Thursday, February 7, 2008

I Don't Like the Odds You're Giving

I'm trying to get my head around the idea that in all likelihood I'll be on a one-year next year. For various reasons, it's not an easy thing to reconcile myself to. But one of the reasons is, I know the more my paycheck depends on my teaching--the more time I spend teaching--the harder it's going to be to do research. But research is what's going to get me the job I want.

So when I read this, from a someone on an English department search committee, it hurt:
Of the 30 candidates who made our initial cut, almost all were in the final year of their Ph.D. programs. Four were in their first or second year as postdoctoral fellows, two were in their first year as visiting assistant professors, and one was in her first year as a full-time lecturer. In other words, the odds were against you if you were applying for our position as an adjunct or a lecturer -- not because we wanted a fresh Ph.D., but because we wanted promising research. And those who don't have the luxury of a graduate stipend or a light teaching load have a hard time producing scholarship on par with those who do.
I know it's possible to publish your way off the teaching treadmill, but I also know teaching more is only going to make it harder, not easier, to publish. Looking ahead to next year, I can see my odds getting longer.

77 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once I found this blog by turns amusing, helpful, sympathetic, bathetic, and worth the time. The exponential increase in political fervour, ill-mannerd rancour, and classness name-calling now dissuades me of that. It wasn't a bad run. Cheers guys - best of luck.

m.a. program faculty member said...

Eh, I would try not to read too much into one anonymous contribution from an assistant English prof. in the Chronicle.

Look, if you're from a tippy-top program, with letters from the best people, and you're applying to excellent research Universities, then being ABD may not be a big handicap. Some people at such places may be incredibly impressed--in my opinion, overimpressed--by pedigree and letters, and have visions of catching the next philosophical supernova while he's still available and before he explodes.

But for the rest of us, we're probably better off a year or two out. A lot of places don't want to screw around with interviewing ABDs they're not confident will be done.

And do *not* discount teaching experience. Many schools really do care about hiring good teachers, and if you have a teaching portfolio of having really taught a wide variety of classes at non-elite places--as opposed to dummy syllabi and TA experience--many SC members will give you a significant leg up.

And yes, it's tough to do a lot of research while prepping a bunch of new classes as a VAP. But you were probably busy finishing up the diss. before. So now, if you haven't already done so, you can start putting your nose to the grindstone and get to carving up the diss. into journal articles.

(Actually--I'm sorry to say--you should do so right *now*, in Feb., if you want a realistic shot of (i) sending off a paper, (ii) getting back reviewer reports and a decision, probably 'Revise and Resubmit' at best if you're lucky, and (iii) having time to revise and get an acceptance prior to job deadlines for the next Eastern APA. But still, even if you can't put in the *time* as a VAP you did as a grad student writing, you'll be able to use your time focusing on getting publications.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't think the quote you report is very telling, since we don't know how many first/second year postdoc or first year lecturers applied for the job in the first place. If the lecturer who made the first cut was the only lecturer applying, that should actually sound like good news to you!

Anonymous said...

Different schools have wildly different hiring practices from year to year, PGS; you should know that by now.

Have you been offered a VAP position? If not, I don't know how how you can be so confident ('reconciled'?) about even getting that.

I just finished my first year post-PhD. I got adjuncting for one semester, and zilch the next. Next semester I have adjuncting again, and I'm really relieved even by that.

Anonymous said...

I think the assumption that being a VAP will slow down your research is questionable.

Obviously it depends on the teaching load. But I find that teaching 3 classes gives my life structure and makes my research time, which is reduced, much more productive. Even though I'm also on the market.

Also, you haven't peaked yet. You get better and better as a researcher - better and better as a thinker - after you've finished the dissertation. So you find you what you do have to say is a hell of a lot more interesting than what you had to say when you were ABD. You've graduated, you know more, you've experienced what it's like to write a major piece of philosophy. If you think you're thinking at your best now then why not just get out of philosophy? It's all downhill from here.

Being a VAP doesn't have to kill your research. You keep growing as a scholar. And I haven't even mentioned how much you actually learn from teaching...

Sisyphus said...

Are you applying out to visiting positions, PGS, or are you sticking around town (or Dr future Mrs PGS's place) picking up little adjunct jobs? I'm still not sure which I'm doing --- I keep getting sick and it's taking up so much of my time just getting well and working on the diss that I'm worried about going on another whole full-bore second round job search.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question. If you're on a search committee, which is more attractive in a candidate who fails to get a tt job after grad school:

(a) Takes a temporary teaching job,
(b) Lives independently (e.g. dependent on family) to beef up cv with some publications (since they're not busy teaching)?

Setting aside the extra teaching experience, would being unemployed be looked down at in spite of the results?

Anonymous said...

Getting a good/decent one-year VAP, or postdoc, gives you pretty good odds down the road. Its true that the very very best jobs usually go to ABDs/recentPhDs. But all the others tend to reward teaching experience and publication experience a bit more--since after the few superstars have been taken, all the other recent PhDs start to look the same.

What's far less promissing is trying to eek out a living adjuncting. Unfortunately, 7:08 is right: a genuine VAP or PD is not something one can take for granted. But those who can string them along usually end up ok in the end. And getting them is often more about networking or being in the right place at the right time than it is about qualifications. Dpts with one year VAPs to offer arent nearly as fussy as when they have permanent positions, for obvious reasons.

Philosophy Prof said...

This is just false about VAP positions and lectureships; there is no other way to spin it. The teaching experience that one gains at these positions is very important to a search committee, and also, as has been pointed out, a lot of people tend to do lots of research when they also have the structure of a position, the legitimacy of a title, etc. If the CHE author is being sincere, I don't understand at all what his department SC is doing, unless it's just an accident and coincidence that the finalists ended up that way. But then the author shouldn't draw the general and sweeping conclusions that he does. If the author is not sincere, or if he is just being careless and not thinking, then that's pretty awful, given the demoralizing force of his message. But it's just not true. Perhaps he is some kind of literature ironist who is saying that SCs are sane and decent but showing that in fact they are not? Who knows.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Sisyphus --

I'm applying for one-years and post-docs, but I can't say for sure what's going to happen, not least of all because I might not get anything, but also because what I do might be affected by what the Future Dr. Mrs. Dr. PGS ends up doing.

I hear you on the sick thing. Something's been going around, and at least in my case, it hit be hard after I crashes with exhaustion after my conference interviews.

Anonymous said...

The statement by the Chronicle author just doesn't make sense to me, so I must be missing some obvious assumption. Certainly all those post-PhD adjuncts and lecturers just recently completed a dissertation in the past 1-4 years. They've been through that and then some. ABDs have nothing over them in that regard. So how is their research less "promising" than ABDs currently in their final year? I don't get it. Is the assumption that those who didn't get an English tenure track position while ABD, and consequently are taking up adjunct and one-year positions, are less promising merely by failing to land a position while ABD? Well, that's stupid because of the obvious oversupply problem that even the author of the article attests to. Or is the assumption that once you're out post-PhD, your research edginess begins to dull and the search committee needs to snap up candidates while they're ABD lest their skills rust while they languish in the adjuncting circuit? Or is the assumption . . . well, someone tell me, because it doesn't make any sense.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sorry to say--you should do so right *now*, in Feb." That's an important point. Even if you write a lot during a VAP year, that might not help you in the job search in year 2, if you have just several "under review" papers on your CV. So it's best to think of it this way: year 0 you finish your diss. Year one you VAP. You CVare about the same as they were last year, except that you've got the degree in hand. At places that can expect that, you've got a leg up, but otherwise you're in the same boat as the year before. Year 2: you need to hunt for work again unless you had a multi-year VAP. Or rather, from work you did in the fall of your VAP or the summer before it. Year 3: you're getting a little long in the tooth, but the work you did during your first 18 months post-PhD should pay off.

The tough thing about writing while VAPing is that the summer before you start you're getting your classes together, and in the fall you're teaching your ass off if (1) you're responsible about that and (2) you plan to apply to schools that care about quality teaching.

There's various ways of spinning this. One is that the one-year VAP is good: it keeps you employed, adds to your teaching CV, and gives you another shot at the same jobs you were competitive for the year before (got an APA but no on-campus, for example). 2-3 years out you're in a different situation, probably. That's when the "keeping VAPing and eventually you'll land a TT" advice comes in handy. But then you're likely competing for very different sorts of jobs. Pitt's ruled you out as not an up-and-comer, but teaching schools might finally be convinced that you're what they want.

I think this should be reassuring to you: it puts less pressure to you to be immediately productive, and it gives you a more human timeline for when you need to get things done. At least that's how I look at it.

Anonymous said...

My goodness. Childish whining is giving way to constructive advice (echoing what I've said all along, of course, but that's a different story). I think my work here is done.

Deepak Chopra said...

At the risk of going all "motivational speaker" on you....

The Nietzschean who posted previously about listening to Wagner and just getting it done had a good point.

No matter where you are or what you are doing, life is challenging.

I thought that when I survived grad school and got a TT job, everything would be easy. But then I found out I worked for the Devil (in the form of my Dean), 2/3 of my Department were religious bigots, my partner got a TT job in a different country... etc.

And similar things could be said for being a lecturer or a VAP rather than being on the TT, being stuck in a small town when you are a big city person, living on a fixed income in California, Going to Beirut, (which is the only offer a friend of mine got one year and he had PhD in hand from Princeton).

So all that having been said, you do have some control over your life. You can control your research productivity no matter where you are by continuing to do research. No one owns you 24-7 and no one controls your ideas.

Send articles to conferences and journals. You can finish your dissertation. You can join sub-associations and groups in your AOS or AOC and hob-nob over cocktails.

But don't despair. Despair is paralyzing. Go Nietzschean and listen to Wagner. Go Camusian and roll the rock up the hill, Sisyphus. Pray, perhaps. Or meditate. But don't give up. You still have control over your research. You still have your ideas. Don't let them get inside your head. And good luck.
(And don't pay attention to what the hacks in the MLA say about their SCs. That organization is more fucked up than the APA. Really)

Anonymous said...

Give us the dirt on the MLA. Please!

Deepak Chopra said...

Well, the Chronicle of Higher Ed and my English Department are the primary sources on the MLA.

The Chronicle's job ads, comment blogs, and first person articles leave one with the impression that there are a lot more PhDs in English every year than there are PhDs in Philosophy, but there are perhaps the same or only slightly more English jobs. So the odds are better for a Philosopher to land a TT.

Many of these jobs just go to new PhDs from the top 10 schools, particularly those schools that traffic in what I would term "trendy cultural studies." And the trendier the better.

When our colleagues in the APA label someone as "hot shit," it is not because they are trendy or freakish. But in the MLA (as I am told) the freakier the better. Really freaky. Intellectually questionable freaky. More freaky than this New Ager can take, for example. That's what I was referring to.

At least in the APA, even an Aristotelian or a Humean has a shot at a TT job. Not so in the MLA, I am told.
(although if you could transgender Shakespeare and prove he slept with his mother, there might be something there)
-DC

Anonymous said...

"The Chronicle's job ads, comment blogs, and first person articles leave one with the impression that there are a lot more PhDs in English every year than there are PhDs in Philosophy, but there are perhaps the same or only slightly more English jobs. So the odds are better for a Philosopher to land a TT."

I'm almost certain that's not true. Every college/university I've been familiar with (5) has far more English faculty than philosophy faculty.

Anonymous said...

Everyone on this blog should watch the doc "2 Days in April" (available on Netflix instant watch). It's about the NFL draft, but there are eerie similarities to the APA. One thing in particular was the interviews that potential draftees had with the coaches and GM's. A GM asks one of the players, "Do you like the kind of coach who pats you on the back or are you looking for someone who yells at you, and gets after you a little bit?" The player give a dipomlatic answer about how he likes both qualities in a coach, and how both are necessary to get players motivated, etc., etc. Then the GM says, "Well you know our coaches are going to yell at you a bit," and basically laughs at the guy. You see the parallel? A basically meaningless question that you take seriously without realizing that it is only meant to trap you! This happen to anyone else at the APA?

pierre hadot said...

Here's a question: why is research (which is better termed scholarship) in philosophy so highly regarded? If you think about it, academic philosophy is little more than a tiny, extremely insular club of self-proclaimed intellectuals who spend most of their time playing what amounts to an ongoing game with other members of the club. "Scholarship," whether in the form of books and articles that are only read by other philosophers (if you're lucky) or papers that are presented to other philosophers at conferences, are like the "moves" in the game. Whether a mood is considered "good" or "bad," however, is largely determined by its popularity within the club. The best players are the ones who get everyone in the club talking about THEIR move(s) instead of making moves of their own. If they're really good, then end up becoming famous or prestigious within the club.

Here's the thing, though: the club is bankrolled by colleges and universities. To be a member of the club and play its game, you have to perform services for the club's benefactors. In many cases, excellence in the performance of such services, such as teaching, counts little towards one's prestige within the club. It seldom, if ever, counts as "move," let alone a "good move," within the dumb little game.

Famous Anglo-American philosophers anymore are like champions in a provincial bowling league. No one outside of the philosophy club knows who they are or gives a fuck what they do. Even those who do give some kind of fuck generally don't understand why these guys are (allegedly) important. And in fairness, given the exclusivity and insularity of the club, which seldom makes any real contributions to the public intellectual life of society, why would anyone outside the club know or care about who is "famous" within it?

John Rawls died when I was in graduate school. My program literally shut down for a few days because so many profs were headed to MA for memorial services. Now, unlike people who work in analyic M&E, say, one could at least argue that Rawls was talking about stuff that mattered, at least potentially, in the public sphere. But was Rawls ever recognized outside of the club? Fuck no. Jacques Derrida received FAR more attention in the American media. Why? Because in France, unlike in America, philosophers are often treated like celebrities. This is because most French philosophers tend to be public intellectuals - so whether their philosophy is good or bad, educated and non-educated people alike know who they are, and their deaths make news at home and abroad.

Now if one thinks about the origins of philosophy, with all its emphasis on the good life and such, one can't help wondering why prestige in the philosophy club would EVER be considered worthwhile. All this prestige means is that other people who pretty much think and do exactly what you think and do regard you as awesome. Analytic douchebags like to throw stones at the Frenchies, but there's probably a REASON so many non-philosophical disciplines (and even political and social movements outside the academy) take their work so seriously and incorporate it into their own research. That reason, I think, is that philosophy is not treated like as much as a gamer club in other parts of the world as it is in the U.S., England, Canada, and Aussie.

The fact that one has to play the game by the rules of the philosophy club (which are in turn completely arbitrary and constantly subject to change) in order to get a decent job TEACHING philosophy is fucking sick. Philosophy shouldn't breed conformism of this kind. And even those who love teaching but also want to do research, it sucks that their work is judged mainly on the basis of "what's hot" in the club rather than on any other sort of criterion. I mean, if you work on "Continental philosophy" in the style of "Continental philosophers," you're basically screwed. There's only a handful of research-oriented schools that wouldn't automatically harbor a bias against you; the rest emphasize teaching, which in turn leads to larger course loads, which in turn leads to less time to do your work on your own fucking terms.

The philosophy profession is a sick joke. I'll play the game in order to get a job because I have no other choice. Beyond that, I could give two shits and a piss less about the club and its silly game, let alone becoming some kind of "grandmaster" in said game.

At least the philosophers of yore could make fairly convincing cases at times for the "public significance" of research in metaphysics, epistemology, and the like. But nowadays? 9/10ths of Anglo-American philosophy has about as much public, political significance as a chess tournament or a spirited game of croquet. Philosophers are a bunch of gamers. They get paid to teach, or maybe to draw in graduate students who are dumb enough to want to join the club, but beyond that the universities and the colleges, let alone the rest of the intellectual world, could give a fuck less about what we do - because what we do is basically play "Dance Dance Revolution" with lots of variables and fancy words like "supervenience" and "mereology." For fuck's sake.

Anonymous said...

Regarding VAPs: I'm searching for one right now, but not because I was otherwise on the market. I could have been, but I have some partner issues to consider (like his happiness as well--crazy, I know). That said, I imagine that I'll go on the market in a few years for a tt job--Is there any way to mention this down the road without sounding like, "Unlike those others who applied and didn't get shit and who ended up VAPing for some years, I didn't even try the market for other reasons, so consider me as a newbie potential hotshit now?"

In other words, given how totally crappy the market and this whole process is, should I ask my letter-writers to address my situation in their recommendations, or should I not ever mention the "whys" of my situation at all? Or how should I--if I should--bring this up? I really don't know how to proceed. Any advice would be quite welcome and helpful.

Mr. Zero said...

anon 11:45,

That may be true. I think it's true in my experience too. But absolute number of faculty members per department is only indirectly related to number of jobs available--since maybe English departments aren't growing in the way ours are, or maybe English faculty aren't retiring at the same rate, and so the number of available jobs is the same or only slightly more than ours. Also, keep in mind that often "English" is an umbrella term for "literature & literary criticism" and "creative writing" programs, and CW professors typically do not have PhDs. So it's different.

Also, if English departments are larger, they probably also generate more PhDs per year than philosophy departments. So there's that, too.

I would much rather see some statistics on # of jobs per year vs. # of job marketeers per year.

Anonymous said...

Here's a problem with taking a year off to publish and not teach at all: I think that article-reviewing at some (many? most?) journals is not as blind as I (we?) fantasize. Perhaps relatedly, I don't come across too many articles in good journals written by independent scholars. So, having no institutional affiliation seems to be a mistake.

Anonymous said...

Going to Beirut, (which is the only offer a friend of mine got one year and he had PhD in hand from Princeton).

Yup. I second this one. I played with softball and soccer with him. Great guy. Hope he makes it out of that post alive...

Anonymous said...

But in the MLA (as I am told) the freakier the better. Really freaky. Intellectually questionable freaky. More freaky than this New Ager can take, for example. That's what I was referring to.

I'm sure I'm not the only literary type who follows this blog, and I have to say: ask anyone who works on intellectually questionable freaky topics in English or comparative lit if it's that easy to get a job. There are a lot of them, and I think most of them will tell you: no, you are not more likely to get a job if you pick a freaky topic. You may be more likely to get a job if you affiliate yourself with powerful people with an interest in particular freaky topics. Maybe. But lit is a pyramid-shaped discipline just like any other, with a relatively small number of powerful people on top and a vast number of proles at the bottom.

The biggest problem with it is probably the perpetual legitimacy crisis. Maybe philosophers have to keep convincing themselves that philosophy is worth a) doing and b) teaching, but you don't seem to have as pernicious a strain of it as the literary types, who seem constantly haunted by the ghost of some father/capitalist figure who tells them to cut their hair, get a real job, find a real man, do something productive, etc. I'm not even sure it goes away if you become a dean. Maybe you have to be Harold Bloom.

Anonymous said...

Well, Leiter has started his posting where people who have jobs can brag about it. So that should make the wiki pretty much worthless for the rest of the season since Leiter's site won't allow anonymous posts.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there's no way there's not way more jobs in English than Philosophy. A lot more people study it.

Still, there are insane numbers of PhDs produced in English and cognate areas (i.e. the MLA disciplines). So I am willing to believe that they have it tougher on the job market.

I don't think that shit about being weird is true either. As in philosophy, schools need people to teach the boring historical stuff, whereas a disproportionate number of people want to do dissertations in cutting-edge areas.

Inquiring Mind said...

Leiter has already started the junior hires thread for the 2007-08 cycle:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2008/02/tenure-track-hi.html

I know it's "that time of year again" (as he says) -- I think he always starts the thread in early February -- but, since I was actually on the market this round, it sure seems to have come early this year.

Ugh.

Anonymous said...

A random tidbit to supplement Pierre's comment. Rawls' death was frontpage news in Liberation (it was a headline, the story was inside).

Anonymous said...

To switch topic slightly: I know it's very late in the game to ask this, but any advice on doing a "practice teach," where you lecture for about 45 minutes to a fake class? Or, to lighten the mood, any funny stories about having done this? Was there already a thread about this, but I missed it?

Anonymous said...

As in philosophy, schools need people to teach the boring historical stuff, whereas a disproportionate number of people want to do dissertations in cutting-edge areas.

I wonder if anyone's told Desmond Hogan and Chris Bobonich they don't do cutting-edge work? I'd hate to think such smart people were wasting their time on "boring historical stuff" just because no one ever did them the favor of setting them straight on what's boring and what's cutting-edge. Anon. 9:35, maybe you could shoot them e-mails about this?

Anonymous said...

Inquiring mind (and others):

It is early. *Very* few schools have made offers. The overwhelming majority of schools have not even completed their flyouts. I would say we're about midway through the flyout season, and that's just for the first round. N.B. I know at least some schools are flying out their second-round picks, as I recently got called for a 'second-round' flyout. I don't have any insight into how many schools will do this and how many will postpone the search to next year instead, unfortunately.

Leiter is starting the thread because a (very) few places have made offers. But there's no reason to worry yet, at all. We are now in the same position with respect to offers as we were with respect to APA interviews during that first week in December, when there was a very little bit of (anxiety-producing) action on the Wiki, but in fact most SCs hadn't even finished reading the files.

Maybe it's best not to look at the Leiter thread at all, until mid-March.

m.a. program faculty member said...

Re: not seeking a TT job for several years b/c of personal reasons (anon 12:34 PM).

Yes, I'd try to bring this to the attention of search committees, as some SC members may otherwise hold it against you. Probably the best way to do so is to mention it briefly in your cover letter, with something like the following:

"I received my Ph.D. from Square State U in 2008. Since then, I have elected for personal reasons to seek only local and temporary positions, so this is my first year to conduct a nationwide search for a tenure-track position."

Most folks will see this and immediately think "two-body problem," so as long as you don't mind folks thinking that, a brief statement like the above should be enough to signal to SCs what's up.

Anonymous said...

pierre hadot: what is your thesis? you write like the average first year undergrad. Go back and edit that fucking thing.

I gather that you have some beef with analytic philosophy, and that this has something to do with the fact that nobody but us cares about our problems. But make your point clear so that we might engage with it. For instance, if your point is that analytic philosophy is somehow remiss because joe and jill blow don't care about analytic philosophy, then you rely on a very implausible principle for grounding worthwhile pursuits.

55 %

Anonymous said...

English v. Philosophy: I'm actually a member of the APA and the MLA. Here are some stats for English departments (I'm too lazy to also wend my way through the APA's ugly website, but since this is a philosophy blog one of you can do that part; I haven't read the whole 28 p. document, I'm just looking at the charts, but the numbers I give seem sufficient to get an order of magnitude of the differences). In 2004, the latest year for which data are available, English departments graduated 933 PhDs, and placed 406 in tenure-track positions. In 2003-4, 49.4% of graduates were placed in TT positions, 20.5% in non-TT, full-time positions, 5.8% in non-TT, part-time positions.

I'm not sure what the breakdown of TT v. lecturer positions is in philosophy, but for full numbers we can use as an estimate the number of positions in JFP, which numbers each position per year sequentially. We're looking at c. 550 full-time positions in English every year, TT or not, versus 300+ or 400+ in Philosophy, right?

Anonymous said...

mr zero says:

"But absolute number of faculty members per department is only indirectly related to number of jobs available--since maybe English departments aren't growing in the way ours are, or maybe English faculty aren't retiring at the same rate, and so the number of available jobs is the same or only slightly more than ours. "

yes, i thought about specifying that it was a reasonable assumption they retire at the same rate, aren't growing any faster, etc., but i thought that would be pedantic. OF FUCKING COURSE they don't retire any more slowly than philosophers.

pierre hadot said...

I do not have any "beef" with analytic philosophy. My thesis, which I don't think could be made more clearly, is that the philosophy "profession" in the United States, and probably in other countries where "Anglo-American" philosophy is hegemonic, is a joke. That's my fucking THESIS. Want the "supporting evidence"? Reread my post. It has nothing to do with "Joe and Jill Blow" not caring what philosophers do. It has to do with Joe and Jill Blow neither knowing nor caring nor having any reason to know or care about what CERTAIN philosophers do, because they don't DO anything except play an elaborate game. In fact, they typically SPIT on philosophers who leave the game AND the gaming club and try to make some sort of genuine contribution to the public good. Whatever your opinion of folks like Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, etc., THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT THEIR PHILOSOPHY CHANGED THE WORLD. You might say that that's not the point of philosophy, or that in certain cases these philosophers only influenced pivotal historic movements per accidens, but that's probably because you're already convinced that arguing about externalism vs. internalism, say - in short playing the academic Anglo-American philosophical GAME - is the highest and most noble calling for philosophers, and that anyone who aspires to something greater is some kind of "sell-out" or "fraud" (because we all know that "public intellectual" = "fraud" or "mediocre thinker" etc).

Is THAT clear enough for you, or should I provide necessary and sufficient conditions?

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Pierre H. says his thesis is that certain kinds of philosophy are a joke. Just thought I'd add that a very similar thesis is defended by someone in Monty Python and Philosophy. Except that, if memory serves, the claim there was that philosophy is like a joke in all respects, except that it's not actually funny. Philosophers are thus like stand-up comedians who don't understand that the point of their set is to be funny.

In all seriousness, several essays in that volume are real attempts to come to grips with some things about contemporary analytic philosophy that we shouldn't necessarily be completely comfortable with. It's a good read.

pierre hadot said...

PGS, I wouldn't say that "certain kinds of philosophy are a joke." In my original post, I began by asking what the value of philosophical scholarship is supposed to be. Presumably it must have SOME kind of value, because it is the ultimate criterion by which success in the Anglo-American philosophy profession is assessed and determined. Other reasons why philosophers might be valued - for example, teaching or actively contributing to public discourse - generally do no factor much, if at all, in the Anglo-American philosophy profession's understanding of success. So, what we're left with is a completed insolated, xenophobic, and self-sustaining "old boys network" - a gamer club. The problem is that what counts as excellence in the profession at large - which in turn plays a HUGE role in who ends up getting JOBS (inter alia) - is what counts as excellence in the fucking CLUB. And as I have already, said what counts as excellence is excellence at playing what amounts to a private game, the rules of which are inconstant and arbitrary, and the playing of which is completely MEANINGLESS to ANYONE outside the club.

Now, the fact is that certain people who want to teach and pursue scholarship in certain kinds of philosophy DO get penalized by this system. That's an additional reason why it's a joke: it's not only meaningless and empty, but it's UNFAIR as well. Oddly enough, several of the most famous "analytic" philosophers of the previous generation, many of whom are now dead, openly admitted to and decried the lack of "pluralism" in English-speaking philosophy departments (where "pluralism" is a euphemism for letting in other folks whose interests and methodologies differ from your own). It's just like the "Troubles" in Ireland (where I'm from originally) - depending on what neighborhood you live in, your fucking RELIGION determines whether you can get a job.

Anonymous said...

Pierre Hadot, I was hoping to see an argument in which the conclusion isn't one of the premises.

You say:

"My thesis...is that the philosophy "profession" in the United States...is a joke....[The supporting evidence] has to do with Joe and Jill Blow neither knowing nor caring nor having any reason to know or care about what CERTAIN philosophers do, because they don't DO anything except play an elaborate game."

The 'supporting evidence' seems to be a compound of the (alleged) fact J and J Blow don't know, don't care, and don't have any reason to know or care about what certain philosophers do, and the (alleged) fact that what those philosophers do is nothing other than play an elaborate game. This 'argument' is problematic in a number of ways.

First, you can't reasonably impugn a profession because "certain" of its members have the problems you allege.

Second, it is very close to circular to support the view that philosophy in the US is a joke by claiming that J and J Blow have no reason to pay attention to such philosophy on the grounds of it's being just some kind of empty game. Presumably that is what you mean by saying philosophy in the US is a joke. (Moreover, if this is the argument structure -- that philosophy is a joke because it is an empty game -- than J and J drop out of the picture. That _they_ don't have reason to care is irrelevant; what matters presumably is that there isn't reason to care since philosophy is an empty game).

Third, what exactly is the relevance of the fact that J and J Blow neither know nor care? They neither know nor care about all kinds of philosophers you would presumably accept as doing real philosophy. So their mere indifference to philosophy is irrelevant.

Anyway, I stick to my claim: you write like a bad undergrad. And just like a bad undergrad you don't understand and cannot see how your argument is deficient. Probably you need to do a bit more analytic philosophy.

Upon re-grading, I change the grade to 45 %

Anonymous said...

By the way, Pete, on this side of the Atlantic you can't just scream it's an empty game and expect people to agree with you. You need reasons. It's not philosophy by fucking oracle.

Hadot said...

Blah blah premises blah blah conclusion blah. My argument is bad, you say. Well, FUCK does that ever hurt! I guess I'd better go hang myself now, mate.

Way to miss the entire fucking point. You've just provided evidence of exactly what I'm impugning: you're playing sodding GAMES. Now go run along and have a "real" debate, will you, ya fucking prat? I think possible worlds semantics would suit you quite well.

Anonymous said...

"Whatever your opinion of folks like Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, etc., THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT THEIR PHILOSOPHY CHANGED THE WORLD."

I don't see any contemporary non-analytic philosophers on that list either, and seriously, if you really think that your primary goal is to CHANGE THE WOLD, you are kidding yourself if you think that getting a Ph.D. in ANY kind of Philosophy is the best way to do it.

Anonymous said...

Will you fucking logic-choppers give Hadot a break? I think the substance is clear even if the form leaves something to be desired. I agree 100% with what he's trying to say and, since this isn't a fucking seminar, I think we should forgive him for using rhetoric instead of P1-P2-C-QED. You're missing his fucking point, probably on purpose because it's pissing him off. But come ON - it's OBVIOUS what he's trying to say here.

Let me play devil's advocate for a moment and restate one of H's central questions (which has yet to be answered, incidentally):

What is the value of philosophical research as it is typically understood and carried out in the United States (we'll limit our discuss to the US for simplicity's sake)?

Ewing writes somewhere that in order for something to be "valuable" it has to be, in some sense, "worthy" of being the object of a pro-attitude of some sort (e.g., praise, promotion, protection, desire, etc). If we just assume Ewing's conception (which may not be perfect but is at least commonsensical) for the sake of discussion, what about mainstream American philosophical scholarship makes it valuable?

One of Hadot's points is that it ISN'T valuable except perhaps in a limited, local context. He also seems to be suggesting that in said context research is merely INSTRUMENTALLY valuable (and then only to certain people who do certain kinds of philosophy), perhaps because it helps you get a job or just satisfies some desire you have to play what he calls the philosophical game.

Now, if H's analogy between mainstream academic philosophy and a "gaming club" is accurate (and I think, in many ways, it is), it would follow that whatever is valuable about academic philosophy and its professional activities, M.O., etc. would be analogous to whatever is valuable about "gaming clubs." I can think of some reasons why such clubs might be considered valuable, but these reasons are not, admittedly, particularly significant in the scheme of things. I think that's H's biggest point: that the philosophy profession doesn't seem particularly valuable, especially because it doesn't DO anything valuable, and this seems to be at odds with a certain conception of philosophy (whence Hadot takes his nickname on this blog). He obviously thinks philosophy should do something valuable, and that SOMETHING seems to involve more active engagement with the world outside the "club." Obviously he's assuming that active engagement (say in the form of being a public intellectual or using one's philosophical talent for politics ends) is valuable, whereas writing articles that only other philosophers read (etc. etc.) is not. Some further argument is required here, but I see H's point and I am largely sympathetic to it.

Anonymous said...

"I don't see any contemporary non-analytic philosophers on that list either, and seriously, if you really think that your primary goal is to CHANGE THE WOLD, you are kidding yourself if you think that getting a Ph.D. in ANY kind of Philosophy is the best way to do it."

"Changing the world" is strong terminology. I think what's at issue is the capacity of philosophy to influence social, political, artistic, cultural, etc. movements. If that's the case, then the above claim is empirically false. There is no doubt that Habermas, Foucault, Deleuze & Guattari, Agamben, etc. etc. have had an appreciable impact in recent and contemporary movements of this sort (i.e., the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas - Subcommandante Marcos is conversant with several of these philosophers and others) The same is not demonstrably true of any Anglo-American philosophers that I can think of. And when people like Martha Nussbaum (or even hyper-conservatives like John Finnis) get involved in political intervention, they tend to be ROUNDLY criticized by their colleagues. Hadot pointed that out somewhere (well, he actually used the phrase "spat upon," which is a bit of a hyperbole) and he's largely right.

Anonymous said...

Look, so Hadot and most people don't care about the issues and questions that analytic philosophy finds interesting. Big fucking deal. The reason I was pressing him to make the argument clear is because I think there's no argument here. It is absurd to think that a project is worthwhile only if joe blow cares about it. If that is not Hadot's argument, then what is it? Presumably something about the logic-chopping exercises being empty. But that claim is just wildly unsubstantiated...and my guess is that Hadot is making this claim from the outside, without any real knowledge of those issues or questions. Moreover, if this is Hadot's claim, then it is a substantive philosophical thesis, and presumably involves him immediately in the entire project he rejects as senseless.

I think Hadot is one of these idiotic people who latch onto various philosophical claims and then insist that those claims are right and that the rest of philosophy is wrong. In Hadot's case, it's some simplicistic reading of Wittgenstein.

Anonymous said...

2:23, I think 2:08 has a good point. Whether a not Hadot made an argument, he's put forth some interesting ideas for which good arguments could be made. I, too, am sympathetic to his position and I do analytic philosophy. I sense that 2:08 does too, judging by his writing style (correct me if I'm wrong) Anyway, one of 2:08's points is that the substance of Hadot's rant hasn't to do with what people find "interesting" but rather what is "valuable." I, for one, would be very interested to learn why fellow philosophers find the RESEARCH they do valuable, and also in what sense they see it as valuable.

Anonymous said...

m.a. program faculty member:

Thanks very much for the advice about how to address willingly taking a VAP position or lecturer one because of my partner's situation; I appreciate it. After I weeded through the "fucks" in this blog, I also came to appreciate what this blog can actually do: help each other.

Sometimes it's nice to remind ourselves of this point, especially now, in job-search hell. So thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I think that Hardot's characterization of contemporary analytic philosophy is basically right, but I think that almost everything he says applies as much, if not more, to what passes for "Continental" philosophy in this country. It's a tragedy that this country did have its own philosophical movement, pragmatism, that was really focused not on the "problems of philosophers" but on the "problems of men", but that most departments have chosen instead to focus on these idle european imports.

Mr. Zero said...

Hey PGS,

Come on, man, don't feed the trolls. :-)

Anonymous said...

2:34 -

This is a strange remark. First, everyone knows that there is VERY little work being done in the United States on "Continental" philosophy. Second, the work that IS done mostly occurs outside philosophy departments. Third, whether inside or outside philosophy departments, this work is almost purely exegetical - that is, people are talking ABOUT phenomenology, existentialism, post-structuralism, etc., but they're not DOING it themselves (or, better, developing new ideas using the characteristic methodologies associated with Continental philosophy). Fourth, I fail to see how "almost everything [Hadot] says applies as much, if not more, to what passes for 'Continental' philosophy in this country. As a rule, post-phenomenological Continental philosophy tends to be much more engaged with ethical/political/existential concerns than does analytical philosophy, and these concerns tend to involve concrete engagement with concrete political circumstances. (Consider Agamben's "State of Exception," the entire thesis of which was inspired by the United States' treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.) With the exception of Deleuze, Badiou, and (maybe) Zizek, there's very little interest in what could be called "metaphysics." The various post-phenomenological camps have tended to be resolutely anti-representationalist, hence the highly skeptical epistemological theories collectively known as "the hermeneutics of suspicion." Beyond that, everyone is preoccupied with political, social, economic, and ethical concerns which tend, again, to be less abstract and much more momentous historically speaking than analytical moral/political philosophy.

That said, I agree with you 100% about pragmatism. It really is a pity that Peirce and James and Dewey have given way to the likes of - oh, I don't know - JESSE PRINZ!!!

AND THE PRINZ OBSESSION CONTINUES!

VAP said...

I am content for the value of philosophy to be like the value of ballet or mathematics. Something like MacIntyre's idea of a practice in 'After Virtue'. It is valuable because it requires developing skills that make life worth living. Now if you are outside the discipline or 'game' then you are probably not well positioned to understand its virtues. Particularly, if you are inclined to say things like 'premise blah, conclusion blah, I've got a bad argument so what!' Tone deaf people do not like ballet. People who suck at math do not like it. And if you don't care about arguments then you won't care about philosophy

Philosophy's value to the larger world is teaching good reasoning, careful reading, and clear writing. I think many philosophers also play an important role in keeping their universities true to the goals of education. Universities run the risk of turning into pure businesses and most philosophy departments do a better job keeping this in check than other departments. This is not an insignificant point.



Philosophy is also fun. WIth a decent teacher most undergrads will get a kick out of at least some issues.



Furthermore, philosophy also helps us pick out bad arguments. Consistency and clarity are not arbitrary standards.

Philosophy might even get us closer to the truth on important questions, but I won't defend that here.

Anonymous said...

"The same is not demonstrably true of any Anglo-American philosophers that I can think of. And when people like Martha Nussbaum (or even hyper-conservatives like John Finnis) get involved in political intervention, they tend to be ROUNDLY criticized by their colleagues. Hadot pointed that out somewhere (well, he actually used the phrase "spat upon," which is a bit of a hyperbole) and he's largely right."

I don't really think that this generalization holds. Justified or not, lots of people have problems with Nussbaum's work that are independent of her getting involved in any sort of political intervention, and for the most part, when philosophers do get involved (for instance Bernard Williams chairing the Royal Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship, or Michael Dummett's work on Racism and immigration) they aren't criticized (and certainly not spat upon) for doing so at all.

darner said...

"and I do analytic philosophy. I sense that 2:08 does too, judging by his writing style (correct me if I'm wrong)"

okay, i'll correct you. 2:08 does exactly the same kind of philosophy as 'pierre hadot' does, because 2:08 *is* 'pierre hadot', or rather a pretty lame sock-puppet for him.

'pierre hadot' is apparently a disaffected irishman who doesn't much like anglo-american philosophy but is stuck inside a largely analytic program somewhere in the states. he wrote one screed as "pierre hadot", filled with bad arguments and CAPITAL LETTERS, and then after that tantrum failed to impress anyone, he snuck back in with the more subdued persona of 2:08.

But his style is still recognizable in 2:08. Same guy, same CAPITAL LETTERS, same lack of argument.

m.a. program faculty member said...

Oh, you're welcome. I've had to deal with the two-body problem myself. It's one of the parts of academia that a lot of outsiders don't understand.

I hope you manage to work things out.

Anonymous said...

So if I understand Hadot and co. correctly, it is really only permissible that Aristotle wasted his time on metaphysics because he also did political philosophy, aesthetics, etc.? As if "Anglo-American" is a fucking school of philosophy. What would it mean for our departments to embrace "pluralism"? Wouldn't it just mean that we'd end up with two comparative literature departments on campus? And for the record, I love David Lewis AND Deleuze, and while it's sad that so many English speaking philosophers don't bother to read Deleuze, it's downright heartbreaking that he gets lumped in with people who proudly and angrily declare that metaphysics isn't worth doing because they don't understand what's going on.

Anonymous said...

"I don't really think that this generalization holds. Justified or not, lots of people have problems with Nussbaum's work that are independent of her getting involved in any sort of political intervention, and for the most part, when philosophers do get involved (for instance Bernard Williams chairing the Royal Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship, or Michael Dummett's work on Racism and immigration) they aren't criticized (and certainly not spat upon) for doing so at all."

Not to shit in your cake, but that's all you can come up with? Pretty unimpressive compared with someone like Sartre, say, or pretty much any philosopher who was involved with the Paris Spring. In fairness, though, a lot of analytic philosophers are political radicals and even activists, albeit on the side. Mark Lance at Georgetown comes to mind - he does straight up analytic philosophy but is also an anarchist and an activist. I also know several analytic philosophy profs who were extremely active against the war in Vietnam. I guess the point is that one can do apolitic philosophy but still be very politically engaged. I mean, if you're a philosopher and you're not at least a bit pissed off about the current state of the world then you're just not paying attention, regardless of what kind of philosophy you do.

Anonymous said...

"okay, i'll correct you. 2:08 does exactly the same kind of philosophy as 'pierre hadot' does, because 2:08 *is* 'pierre hadot', or rather a pretty lame sock-puppet for him. 'pierre hadot' is apparently a disaffected irishman who doesn't much like anglo-american philosophy but is stuck inside a largely analytic program somewhere in the states. he wrote one screed as "pierre hadot", filled with bad arguments and CAPITAL LETTERS, and then after that tantrum failed to impress anyone, he snuck back in with the more subdued persona of 2:08. But his style is still recognizable in 2:08. Same guy, same CAPITAL LETTERS, same lack of argument."

Possible but I'm not convinced. In any case, 2:08 didn't seem to be trying to advance any sort of argument. He was just trying to tease out claims from Hadot's rant that COULD be argued for, at least in principle. He also called attention to what I take to be worthwhile questions, regardless of who asked it: namely, why we do what we do, and why it matters.

The point that was made about philosophy profs providing students with good skills, fun, etc. seems to speak to teaching rather than research. The same is true about university service. One of Hadot's points was that teaching and service are not as highly regarded in the profession as research. I think that's a bit strong - certainly teaching and service are always valued. But in general it seems they're not as highly valued at the so-called Leiterrific departments, which if nothing else have considerable clout in setting the general tenor of the profession at large. So I guess this speaks to the value of philosophers as teachers or philosophers as members of institutions, but not to the value of doing research in philosophy.

Frankly, if the best we can up with is that philosophy is "fun" or "interesting" then we're fucked. The aretaic argument - that doing philosophy is valuable insofar as it is conducive to the cultivation of certain kinds of excellence(s) is a a bit more plausible. But the same is true, one would assume, of mentally challenging games like chess or go. So far the "gamer" analogy is holding a little water: philosophy is no different from any activity that stimulates the mind, provides opportunities for excellence, etc. What is more, it is only valuable to the people who have the desire, interest, and ability to do it.

Is there a non-perfectionist, non-aretaic way to ascribe value to scholarship in analytical philosophy? If there is, it would have to be justify the claim that "(the pursuit of) philosophical research is valuable to at least some non-philosophers." I take it that a significant portion of the Anglo-American philosophical writing produced over the course of the past 30-40 years does not qualify as important enough to be taught, so we can't necessarily claim pedagogical value for it (again, unless perhaps we're talking about graduate students in philosophy, but we don't count as non-philosophers).

I guess I'm content to regard philosophy as a kind of game. Playing the game makes me happy, hones my mental agility, makes my inner life much richer, whatever. Maybe most philosophers could claim at least THIS much. But I have to admit: I don't see in real PUBLIC value in most analytic scholarship. It's interesting and worthwhile to practicioners, but pretty much worthless to anyone else. That doesn't make it empty - it just means that its value is grounded in a personalistic rather than social axiology.

Anonymous said...

"Philosophy's value to the larger world is teaching good reasoning, careful reading, and clear writing. I think many philosophers also play an important role in keeping their universities true to the goals of education. Universities run the risk of turning into pure businesses and most philosophy departments do a better job keeping this in check than other departments. This is not an insignificant point.

Philosophy is also fun. WIth a decent teacher most undergrads will get a kick out of at least some issues."

Bracketing Hadot's comments about continental philosophy for a moment, I think these comments from vap support one point he was trying to make (but that has been largely passed over):

That how we judge the value of philosophers has very little to do with the value of philosophy (assuming we this value is to be found in philosophy's relation to the outside world).

Assuming the value of philosophy is what vap says it is, then we should be saying the best philosophers are the best teachers of "good reasoning, careful reading, and good writing". We don't do this. We say the best philosophers are those who produce the best research, which is determined by internal standards that have little to do with teaching (I'm sympathetic to Hadot's description of the club, but I don't think this is essential to this claim. At any rate, we know that what the system currently says are the best philosophers are not always the best teachers, far from it).

So why don't we say the best philosophers are the best teachers?

Anonymous said...

vap - awesome response, thank you. Philosophy is an intensely intellectual, specialized practice (or, to reclaim Hadot's language, game - ain't nothing wrong with being a game, just go ask Wittgenstein), and some parts aren't going to have immediate import for the rest of human life.

Notice, though, that I said "some parts". There may not be as much public intellectualism in the U.S. (though, to be fair, I think that's at *least* as much about a common anti-intellectual sentiment in the public as it is about what goes on in the academy), but a lot of these posts make it sound like everyone's doing M&E. A lot of us do ethics, thank you very much! Maybe we're not the sexy job market hot shots, and maybe we don't "change the world", but we sure as hell write about things that matter, and that are concerns for the good life.

Anonymous said...

"if you really think that your primary goal is to CHANGE THE WOLD, you are kidding yourself if you think that getting a Ph.D. in ANY kind of Philosophy is the best way to do it."

Well I might not be able to change the world, but I can change the world in me. I rejoice.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why we need to point to some other value conduced to by doing philosophy well in order to defend the value of philosophy. Is it so crazy to think that understanding our conceptual apparatus, and the world it represents, is intrinsically valuable, and that doing philosophy well is one good, and indeed indispensable way, of achieving this understanding?

Anonymous said...

"Is it so crazy to think that understanding our conceptual apparatus, and the world it represents, is intrinsically valuable, and that doing philosophy well is one good, and indeed indispensable way, of achieving this understanding?"

Indispensable? Please. If every single philosopher on the face of the earth dropped dead tomorrow it would scarcely usher in the apocalypse. Also, you're assuming that philosophy involves representationalism. Maybe it doesn't.

Seriously, one would assume that such an allegedly "indispensable" activity would yield far more internal consensus, or be taken more seriously outside the academy, or whatever - you know, like science. Perhaps this explains in part why so many philosophers fetishize science and logic and end up doing bad science and bad math.

Anonymous said...

"A lot of us do ethics, thank you very much! Maybe we're not the sexy job market hot shots, and maybe we don't 'change the world', but we sure as hell write about things that matter, and that are concerns for the good life."

Not to shit in your self-congratulatory cake, honey, but there's something really repugnant about claims like "X is good if and only if..." or "One ought to do X just in case..." or anything that talks about rationality in the same breath as, er, Auschwitz, say. Kind of hard to relegate that kind of radical evil to irrationality, which might explain why analytic moral philosophy tends to avoid the subject altogether, opting instead to talk about trolley scenarios and mistaking glasses of petrol for gin, etc.

Metaethics is yucky. It yields pretty unpalatable normative systems which talk too much about what is reasonable or rational for people to do. Morality = practical reasoning and such. I'm vomiting in my mouth.

"It's wrong to exterminate 6 millions Jews because an fully-informed agent with optimally functioning capacities would not choose blah blah blah..." Disgusting.

Anonymous said...

"Indispensable? Please. If every single philosopher on the face of the earth dropped dead tomorrow it would scarcely usher in the apocalypse."

I didn't say it was indispensable to the survival of the human race. I said (speculated) that it was indispensable to realizing the real, intrinsic value of understanding everything there is to be understood.

"Seriously, one would assume that such an allegedly "indispensable" activity would yield far more internal consensus, or be taken more seriously outside the academy, or whatever - you know, like science."

This just doesn't follow at all: the fact that nobody outside a relatively small group gives a shit about modern dance, or opera, or french cinema, or whatever, doesn't show that these activities aren't valuable in their own right.

And as for *like science*, it might just be that science is valuable both because it builds bridges and because it sometimes yields understanding; in that case, we'd expect that we'd have two different sorts of reason to believe that science is valuable, some of which don't apply as strongly in the case of philosophy.

Anonymous said...

" "It's wrong to exterminate 6 millions Jews because an fully-informed agent with optimally functioning capacities would not choose blah blah blah..." Disgusting."

Here's some analytic philosophy for you: this worry conflates the wrong-making relation with a relation of putative property identification.

The account in question, if it's anything close to what anyone actually believes, would say that the wrongness of the holocaust IS it's un-choiceworthiness by ideally functioning agents. But it's unchoiceworthy, and hence wrong, BECAUSE of the pain it caused, the damage it did to the dignity/humanity of the victims, etc...

A little less disgusting when you actually take the time to understand it, no?

Mr. Zero said...

Anon 9:05,

Godwin's law. You lose.

And anyway, who gives a shit? I am an analytic philosopher because I find the problems compelling and I enjoy trying to find the answers. Why pick on us for that? Pick up a People Magazine if you want to know what anglo-America's giant waste of time is.

Anonymous said...

There seems to me to be an unstated conflation. Why say that the problem is with Analytic Philosophy rather than with Analytic Philosophers? I take it that Bertrand Russell was an analytic philosopher if anybody was, and during his time he was extremely socially relevant. He wrote on a wide range of topics (including technical pieces like On Denoting) and at the same time others pieces that were read widely by the public. So it seems to me that there's a false contrast between analytic and continental on this issue. It is not that there is something intrinsically wrong with analytic philosophy that makes it socially irrelevant, but that there are fewer socially minded philosophers like Russell today.

This doesn't mean that there aren't any, though. One example might be Dennett's recent book about religion that has been on the NYTimes best seller's list for some time, and that's surely socially relevant.

Anonymous said...

"The account in question, if it's anything close to what anyone actually believes, would say that the wrongness of the holocaust IS it's un-choiceworthiness by ideally functioning agents. But it's unchoiceworthy, and hence wrong, BECAUSE of the pain it caused, the damage it did to the dignity/humanity of the victims, etc... A little less disgusting when you actually take the time to understand it, no?"

Not actually, no. "Unchoiceworthy?"
That's even more disgusting, frankly. Really disgusting.

Anonymous said...

Can you say a little more about why it's 'disgusting' other than simply that it is? I'd share your reaction if unchoiceworthiness were supposed to be what makes those acts wrong, rather than what their wrongness consists in, since that would clearly involve a disgusting indifference to the victims, but I don't see it after that's been clarified.

I'm not trying to be an analytic nit-picker here: it's just that you've accused me and lots of other of engaging in something that 'disgusts' you. If I told an oil-executive at a cocktail party that was he does disgusts me, you'd better believe I'd have something to say about why. Similarly, I think that the claim you've made here is the sort of assertion/expression that bears a burden of proof, even in the context of an anonymous blog comment thread.

Anonymous said...

"Pretty unimpressive compared with someone like Sartre, say, or pretty much any philosopher who was involved with the Paris Spring. In fairness, though, a lot of analytic philosophers are political radicals and even activists, albeit on the side."

I think that one thing this thread is missing is any suggestion that the fact that people like Sartre are major public figures while politically radical analytic philosophers are on so "on the side" might have more to do with the way America is run than with Analytic philosophy itself. I think that Chomsky put it well when he wrote:

"...if you compare the United States with France -- or with most of Europe, for that matter -- I think one of the healthy things about the United States is precisely this: there's very little respect for intellectuals as such. And there shouldn't be. What's there to respect? I mean, in France if you're part of the intellectual elite and you cough, there's a front-page story in Le Monde. That's one of the reasons why French intellectual culture is so farcical -- it's like Hollywood. You're in front of the television cameras all the time, and you've got to keep doing something new so they'll keep focusing on you and not on the guy at the next table, and people don't have ideas that are that good, so they have to come up with crazy stuff, and the intellectuals get all pompous and self-important. So I remember during the Vietnam War, there'd be these big international campaigns to protest the war, and a number of times I was asked to co-sign letters with, say, Jean-Paul Sartre [French philosopher]. Well, we'd co-sign some statement, and in France it was front-page news; here, nobody even mentioned it. And the French thought that was scandalous; I thought it was terrific -- why the hell should anybody mention it? What difference does it make if two guys who happen to have some name recognition got together and signed a statement? Why should that be of any particular interest to anybody? So I think the American reaction [towards intellectuals] is much healthier in this respect." (Understanding Power: the Indispensable Chomsky, edited by P.R. Mitchell and J. Schoeffel, pp 96-97.)

I think Chomsky's own career as a public intellectual is also a pretty good example of how such criticism has been increasingly marginalized in the mainstream (and even non-mainstream) media over the last 40 years.

Anonymous said...

Society needs people to teach philosophy classes. We let you fight it out in your games to figure out who gets to do that teaching where.

The Pseudo Pierre Hadot said...

Here's an argument (rhetorical diatribe, whatever) from someone who's a lot like Pierre H.:

Here's a question: why is research (which is better termed scholarship) in mathematics so highly regarded? If you think about it, mathematics is little more than a tiny, extremely insular club of self-proclaimed intellectuals who spend most of their time playing what amounts to an ongoing game with other members of the club. "Scholarship," whether in the form of books and articles that are only read by other mathematicians (if you're lucky) or papers that are presented to other mathematicians at conferences, are like the "moves" in the game. Whether a mood is considered "good" or "bad," however, is largely determined by its popularity within the club. [Editor's note: you might think this is false. Perhaps it is; but it is no clearly *more* false than P.H.'s original comment about analytic philosophers --- esp. the M&E folk he seems most bitter about...] The best players are the ones who get everyone in the club talking about THEIR move(s) instead of making moves of their own. If they're really good, then end up becoming famous or prestigious within the club.

Here's the thing, though: the club is bankrolled by colleges and universities. To be a member of the club and play its game, you have to perform services for the club's benefactors. In many cases, excellence in the performance of such services, such as teaching, counts little towards one's prestige within the club. It seldom, if ever, counts as "move," let alone a "good move," within the dumb little game.

Famous mathematicians anymore are like champions in a provincial bowling league. No one outside of the mathematics club knows who they are or gives a fuck what they do. Even those who do give some kind of fuck generally don't understand why these guys are (allegedly) important. And in fairness, given the exclusivity and insularity of the club, which seldom makes any real contributions to the public intellectual life of society, why would anyone outside the club know or care about who is "famous" within it?

...

9/10ths of contemporary mathematics has about as much public, political significance as a chess tournament or a spirited game of croquet. Mathematicians are a bunch of gamers. They get paid to teach, or maybe to draw in graduate students who are dumb enough to want to join the club, but beyond that the universities and the colleges, let alone the rest of the intellectual world, could give a fuck less about what they do - because what they do is basically play "Dance Dance Revolution" with lots of variables and fancy words like "inaccessible cardinals" and "Grothendieck groups." For fuck's sake.

---

I think pseudo-P.H.'s argument is clearly bad. There's *something* interesting that mathematical researchers are learning, even if I don't really understand it or understand its "significance". So, important question: why is philosophy any worse off than mathematics?

Potential answer 1: "But mathematics does stuff that helps us do better science (read=physics or computer science), and we all know *that's* important!"

Reply: yes, but only a fraction of what goes on in math departments is relevant to these more "secure" endeavors. And, arguably, a fraction of what goes on in philosophy *is* relevant to endeavors in other sciences as well: believe it or not, physics has been influenced (in a good way, many think) by what's been done by philosophers of science and physics; linguistics has been greatly influenced by philosophy of language (the majority of semanticists will announce their indebtedness to Frege, and one of the foundational papers of contemporary semantics is (gasp!) David Lewis's "Generalized Semantics"); the work of various philosophers of mind (e.g. the Churchlands and Fodor, albeit on very different ends of the spectrum) has made serious contributions to theoretical psychology and the foundations of cognitive science...

Potential answer 2: "But mathematics is getting at some true facts about the world -- real knowledge!"

Reply: And philosophy isn't? Well, maybe it's not -- but its practitioners (this one included) at least think it is, and if they aren't it'll take a whole lot more than a boldfaced announcement to establish that. Maybe it *feels* like we're not getting at real knowledge, 'cause we're still breaking our teeth on some of the nuts Plato and Aristotle tried to crack. But that's just to say philosophy is hard... I hope Pierre's argument was supposed to be based on more than the fact that philosophical answers aren't easier to come by.

Maybe there's some other principled answer that will explain the difference here. I'd like to hear it, if so. But if it turns out that Pierre has only shown me that what I do is no *more* valuable than the research (scholarship, whatever) done by, say, pure set theorists, I'm not going to feel all that indicted.

vap said...

Something tells me Hadot would have no problem conceding that mathematicians are as worthless as (analytic?) philosophers.

And while it's clearly false that analytic philosophy has had absolutely NO impact in other disciplines, I think it would be equally false to say that it has had an enormous impact in other disciplines. "Marginal" is the term I would use. (This is not a pot-shot at analytic philosophy either; I don't think we should be gauging the worth of our field vis-a-vis its impact in other fields. Still, there can be no doubt that various schools of Continental thought have had an appreciably greater impact in other fields, especially in the humanities and social sciences. Again, I'm not saying this counts in it's favor or against it - it's just a fact.)

I personally think this is an interesting debate but it's growing a bit stale. It would have gone a lot better without all the contentious claims about the relative merits of analytic vs. continental philosophy. The question "why is philosophical research valuable" is an interesting and serious one that deserves attention, regardless of the KIND of research being done (i.e., analytic vs. continental). In seeking to answer said question, moreover, surely one can bracket the latter distinction and focus purely on the practice of publishing and conference-presenting. Also, one can distinguish between the value of philosophical research PER SE, and the distinct questions of whether, why, and to what extent research should be regarded as a major criterion in hiring practices.

By my lights, the lattermost questions are the ones most relevant in this context (i.e., a blog about the philosophy job market). Personally I haven't seen anyone make a case that research (whether potential or actual) SHOULD be more highly regarded than teaching ability, say, even at so-called "research institutions." I think such a case needs to be made, especially since, as Hadot pointed out, universities and colleges do not seem to be paying philosophers to do research so much as to teach undergraduates and/or train graduate students. From a Leiterrian perspective, it would seem that copious and well-regarded research is conducive to attracting students to graduate programs. Beyond that, I'm hard-pressed to see why universities would give a damn about it, since philosophical research (unlike scientific research) doesn't exactly pay the bills.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't someone point out that there are very few analytic philosophers (in the strict sense of the term) left in the world? Contemporary Anglo-American philosophy has strong roots in the analytic tradition, and the ordinary language tradition, and the pragmatist tradition, etc. but most philosophers in this country can't really be identified with any one of those.

Anonymous said...

"Shouldn't someone point out that there are very few analytic philosophers (in the strict sense of the term) left in the world?"

No, nobody should point that out. Everybody already knows that, and this is why when we use the term 'analytic philosophers' these days we're not talking about that original sense.

Anonymous said...

In case anyone's wondering, the real "Pierre Hadot" is a French classicist who published a fairly influential collection of essays awhile back entitled "Philosophy as a Way of Life." The basic thesis is that philosophy in antiquity was conceived principally as a "spiritual practice" of which philosophical discourse was only one component. He goes on to lament the extent to which philosophy has ceased to be a "way of life" or a "spiritual practice" and instead has become dominated by the practice of abstract and highly specialized philosophical discourse which has also been "professionalized" and "institutionalized" by the universities. Nehemas (sp?) has made similar arguments here and there over the years.

Among other things, the poster known as "Pierre Hadot" seems to be preoccupied with similar concerns. However, I do not think it is the case that individual philosophers are INCAPABLE of regarding their philosophical practices as a "way of life" while still participating in the philosophical profession (vis-a-vis producing philosophical scholarship, etc). I would take issue with the idea that EVERYONE should regard philosophy in this way. In addition to being ethically problematic, such a prescription seems impossible to realize in practice.

Anonymous said...

"No, nobody should point that out. Everybody already knows that, and this is why when we use the term 'analytic philosophers' these days we're not talking about that original sense."

Gee, that seems kind of odd. The problem with the current debate seems to be precisely that no one can agree on what "analytic philosophy" is today (or "continental philosophy", for that matter) -- isn't that why there are so many people throwing barbs rather than engaging in useful debate. So maybe some precision in the use of terms would actually be helpful. And that's kind of something that philosophers pride themselves on, at least "analytic" philosophers do.

So, in summary, maybe ambiguating between analytic philosophy and analytic* philosophy is part of the problem -- huh?