How Academic Philosophers Are Trying to End Academic Philosophy — And Getting It Right

Is there any point in continuing to allow academic philosophy to exist?

Despite the field’s reputation for sexism, racism, ableism, and all that is reactionary, most of us still assume that academic philosophy deserves its place in the university. It improves our critical thinking abilities, teaches us how to understand arguments and encourages useful, logical patterns of thought. And Spencer Case of the University of Colorado sees signs of moral progress:

Weinberg plans to continue teaching same sex-marriage as a controversy in his contemporary-ethics course, but primarily in order to shed light on other issues and to expose the “highly problematic” arguments of those who oppose it. He mulls relegating the topic to a course on “historical moral problems,” where it can be discussed alongside slavery and other topics he considers settled.

But Case points out that moral progress is antithetical to academic philosophy. The courage involved in placing oneself firmly on the right side of history is, in the philosophy classroom, “a smug, and sloppy, intellectual intolerance.” This is because, as Case previously claimed while shitting on feminist philosophy, “Aristotle correctly separated philosophy, which concerns truth, from politics, which concerns action.” Case is in good company; major contemporary figures like Peter Unger also see philosophy as essentially idle.

What this means is that when we cease simply discussing what’s right and move to actually doing what’s right, we have transgressed the limits of philosophy.

There is no need for action—or worse, activism (or even worse: advocacy)—in the philosophy classroom, because we are all objective reasoners capable of grasping the truth, which is what philosophy is all about: if a teacher acknowledges gender-related power dynamics and implicit biases in their classroom, then “instead of being an objective facilitator of learning for all, the teacher must now be an advocate for some. One can no more inhabit both these roles simultaneously than be both a judge and a prosecuting attorney.” By the way, those teachers are also the real racists:

Even if the work that takes place in philosophy of race is entirely non-ideological — which I doubt — the existence of the sub-discipline legitimates the idea that it’s terribly, terribly important to keep the “national conversation about race” going. Like most conservatives, I think that conversation, and liberal policies generally, are more likely to make old wounds fester than to heal them.

Spencer Case is not a racist, nor a sexist. How could he be? He’s a philosopher:

Do I have a problem with recognizing the philosophical potential of female students? Would I let someone interrupt a woman in class? Of course not.

How can he say this, while claiming in the same article to acknowledge the existence of implicit bias? Maybe he just hasn’t taken the implicit bias test. After all, as we know, philosophy is not about action.

And if we keep doing nothing, and academic philosophy remains an increasingly out-of-touch haven for white men to debate abortion, pretty soon we’ll be able to shorten that and just say “philosophy is not.”


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