So the official voice of godless materialism published a piece by Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle (who are plugging a new book, see below), “When Philosophy Lost Its Way” which is worth discussing.
Gist: philosophy tanked when it became an academic subject. Short response: that’s about right.
This institutionalization of philosophy made it into a discipline that could be seriously pursued only in an academic setting. This fact represents one of the enduring failures of contemporary philosophy…
The second event was the placing of philosophy as one more discipline alongside these sciences within the modern research university. A result was that philosophy, previously the queen of the disciplines, was displaced, as the natural and social sciences divided the world between them.
Theology was the true Queen of Sciences, as Newman told us, a position argued for in his (now) neglected Idea of a University. If you don’t know why you are here, let alone why you are at a university, there is no reason to be at university. Theology was first supplanted by philosophy because Western theologians didn’t take their object of study seriously. Philosophy enjoyed a brief triumph over theology before being knocked on the head by science. Funny thing: philosophers thought the blow was fatal.
But they never checked the wound. Instead, they thought they’d been killed, which is why they “resurrected” their still live selves, turning themselves into something resembling scientists, even to the extent of becoming a branch of science.
Philosophers needed to embrace the structure of the modern research university, which consists of various specialties demarcated from one another. That was the only way to secure the survival of their newly demarcated, newly purified discipline. “Real” or “serious” philosophers had to be identified, trained and credentialed. Disciplinary philosophy became the reigning standard for what would count as proper philosophy.
Science envy, or emulation, became so keen there even arose a field called “experimental philosophy”, which is an oxymoron.
Having adopted the same structural form as the sciences, it’s no wonder philosophy fell prey to physics envy and feelings of inadequacy. Philosophy adopted the scientific modus operandi of knowledge production, but failed to match the sciences in terms of making progress in describing the world. Much has been made of this inability of philosophy to match the cognitive success of the sciences. But what has passed unnoticed is philosophy’s all-too-successful aping of the institutional form of the sciences. We, too, produce research articles. We, too, are judged by the same coin of the realm: peer-reviewed products. We, too, develop sub-specializations far from the comprehension of the person on the street. In all of these ways we are so very “scientific.”
Philosophy failed in describing the world because philosophy’s job is not to describe how the world works, but rather to explain the world and our part it in. Which is why philosophy that neglects theology is always disadvantaged.
Scientism, the philosophy which dares not call itself a philosophy, is now King of the Sciences. Scientism is responsible for the embarrassing, cringe-worthy statements of physicists like Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking who say, in effect, “Science doesn’t need philosophy”, which is itself a philosophical statement and therefore self-negating. Scidolators also say “Science provides the answers to all questions”, which isn’t a scientific statement, a fact which they never seem to notice, even after it is pointed out.
The effect of the retreat of philosophers into incomprehensible and practically useless sub-sub-specialties is to elevate science to the place theology once stood, where it doesn’t belong. It is to let scientists adapt faddish philosophies, since they never are forced to confront their philosophical views and prejudices. Introspection isn’t necessary by definition if philosophy is of no use. About all scientists can recall is some vague ideas of falsifiability, which are of little practice value.
Scientists strut about like they have all the answers, and philosophers who haven’t sold their souls to this idea still have little stomach for a fight. They’re too busy turning themselves into academics and to fighting internecine battles:
Philosophic activity devolved into a contest to prove just how clever one can be in creating or destroying arguments. Today, a hyperactive productivist churn of scholarship keeps philosophers chained to their computers. Like the sciences, philosophy has largely become a technical enterprise, the only difference being that we manipulate words rather than genes or chemicals.
This accounts for why that which shocks or is evil or that which can package stupidity cleverly is rewarded, and which is why scientists, for the most part, are right to ignore academic philosophers.
David Stove, one of our favorites, has said what is needed to do good philosophy is a library, leisure, and quiet. The libraries universities provide, but they’re not too generous with leisure, and the sounds of silence are long past, even in libraries. As the authors of the article say in their summary to their new book:
Professional philosophy has strayed so far from its roots that Socrates wouldn’t stand a chance of landing tenure in most departments today. After all, he spent his time talking with people from all walks of life rather than being buried in the secondary literature and polishing arguments for peer-reviewed journals.
Socrates was also vividly politically incorrect and a Realist, both disqualifications for university appointments. But what would really have killed the old man (besides the hemlock) was his lack of publications and grants. Can you imagine his teaching evaluations! Socrates wrote nothing and provided zero overhead which the Deans, Associate Deans, and Assistant Deans above him could have used. His only interest was in teaching students and thinking, activities becoming further and further removed from daily academic life.