Je vous dis, merde!
—Jean Vigo, Zéro de Conduite
1. Think philosophically for yourself.
Everyone in contemporary professional philosophy knows, but almost no one ever actually says, that if you dare to disagree with your MA thesis or PhD dissertation advisor, or with your MA or PhD examination committee, or with a hiring committee, or with your senior colleagues (especially those who are now department chairs or higher administrators), or with leading people in your philosophical sub-field who are, or who are likely to be, referees of your work for journals, academic presses, or tenure and/or promotion, then you’re in serious trouble, i.e., you’re in deep shit. But this is a very bad thing that is inimical to real philosophy. Therefore, dare to think for yourself, and to hell with them.
2. Criticize professional philosophical authority.
Everyone in contemporary professional philosophy knows, but almost no one ever actually says, that certain philosophical views are deemed acceptable by a large majority of philosophers in the leading departments of philosophy, and other views are ignored, mocked, rejected out-of-hand, or otherwise deemed unacceptable by that same large majority. This fact has now been objectively confirmed by the recent 2009 PhilPapers survey and follow-up article by David Bourget and David Chalmers, “What Do Philosophers Believe?”.
More accurately, the article could have been entitled, “What Do Contemporary Professional Philosophers at the So-Called Top-Ranked 100 Departments, as Selected by the Philosophical Gourmet Report, Believe?” Or most accurately of all, it could have been entitled, “What Should Contemporary Professional Philosophers Believe, Who Want To Be Just Like the Large Majority of Contemporary Professional Philosophers at the So-Called Top-Ranked 100 Departments, as Selected by the Philosophical Gourmet Report? (Graduate Students and/or Unemployed, Untenured, or Unpromoted Professional Philosophers, This Means YOU.)” But this, again, is a very bad thing that is inimical to real philosophy. Therefore, dare to criticize professional philosophical authority, and to hell with them.
3. Recognize and reject professional philosophical bullshit.
Everyone in contemporary professional philosophy knows, but almost no one ever actually says, that if we were to look back on professional philosophy since 1983 (i.e., over the last thirty years), we could see four extremely important trends.
First, since 1983 there have been significant changes and transitions in what counts as mainstream core philosophy. (By “the mainstream,” it is meant: “tenure-track philosophers in the so-called top-ranked 100 departments.” By “core,” it is meant: “those areas of research deemed by the mainstream to be most central and fundamental to philosophy.”)
In The Beginning There Was Logical Empiricism, which held sway in the mainstream and amongst those working in the core in the immediate post-World War II period, from the late 40s and through the 1950s, until the Quine-led, post- Empiricist reaction set in during the 50s. Later Wittgenstein’s work was then, for a brief while, taken seriously. During the 60s, Ordinary Language Philosophy, deriving mainly from Oxford, constituted a kind of philosophical British Invasion, later to be replaced by a Davidsonic Boom in the 70s. More generally, however, during the 60s, 70s, and even into the 80s, the core was philosophy of language and logic, accompanied by a fairly virulent anti-metaphysical stance, plus strong anti-realism—both about science (e.g., work influenced by Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and also about central issues in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of language.
In the 80s, the core gradually switched over to being the philosophy of language- and-MIND, and logic, and EPISTEMOLOGY, with a gradual softening towards metaphysics, as long as it was the metaphysics of natural science. Anti-realism began to wither away. For a brief moment in the late 70s and early 80s, anti-realist ideas of a broadly pragmatist stripe that were also significantly influenced by the history of philosophy and Continental (i.e., Kantian, Hegelian, post-Kantian European, neo-Hegelian, existentialist, Husserlian/Heideggerian phenomenological, Derridean deconstructionist, or Foucauldian post-structuralist) philosophy, challenged the hegemony of the core: Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature in 1979. But we all know what happened to HIM. In the aftermath of the intellectual firestorm surrounding PMN, Rorty quit mainstream philosophy, became a Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature, and was never read or taken seriously again by anyone in the mainstream or working in the core.
Then in the 90s, the core quietly but surely changed over and became the philosophy of mind PERIOD, and logic, and epistemology, with increasing interest in metaphysics driven by modal logic and natural science. The acronym “M&E,” as shorthand for the core, mysteriously became widespread. Anti-realism about science equally mysteriously turned into its dialectical opposite, dogmatic realism about science, especially scientific essentialism. Also equally mysteriously, the philosophy of language in effect disappeared as a core philosophical discipline and re-appeared as empirically-driven, semi-philosophical linguistics/psycholinguistics.
Finally in the 00s and now into the 10s, the philosophy of mind was gradually displaced from the core and demoted to the periphery, and then, yet again mysteriously, replaced in the core’s core by modal metaphysics (a.k.a. “Analytic metaphysics”), alongside logic and epistemology—which began gradually to absorb the philosophy of mind under the rubric of theories of cognition/mental representation and content, all driven, as always, by natural science and its methods.
To be fair, in the 80s and 90s several other books also significantly influenced by the history of philosophy and/or Continental philosophy also attempted to challenge the hegemony of the core: e.g., John McDowell’s Mind and World, Hilary Putnam’s Realism and Reason and Realism with a Human Face, and Robert Brandom’s Making It Explicit. And each of them had its small group of enthusiastic supporters, hoping against hope for a break-up of the hegemony of the core. But, sadly, it just didn’t happen, and all of them eventually suffered, to varying degrees, the fate of PMN.
Therefore, it is completely clear that since 1983, core philosophy has always included logic, but gradually has become more and more metaphysical and scientistic, under the nicely referentially-flexible acronym “M&E.” Dogmatic scientific realism, various forms of materialism, compatibilism, and atheism became the unquestioned default positions, quixotically opposed by a small minority of reactionary professional philosophers—as it were, The Official Opposition—clinging to the core by the skin of their teeth, who still defended anti- realism, or Cartesian dualism, or agent-causal libertarian incompatibilism, and/or theism.
But why, since at least 1983, has there never been any serious mainstream consideration of views that don’t fit either the core or The Official Opposition? The answer is that they’re all simply off the grid for those working in the core or still clinging to the core. Or otherwise put, they’re the third rail of mainstream philosophy: touch it, and you die professionally, i.e., no one in the mainstream or working in or near the core ever reads your work or takes you seriously again. That this is undeniably so was recently fully confirmed by the extremely instructive intellectual controversy surrounding Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.
“Poor old Nagel—I haven’t actually read Mind and Cosmos, but he’s gone crazy, hasn’t he?” Je vous dis, merde.
Second, since 1983 everyone else in mainstream philosophy but not working in the core has allowed themselves to be slotted into one or another of three non-M&E areas of specialization, a.k.a. AOS—as it were, the client states of the core—listed here in diminishing order of greatest-to-least importance and professional status, relative to the core: (1) Values (i.e., ethics, social-and-political philosophy, and aesthetics), (2) History of Philosophy, and, lowliest of all, (3) Continental Philosophy. Together with M&E, let us call these The Four Horsemen of the AOS. Two conditions must be implicitly satisfied in order to ride in the same saddle with one or another of The Four Horsemen of the AOS: (i) full acceptance of the hegemony of the core, M&E, and (ii) full acceptance of the mysterious establishment, within that AOS, of a core-like structure that effectively controls patterns of research and publication for people officially working in that area. Otherwise, you die professionally.
Graduate student, non-tenure track professional philosopher, or pre-tenured professional philosopher: “But why can’t I work on topics that fall fully outside of The Four Horsemen of the AOS? Or why can’t I devise an original area of research and publication for myself that, e.g., fully fuses some basic issues and problems in so-called M&E with some in so-called Values and some in so-called Continental Philosophy? The whole system doesn’t make any sense to me.” Mainstream professional philosopher with tenure: “Well, I’m sorry but you can’t—unless of course you want to die professionally. I didn’t make the the rules. That’s just the way it is.” Je vous dis, merde!
Third, there has been an emergence and flourishing of highly influential online professional philosophy rankings of all kinds, profession-related blogs, etc.; and finally, at least in part, as a consequence of this emergence and flourishing, the by- now almost complete dominance of practices of hyper-professionalization and hyper-specialization in the mainstream and amongst those working in the core. The primary or sole function of graduate programs in philosophy at mainstream departments is to produce, within six years or less, new PhDs who can compete well in the current job-market. To be sure, mainstream departments are ranked and punished/rewarded by their universities and also by the profession at large, for their time-to-PhD numbers and their placement records. Nevertheless it is a shining example of how, as per James C. Scott’s crisp phrase, “a measure colonizes behavior” (Two Cheers for Anarchism, p. 114), and real philosophy is thereby colonized out of existence.
Fourth and finally, perhaps the most striking thing about the whole period since 1983 is that almost no one ever talks about, or critically questions, the huge, obvious changes that have happened, or even seems to notice them as they change—they simply go over to the latest things as if they’ve been there ever since Socrates.
But this is all a very bad thing that is inimical to real philosophy. Therefore, recognize and reject professional philosophical bullshit, and to hell with them.
4. Treat everyone else with at least minimal moral respect, but never allow yourself to be tyrannized by the professional majority.
Everyone in contemporary professional philosophy knows, but almost no one ever actually says, that if you do not conform to the dominant professional institutional culture of your department, college, university, or the American Philosophical Association (let’s call these, collectively, The Professional Academic State), they will find a way to reprimand you, fire you, or otherwise kick you out of the profession, whether you publish a lot or not. In fact, “publish or perish” is a myth. Many professional philosophers in the mainstream publish very little, yet achieve significant professional success precisely because they conform to the dominant professional culture (as measured by, e.g., citation indexes or other online professional rankings); contrariwise, other professional philosophers publish a great deal, yet still are denied jobs, tenure, and/or promotion—either on the putative grounds that their publications are not sufficiently substantive or worthy, or on the putative grounds of inadequate teaching, or on the putative grounds of blah-blah-blah. Whatever they say by way of rationalization, however, this is usually nothing but rigor mortis masquerading as “professional academic rigor.” So the plain truth is, that if you don’t conform, The Professional Academic State will find a way to get you: it’s really conform or perish. But, yet again, this is all a very bad thing that is inimical to real philosophy. Therefore, treat everyone else with at least minimal moral respect, but never allow yourself to be tyrannized by the professional majority , and to hell with them.
5. Take philosophical responsibility for creating the real philosophy of the future.
In view of 1-4, as a real philosopher, you have only two options: (i) quit professional philosophy and do something else with your life that really matters to you, for the sake of real philosophy, or else (ii) stay in professional philosophy but develop the art of resisting and subverting it from the inside, for the sake of real philosophy, i.e., anarcho-philosophy. Therefore, one way or the other, dare to take philosophical responsibility for creating the real philosophy of the future, and to hell with them.