Friday, May 28, 2010

NYT philosophy op-ed column

Located here. It is promising so far, especially considering the timely fashion in which the first article by Simon Critchley, on the subject 'What is Philosophy?', has appeared. (A conference at Concordia, one at which I presented, had exactly the same guiding theme. Based on this carefully-analyzed statistical sample, philosophy, or at least academic philosophy, is apparently in a time of soul-searching.)

Now, a ramble, related to the above: the idea of the 'present moment' (kairos, Augenblick) seems to exhibit the character of a time of crisis. This appellation has been upheld by many throughout the history of philosophy. The various crises which thinkers have claimed to identify have take a variety of forms, e.g., ontological, political, or religious, not to mention in our time, environmental. In a perhaps more pedestrian, but also more concrete, vein, the recent attempt at Middlesex in the UK to close the philosophy department there, I think, evinces an intellectual crisis, as it is only the latest in a series of movements over the past decades to erode the position of humanities study in the university. The current situation is a crisis both for new scholars looking for work, and, more importantly, for philosophy itself as an academic discipline enshrined in the university. What a time to be almost finished a doctorate. I suppose, though, that the tension between the process of philosophical study and the economic reality in which we all live has a beneficial side effect: it shows that the essence of philosophical activity has no connection to the drive for gain or profit, and it is/must be done purely for its own sake. This is my view of graduate studies. Even if I don't find a job teaching philosophy, I know that I will continue to study its history for the rest of my life, and I will always cherish the abilities granted to me through years of hitting my head against the same texts, attempting to come to terms with the thought of a greater mind than my own. A small consolation, but perhaps the only one that matters to me as an individual. However, a more important problem arises from this. I know that I am lucky to have had the opportunity to study philosophy in the comfortable situation of the graduate student. This sort of opportunity was not always the case, and with the way things look right now, it may not be possible in the future. How will philosophy, or better, the framework of publishing, teaching, and general dissemination of philosophy, find a place in an increasingly market-oriented university? Should it reinvent itself as 'relevant?' Should it retreat into academic cloisters shielded from the vicissitudes of economic forces? A perhaps more militant answer can be found here. The possibly fraught relation between philosophy and a particular political agenda notwithstanding, the article is inspiring. If philosophy is nothing other than the attempt to 'know thyself,' and if 'thyself' is first and foremost a political animal, then philosophy is inherently political, and, as it encourages doubt of all dogmatic claims to know what is, philosophy is also inherently critical. I hold this idea close to the heart at all times.

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