listed by @Hanover, have my admiration. But I can't help hoping none of my children take such a path.
  • Janus
    5.4k
    I spent eight years as a part time undergraduate while working as a landscape designer/ builder. I did well, even won a couple of academic prizes, but academia was never going to be for me. I have been reading philosophy, Eastern and Western, more or less intensively for more than twenty years, and sporadically for more than forty years.

    As my areas of interest became more focussed I found, paradoxically, that my 'to-read' list grew and grew, but that I had not enough time due to work and academic study to read enough of what I wanted to read. I obviously had to read the texts for the courses which mostly came to bore me and cause frustration by taking up precious reading time.

    I was never at University for a career, so it wasn't too hard to make the decision to put those studies on hold for the foreseeable future.
  • T Clark
    3k
    I've always viewed philosophy as a calling of sorts. If it's in you, it's in you.Hanover

    Well, it's in me, but how could I ever have made a living at it? My time here on the forum has made me a better writer and thinker but I have the luxury of being on the brink of retirement with free time to spare. I know a man who majored in philosophy and went on to manage construction projects. He swears that he uses the skills he used in philosophy every day and I believe him.

    But, generally speaking, there is no career path for philosophers other than teaching. I got an engineering degree and my path going forward was clear. I've had a good career making decent money doing something I like and am good at. I never had to think twice about it.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.1k
    But here is a counter- argument in favour of obscure, pedantic overspecialisation 'for its own sake'.unenlightened

    Thanks for uncovering that. It's a real gem. I read the piece mentioned in the OP a couple days ago when it was suggested in my Google feed. This other piece by Justin Stover constitutes the best possible counterpoint to Rachel William's own, and locates the source of the alleged problem within the much larger debate regarding the continued relevance (or alleged irrelevance) of the traditional fields of the humanities. I nevertheless concur, with many reservations, with some of William's complaints directed specifically at academic philosophy, or some tendencies within it.
  • Akanthinos
    818
    Thanks for uncovering that. It's a real gemPierre-Normand

    I don't know how I feel about the idea that Humanities purpose was always to create a courtoisie class, or even that Humanities value cannot be expressed outside of an adherence to the curriculum of said Humanities. Not even that Humanities are the core of the University. The core of the University was, historically, always Law and Philosophy, with Law being given priority.

    It also seems to me that, if the Academy truly wanted to create a courtoisie through the Humanities, it has failed fairly hard. There is little to no class envy toward humanities academics, after all. Even my friends will not even hesitate or feel bad about questioning the value of my work or my career. There is practically no overlap between Academic Humanities and politics, which could be expected to rise with the demarcation of a new social class, especially one so close to it.

    William's piece just... ugh. :vomit:
    "Why I left Academic Philosophy". "Because Men. Because the way Men Write (badly). Because I felt insignificant in comparison to BLM. Because philosophy student are arrogant hairy (Men) hipsters that nobody in their right mind would want to associate with. Because I felt shame when I told people I was studying Philosophy."
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.1k
    I don't know how I feel about the idea that Humanities purpose was always to create a courtoisie class, or even that Humanities value cannot be expressed outside of an adherence to the curriculum of said Humanities.Akanthinos

    Maybe Stover meant to put it in a rather provocative way. But if we bracket out the rather modern Marxist connotation of a class and rather hold on to the more 'conservative' idea of a guild, tradition, art, craft, tradition of excellence, etc., then maybe we can get at the idea that what is valuable in the humanities is nothing else than the historically situated social practices in which they are embodied rather then their instrumental values for individual or societal needs that are external to those practices.

    Sometimes when I am being asked about the value that I find in philosophy, the question takes the form 'A quoi ça sert?' (what is it useful for) and my provocative reply is that philosophy is utterly useless, which is why it's so valuable. But what is valuable isn't so much the activity (though it is) as the fact that engagement in this activity maintain alive the intrinsically valuable tradition in which it is embodied. And this, I think, Stover's piece conveys well, although, as he acknowledges, it may not make for a convincing argument in the current cultural context. But he also is cautiously optimistic that the humanities will withstand the attacks that they are being subjected to from left and right not because they are 'defensible' but precisely because people are drawn to them in spite of them being indefensible from the outside (and maybe because of it).
  • Akanthinos
    818
    Maybe Stover meant to put it in a rather provocative way. But if we bracket out the rather modern Marxist connotation of a class and rather hold to the more 'conservative' idea of a guild, tradition, art, craft, tradition of excellence, etc.,Pierre-Normand

    You may be unto something. "Courtoisie" in the context given, evoke to me "bourgeoisie" and it's connotation, which may have led me too far down a certain interpretation. What Stover got 100% right, in my opinion, is how trite the general defenses of Humanities are. I do not do what I do in Philosophy to become a better person, and I would find insulting anyone who would suggest that I'm bad at Philosophy because I do not seek betterment through it.

    Humanities could simply be a practice articulated around a community of individuals with common interest. I also have to say... As a philosophy student, I do not really feel that much of an attachment to the concept or tradition of Humanities. To me, the operating concept was always more "foundamental research & studies", which already dissociated itself from a baggage of Humanities courses.

    Sometimes when I am asked about the value that I find in philosophy, the question takes the form 'A quoi ça sert?' (what is it useful for) and my provocative reply is that philosophy is utterly useless, which is why it's so valuable.Pierre-Normand

    That's a philosopher's answer. :razz: Not that it's a bad one. It's just the kind of answer I would try to avoid giving to someone who is already negative toward Philosophy. Rather, when asked, I simply tell people that, in a very real and very pragmatic way, without the intellectual steps taken by Aristotle back then, you wouldn't have a single piece of electronic possible today. Discoveries don't care where they come from, and don't contain themselves only to the domain that their author researched. Philosophy is indeed a sort of "creativity", like those teachers Stovers refered to said, although not to their specific meaning, because it's by far the most dry and dusty and boring form of creativity, and I like it just like that.
  • Bitter Crank
    5.9k
    The author of the article demonstrated two things to me: First, there is nothing at stake in much of the graduate work being done in the Humanities. "The System" has narrowed and abstracted the possible topics of research to such an extreme that they are now of no consequence to anyone.

    The second thing is that there is obviously an oversupply of advanced degreed graduates and and a severe shortage of jobs to place them in.

    Academic humanities didn't get to this sad state overnight. English was crowded 40 years ago, as were other fields in the humanities. PhD dissertations have been narrow and obscure, but perhaps not absurd, for many decades as well.

    Study literature, classics, or philosophy if it pleases you, if you can afford the pleasure, and if you do not need to find a job in it. If you can't afford it, then just read and enjoy it on your own.
  • Kym
    86
    Yeah. Here at the end of history it's not like the world really needs the luxury of widespread critical thinking skills. (wink)
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