APP’s Readers Talk Back! 1

Why Anonymous? Why “Against”?

APP Editors’ note:
M is a 30-something woman philosopher who is currently teaching in a non-TT position at a public university somewhere in Europe.

M: Is this you? I find it a bit strange to talk to someone who apparently prefers to communicate as … anonymous. I hadn’t been aware of this website you’ve linked. Have you created this? Actually, I have just had a look at how the business (or rather: ‘Anliegen’) of ‘real philosophy’ is being described. The one thing I do not understand is why all of this has to be ‘against’ academic philosophy [AP]. It could be something ‘apart from’ AP, it could be ‘next to’ AP, it could be how AP ‘should be’, it could be how AP ‘used to be’ (in Kantian times???). It could just not take notice of AP and pursue its own objectives. So why ‘against’? Why is the labelling of ‘real philosophy’ (RP) (the website etc.) addressed ‘against’ AP? – This gives it an aggressive touch which even might ‘lessen’ the appeal of RP. Why care about AP if one practices RP?

Z: Thanks so much for your comments on APP. I had two follow-up things to say by way of explanation, and in reply to your comments. Let me take them in reverse order.

First, as you read through the essays and other posts on the site, you’ll see that it’s my view that since the end of World War II, the rise of academic/professional philosophy in the Anglo-American world has been gradually undermining & in fact killing “real philosophy” in my sense of that term, which I take to be the classical, & especially Kantian sense.

Europe and South America are better!, but as the domination and hegemony of Anglo-American academic practices spread all over the world, the same problem arises with professional philosophy everywhere.

My conception of real philosophy is spelled out briefly on the introductory page of APP, but in detail in the General Introduction to The Rational Human Condition.

As a consequence, the only way for real philosophy to survive now, & to flourish in the future, is by way of a serious critique of contemporary professional philosophy–hence “against” professional philosophy.

As you’ll see on the intro page of the website, however, and especially in the General Intro to RHC, the upshot of real philosophy/rational anthropology is entirely liberationist & positive. In other words, APP is entirely a radical Enlightenment project in the Kantian sense.

Second, as to the anonymous/pseudonymous character of the site, well, in fact, for reasons spelled out on the site itself, but especially in my recent edgy essay, “Why Does Conscience Make Cowards of Us All? The Tenure-and-Promotion System as an Extremely Effective Device for Thought-Control,”

the other contributors to the APP project, all of whom are either recent BAs, graduate students, recent or not-so-recent PhDs in contingent faculty positions, untenured assistant professors, or unpromoted associate professors, were/are seriously afraid that their careers would be/will be hurt if it became/becomes known that they’re part of the project.

And I completely understand this fear! See also, e.g., the post, “’Fear, What’s Fashionable, and Fear’: An Untenured Woman Philosopher’s Thoughts on the State of Contemporary Professional Philosophy.”

So the anonymity is simply to protect them.

As for me, it’s totally an open secret that I’m Z, because I’ve linked APP from my site, and always leave lots of autobiographical clues in my essays and other posts.

But actually I’ve also got two strictly literary-philosophical reasons for adopting Z as my APP pseudonym, like Kiekegaard & ‘Johannes Climacus’, etc.

In the first place, “Z” is a serio-comic reference to the totally brilliant Costa-Gavras flick from the late 60s, Z ,

Costa Gavras, "Z" (1969)

although, needless to say, I’m hoping I don’t end up assassinated by the APA, or one of my esteemed former colleagues….

But in the second place, ever since I read super-hero comic books and watched Zorro as a child, I always wanted to have a “secret identity.”

So Z is my super-edgy, super-hero-ish, Zorro-ish philosophical alter-ego,

The great Tyrone Power as Zorro, 1940

and RH is my Clark Kent-ish, Don Diego de la Vega-ish, more staid, and more traditional philosophical persona.

In any case, at the end of the day, I don’t give a shit whether people know I’m Z or not! because I’m finally an independent philosopher now, just working and surviving outside the Professional Academic State, leaping over tall philosophical buildings in a single bound, engaging in swashbuckling intellectual sword-fights, and trying to bring about the real philosophy of the future….

Smaller Graduate Philosophy Programs? Too Many Underdeveloped Practitioners?

APP Editors’ note:
W2 is a 30-something philosopher who is currently teaching in a non-TT position at a public university somewhere in North America.

W2’s comments are in response to:
“Weapons of the Weak Revisited: The Problem of Contingent Faculty and Everyday Forms of Philosophical Resistance. An Edgy Essay by Z,
with Follow-Up Discussion by Boethius and Z.”

W2: Some responses to you and Boethius!

Right off the bat, thanks to Z for several good, concrete suggestions about taking action! There are some questions that remain, but it’s a great start for further brainstorming at least. It is very difficult to come up with ideas in this arena, and Z is to be commended for an impressively long list.

There are lots of other good ideas raised by Z and Boethius, but let me raise two concerns at this point.

First, it seems we are facing a conflict of goals. We want more TT positions, but also we want to retain the current size of grad programs. The conflict here is that within a given University, grad student teaching is one way that TT positions are made otiose. So, larger grad programs mean there is less need for TT hires.

(Sure, larger grad programs mean a greater need for those who can teach grad classes. But I, for one, teach grad classes and am not in a TT position. And a large grad program will likely replace more TT lines than it requires)

Thus, other things equal, it seems that reducing the size of grad programs would be a way to encourage TT hires. (And of course, fewer PhDs per year means a less flooded job market.)
Naturally, I would like the world to have as many philosophy PhDs as possible. But if it means that fewer can actually continue on as philosophers, then it seems we need to change something…

Second, I also hesitate over introducing a 3-4 year grad program. I worry this would mean flooding the job market further, with folks who are less well-trained in philosophy (other things equal, of course).

As I see it, the discipline already suffers from too many underdeveloped practitioners. And I’m not sure what advantages such a degree-program would have (besides the putative advantage to students, of getting a degree in less time).

I raise these concerns not to be obstructionist of course! I was just hoping for greater clarity on what we should be aiming for.

Z: Many thanks! for those responses. Two very quick responses to your responses.

First, although I agree that shrinking graduate programs in philosophy would have the effect of making it easier to fit the number of currently-existing TT lines to the number of new PhDs, my proposal was actually running in the other direction: that enough TT lines should always be created to accommodate the supply of new, well-trained philosophy PhDs. Then they’d all be able to continue on as philosophers.

Second, I’m thinking that the 3-4 year PhD degree without a dissertation would be extremely intensive and rigorous, with, say, six graduate courses/seminars a year for three years, and one year of specialized work with an advisor, alongside some (but not too much) TA-ing and teaching.

And in addition to an adequate supply of TT line jobs, there would also be a scheme that provided for, say, sixty (??) 2-year research-based post-docs every year, freed from teaching, for those new PhDs who showed particular promise as researchers and were personally driven to do original research, and write and publish papers, or perhaps a book.

Then when these research-track people came back onto the job market after two years, there would also be enough TT line jobs for them too.

So in fact none of the new/recent PhDs in the new post-dissertation system I’m envisioning would be “underdeveloped practitioners”: on the contrary, they’d all be extremely well-read and well-trained….

“Analytic” vs. “Continental” Revisited, Revisited

APP Editors’ note:
JdB is a 20-something philosopher who just received his BA at a public university somewhere in North America.

JdB’s comments are in response to:
“Analytic” Philosophy vs. “Continental” Philosophy: WtF? Why Does It Still Matter So Much? An Edgy Essay by Z, with Critical Discussion by Y, X, and W.

JdB: Let me begin by echoing X’s sentiment about how remarkably remarkable this essay is. As this essay (1) explores a topic which is of considerable interest to me, and (2) was authored by one of my favorite philosophy writers, I confess I approached it with unusually – perhaps unfairly – high expectations. Needless to say, you didn’t disappoint, Z.

As I endorse virtually everything in your essay, I don’t have much to criticize, other than to note that you (perhaps consciously) failed to include the most salient, at least for me, source of contention between these two traditions. You did, however, post a letter from [name elided], whose concerns dovetail with my own.

Your pro-Continental interlocutor remarks,

It is bizarre indeed that the rest of the humanities (and in most philosophy departments around the world besides those in Britain and the US) seems to feel that the last place for philosophy is philosophy departments.

I’ll be honest, – and please be assured that as an undergrad, I don’t expect my opinions here to carry much weight, – reading a statement like this stirs in me nothing like a rush to approach and correct the (mis)perceptions of humanities departments’ understanding of philosophy. I imagine a similar dearth of shit-giving by baseball players if I were to tell them that the “real” place for batting at balls was a male strip club. He follows this statement with,

Those of us working in what we see as philosophy see our work as the continuation of what philosophy has always been, which is to say, an endeavor to understand the world, building upon what we’ve learned from the ways this was done in the past.

Unless we are to consider language, nature, the mind, and the fundamental constituents of reality as no longer members in the set of objects furnishing “the world,” then I’m not sure what exactly is meant by this statement. While it’s true that current analytic philosophy has deviated from the system-building methods of the past, the divorce, I submit, has been largely over the methodology, i.e., we have precious few system-builders these days. When we consider the subject matter being treated in contemporary analytic philosophy, I see far less disagreement. Most of the contemporary analytic philosophy I’m reading deals with topics the genesis for which was in Athens.

…oddly, in the rest of the humanities, it is what we do that is considered philosophy, … not [what] analytics [do].

What the “rest of humanities” believes is philosophy, is to philosophy as dinosaur is to tennis racquet.

I must say that I strive to make my work comprehensible to those in fields which are not philosophy. Many in both analytic and continental philosophy do not try.

Yes, but let’s disambiguate the use of “incomprehensibility” as a charge leveled at both traditions. Incomprehensibility for analytic philosophy results as an unavoidable by-product of specialization. If I were to attend a mathematics seminar on real analysis, I assume most (okay, all) of it would be “incomprehensible” to me. But that is not indicative of some intrinsic lack of conceptual clarity in real analysis; it’s indicative of my rather unsophisticated understanding of upper level mathematics. However, when the snake-oil peddlers whose works are among the most well known in 20th century Continental thought – i.e., Butler, Lacan, Kristeva, Heidegger, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, and Derrida – are dismissed as incomprehensible, it’s because they are celebrated obscurantists. I can do no better than Schopenhauer, who, in one of his many criticisms of Hegel, wrote

The public had been forced to see [in Kant] that what is obscure is not always without meaning; what was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make vigorous use of this privilege; Schelling at least equaled him in this, and a host of hungry scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument to German stupidity. (A. Schopenhauer. The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 01. Edited and translated by E. F. J. Payne. New York: Dover Publication, 1966. p. 429)

For a few contemporary examples of what Schopenhauer found so lamentable in Hegel, try a few of these literary gems (and for several more examples, see these):

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal — of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard. (Roy Bhaskar. Plato etc: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution. London: Verso Books, 1994)

I’m assuming anyone venturing through this passage did so oscillating in and out of consciousness, and possibly failed to notice that this is actually a single sentence. How about this Judith Butler “observation,”

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power. ( J. Butler. “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time.” Diacritics 27.1 (1997): 13-15)

Sound and fury signifying nothing, indeed.

I’m aware of the common rebuke those voicing criticisms such as these typically encounter, e.g., “Lifting a context-free paragraph from Two Dogmas of Empiricism would sound just as perplexing,” “This is criticizing the aesthetic and not the substance of these works,” etc. But making criticisms such as these is not merely to attack the make-up of these arguments, as though a different shade of lipstick would’ve made them more cogent. This style of philosophizing isn’t taken seriously because it doesn’t take itself seriously. Which is why we get things like this…

Calvin: I used to hate writing assignments, but now I enjoy them. I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog! Want to see my book report? Hobbes: "The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes." Calvin: Academia, here I come!: Colleges, Grad Schools, Humor, Calvin And Hobbes, Book Reports, Academic Writing, Academia, True Stories, Comic Strips

Z: Well, yes–Roy Bhaskar and Judith Butler (on whom a little more, below). A lot of complete shit has been written by contemporary academics.

JdB: That is depressingly true. However, my use of contemporary authors was not central to my point. I’m confident that, as a scholar of the history of analytic philosophy, you’ve read Reichenbach’s contemptuous treatment of Hegel, and Carnap’s barely less disdainful treatment of Heidegger. My point wasn’t to suggest that this was some new trend amongst the quasi-scholarship on academia’s far left; it was to suggest that this sort of thing is characteristic of the entire tradition – stretching right back to its foundational texts. And that it introduces an obstacle that undermines any serious effort to reconcile these traditions. While it’s easy to dismiss these differences, as many have, as merely stylistic preferences, I submit that these differences actually illustrate just how distant each tradition’s set of intellectual values is from the others. And these values aren’t just separated by distance; they’re in conflict with one another. Privileging science vs. science is simply another “narrative,” and is to be accorded no special epistemic privilege; objective moral facts vs. how dare we, with our tendencies toward imperialism, sanctify our distinctly Western moral code as The Moral Code; etc.

By way of disclaimer, I should admit that I am speaking of a proper subset – a significant subset, but a proper subset nonetheless – under the canopy of Continental philosophy when I imply that there may simply be too much distance separating it from Analytic philosophy to ever reconcile. I’ll leave this here as an autobiographical aside: I have a completely different experience reading Marx or Nietzsche, for example, then when I (have an appetite for word salad, encouraging me to) confront feminist criticisms of science, or postmodernist champions of cultural/epistemic relativism, or Heidegger’s Nothing that Noths. It is perhaps unfair to the former group, whose work is as valuable a contribution to the discipline as any on the other side of the divide, that they are nonetheless categorized under the same banner as, e.g., Luce Irigaray, Roland Barthes, and Jean-Francois Lyotard – the latter constituting the proper subset whose value to philosophy I am (1) far more critical of and (2) far less persuaded by.

Z: But of course classical analytic philosophy has its famously/notoriously obscure texts too, e.g., the “Gray’s Elegy” section of Russell’s “On Denoting,” an article that is supposed to be one of the paradigmatic, seminal texts in the analytic tradition, right up there with Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic, “Sense and Reference,” and “Thoughts,” Moore’s “The Nature of Judgment” and “Refutation of Idealism,” Russell’s own Problems of Philosophy and “Philosophy of Logical Atomism,” Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and Carnap’s Logical Construction of the World, Logical Syntax of Language, “Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language,” and Meaning and Necessity + supplements. Anyhow, here’s Russell in OD:

When we wish to speak about the meaning of a denoting phrase, as opposed to its denotation, the natural mode of doing so is by inverted commas. Thus we say:

The center of mass of the solar system is a point, not a denoting complex;
`The center of mass of the solar system’ is a denoting complex, not a point.

Or again,

The first line of Gray’s Elegy states a proposition.
‘The first line of Gray’s Elegy’ does not state a proposition.

Thus taking any denoting phrase, say C, we wish to consider the relation between C and ‘C’, where the difference of the two is of the kind exemplified in the above two instances.

We say, to begin with, that when C occurs it is the denotation that we are speaking about; but when ‘C’ occurs, it is the meaning. Now the relation of meaning and denotation is not merely linguistic through the phrase: there must be a logical relation involved, which we express by saying that the meaning denotes the denotation. But the difficulty which confronts us is that we cannot succeed in both preserving the connexion of meaning and denotation and preventing them from being one and the same; also that the meaning cannot be got at except by means of denoting phrases. This happens as follows.

The one phrase C was to have both meaning and denotation. But if we speak of ‘the meaning of C’, that gives us the meaning (if any) of the denotation. ‘The meaning of the first line of Gray’s Elegy’ is the same as ‘The meaning of “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day’”,’ and is not the same as ‘The meaning of “the first line of Gray’s Elegy”.’ Thus in order to get the meaning we want, we must speak not of ‘the meaning of C’, but ‘the meaning of “C”,’ which is the same as “C” by itself. Similarly ‘the denotation of C’ does not mean the denotation we want, but means something which, if it denotes at all, denotes what is denoted by the denotation we want. For example, let ‘C’ be ‘the denoting complex occurring in the second of the above instances’. Then C = ‘the first line of Gray’s Elegy’, and the denotation of C = The curfew tolls the knell of parting day. But what we meant to have as the denotation was ‘the first line of Gray’s Elegy’. Thus we have failed to get what we wanted.

The difficulty in speaking of the meaning of a denoting complex may be stated thus: The moment we put the complex in a proposition, the proposition is about the denotation; and if we make a proposition in which the subject is ‘the meaning of C’, then the subject is the meaning (if any) of the denotation, which was not intended. This leads us to say that, when we distinguish meaning and denotation, we must be dealing with the meaning: the meaning has denotation and is a complex, and there is not something other than the meaning, which can be called the complex, and be said to have both meaning and denotation. The right phrase, on the view in question, is that some meanings have denotations.

But this only makes our difficulty in speaking of meanings more evident. For suppose that C is our complex; then we are to say that C is the meaning of the complex. Nevertheless, whenever C occurs without inverted commas, what is said is not true of the meaning, but only of the denotation, as when we say: The center of mass of the solar system is a point. Thus to speak of C itself, i.e. to make a proposition about the meaning, our subject must not be C, but something which denotes C. Thus ‘C’, which is what we use when we want to speak of the meaning, must not be the meaning, but must be something which denotes the meaning. And C must not be a constituent of this complex (as it is of ‘the meaning of C’); for if C occurs in the complex, it will be its denotation, not its meaning, that will occur, and there is no backward road from denotations to meaning, because every object can be denoted by an infinite number of different denoting phrases.

Thus it would seem that ‘C’and C are different entities, such that ‘C’ denotes C; but this cannot be an explanation, because the relation of ‘C’ to C remains wholly mysterious; and where are we to find the denoting complex ‘C’ which is to denote C? Moreover, when C occurs in a proposition, it is not only the denotation that occurs …; yet, on the view in question, C is only the denotation, the meaning being wholly relegated to ‘C’. This is an inextricable tangle, and seems to prove that the whole distinction between meaning and denotation has been wrongly conceived.

Say what, Bertie? And of course it’s been a favorite parlor game of philosophical logicians ever since, to try to figure out what the hell the Gray’s Elegy argument actually is. But whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s not real philosophy, merely just another move in the classical analytic philosopher’s glass bead game.

As to Judith Butler: She was actually just a year or two ahead of me at [famous Ivy League institution’s name goes here], known as “Judy Butler” then, and already quite famous/notorious amongst my graduate student colleagues for having the following propensity: when, in the middle of a graduate seminar in analytic philosophy, she didn’t like something that was being said, she’d yell “Fuck this shit!,” and storm out. If only her later prose were so clear and distinct.

But not too surprisingly, I guess, my famous analytic philosophy/logician advisor ABC (who by the way was exceptionally nice to me, and always incredibly personally and philosophically supportive, especially when I was her logic TA) hated Judy B. with a passion and wrote letters to philosophy departments that were contemplating hiring her, telling them not to hire her because JB was a horrible person and a philosophical corrupter of the youth. That wasn’t too nice. So I think that’s why JB ended up working in non-philosophy departments. She’d been effectively blacklisted by ABC, who was herself a woman! So much for female-philosopher solidarity.

JdB: I love this anecdote, and am green with envy that you worked with ABC.

Z: Yes, ABC was an amazing great analytic philosopher/ logician, and an equally amazingly charismatic, cool, and fascinating person!, “human, all too human,” just like the rest of us.

But perhaps most importantly, these anecdotes show just how deep the “analytic”-“continental” split has run and still runs, and how intense the emotions and cultural politics on either side of the Great Divide have been….

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About W

W is a 20-something, 30-something, 40-something, or even 50-something non-tenure track philosopher currently teaching at a private or public institution of higher education somewhere in North America. Different people will contribute to W’s diary. Like X, W is a philosophical persona composed by several real persons.

About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.