Standing United with APP, and The APP Dilemma Revisited. APP’s Readers Talk Back!

APP Editors’ Note: Ron de Weijze and Andreas Keller are independent philosophers living and working in Europe. YP is a young philosopher working on her BA somewhere in North America or Europe. RTP is a recently tenured associate professor of philosophy teaching at a public university somewhere in North America. And AG is an independent philosopher living and working somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

1. Standing United with APP

Ron de Weijze:  I realize that we must stand united against Chalmers and his sycophants. And I am on your side, if only because I always resisted taking the route of academic internalism or both academic and non-academic favoritism, nepotism or cronyism.

Yet my independent research, after majoring in theoretical psychology and social psychological research, has led me to a little different view on the history of (the) philosophy (of social psychology).

I still do believe in Kant, especially in the way Bergson interpreted him. That is unlike the “official” take as portrayed by Lawlor & Moulard (1). I do not believe Kant introduced multiplicity as multiculturalism. Nor do I believe Bergson was against Kant since “ideas cannot categorically demand their own realization”. Instead I believe, with Bergson, that Kant was a dualist (calling dualism “duality of origin” (2)) by separating sensibility after-the-fact in Anglo-Saxon philosophy from understanding before-the-fact in Continental philosophy and bringing them together. Instead of discovering the watershed between dialogue and debate at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, I discovered it, or something very similar, at the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, when the French Revolution started and Kant finished his Critiques (1789).

That is when modern philosophy as he masterfully highlighted it, was hijacked or hacked by post-modern philosophy and dualism was replaced by monism: the noumenon was redefined as (no more than) intersubjectivity, extending subjectivity. Too bad for the facts, Hegel told a reporter in 1804. Post-Modernism has never let us go and it turned the psychological- into a sociological realm.The individual could no longer be independent for “the subject goes into the world and loses himself, or he goes into himself and loses the world” (Hegel 1807).

Anarchists and other Marxists turn a blind eye to this, it seems.That is where the hierarchical social order started, imho.New elites decapitating old elites, not listening to the real voice of the people at Kant’s page in between European testaments.


(1) Lawlor, L.; Moulard, V. (2004). “Henri Bergson”. Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
(2) Bergson, H. (1932). “The Two Sources of Morality and Religion” p79.
London: Macmillan and Company Limited.

2. The APP Dilemma Revisited

 Andreas Keller:  A few thoughts about The APP Dilemma for Young Philosophers.

I think some form of option ii is the way to go.

One may learn another profession (this might be another academic discipline, e.g. history, or something entirely different). If YP develops a modest lifestyle not requiring too much money (something like modern stoicism might help to do so) she might be able to earn enough with just a part time job, leaving enough time to pursue philosophy. She can publish on the internet or write books (e.g. self-published, if there is no publisher). The number of readers for such media might be even larger than the number of people reading peer-reviewed papers (I guess that the average peer reviewed philosophy paper is read by just a few people, if anybody at all).Studying another subject besides philosophy might be helpful.

Generally, the two functions of earning money and doing philosophy should be separated, at least as long as the academy is a power system that suppresses free thinking (or at least free communication). To practice a science, one needs an academic education. There are systems of methods and concepts one has to learn to do it.

Philosophy, on the other hand, is the area that remained, where there are no established methods. As soon as, for some area of study, a fixed body of methods emerges, a new science is born and the area ceases to be part of philosophy. The result is that you can do philosophy outside the academic world. You cannot do this with physics or with disciplines like history or archaeology, where you have to learn a lot of special stuff.

There is a trade-off, in principle, between generality and exactness. If you try to get things exact, you inevitably make them special. Then you leave philosophy and enter the realm of the specialist disciplines.

Trying to turn philosophy into a science does not work because it leads to overspecialization and what remains is no longer philosophy. There is nothing in philosophy that you cannot just as well learn outside of the academic world. In philosophy, you may try to think as clearly as possible, as generally as possible, and you always have to reflect on what you are doing. But there is no general method for doing this. You can study the history of ideas (in the context of general history) but there is no “normal science” in the Kuhnian sense in philosophy. There is no established approach or paradigm, at least no one that cannot be criticized, refelcted uppon or challenged. So in philosophy, everybody is  an amateur and the academic philosophers are just trying to appear to be better off, but I think that is just spin-doctor-stuff.

You might not get recognition by the official club if you do some version of option ii, but the price for that recognition might be too high and if enough people are starting to do interesting stuff outside that club, its significance and power might reduce.

YP:  I really appreciate the response.

I agree, the cost of formal recognition from the academic community may be too high.

With a great deal of discipline being required, I think I agree that working outside of academic platform doesn’t necessarily put one at an intellectual disadvantage.

Philosophy, to me, involves refining critical thinking and learning to cultivate an intellectual curiosity that fuels one’s questioning and explorations of great works and big questions.

I think the idea of graduate studies is, in part, that the rigorous requirements, assignments, seminars, and papers, culminate in a curriculum which facilitates these skills through practice and mentorship from professionals.

I’m hoping the … [philosophy] courses I’m indulging in help me refine my thinking and expand my knowledge of various philosophers (better familiarizing myself with the likes of Kant and Plato for instance).

From there perhaps, I’ll be more equipped to explore philosophy as it interests me, outside the academic world.

The internet allows us to read an array of papers, articles and blog posts exploring philosophy from many perspectives. And it allows us to connect with others.

I think a lot of the professional philosophers I admire probably aren’t interested in indulging any kind of discourse with me because I am not “one of them.”

As of yet, I am not at their level intellectually in my knowledge base, or my ability to think philosophically in the clearest and most productive sense.

I still feel insecure enough in my intelligence to seek approval in the form of formal academia, but I’m working on it, in hopes I might indulge “real philosophy”, whether in academia or not.

RTP:  I appreciate APP’s response to YP. It’s honest and sensitive to her concerns.

For whatever it’s worth, I do have some reservations about it, though. The contrast between options (i) and (ii) is too stark. There are jobs in universities and colleges that don’t require the “real philosopher” to lead a double life.

A person could end up in a place where there isn’t much emphasis on publishing or networking, thus exempting her from a lot of “professional philosophy.”

She might end up in a one-person department or an inter-disciplinary cluster — unbothered, in either case, by professional philosophers obsessing over rankings, journals, presses, industry gossip, etc.

She could end up in a largely “continental” department, where (for good reasons good and bad) no one really cares about mainstream professional philosophy in the U.S.

Of course, one could, in such a department, confront a whole different set of problems. I did my PhD in a continental/history department and had my first TT job in a similar sort of department. But that’s a separate issue. The point is that I think your presentation of the options accepts too much of how “professional philosophy” defines the profession. From what I can tell, the profession is more pluralistic on the ground than one might think.

I have reservations about my reservations. There is a lot of value in presenting the options starkly and in being honest about the prospects of escaping the mindset that concerns YP and all sympathetic readers of APP. How likely is it that someone will land a job that allows them to escape all or most of it? I have no idea. Probably no one knows. (Perhaps there can be a poll. Then people can argue about the results online…)

More important, YP or any other student will have little to no say in the matter. Most students have to take whatever they can get, if they can get anything at all. My sense is that any student who is seriously troubled by what troubles YP is quite likely to struggle with all this for a very long time (provided she ever gets an academic job).

She could get extremely lucky and find an alternative within the profession of teaching at the college or university level. But there’s no way to know how likely this is, and only the very luckiest of an already very lucky group will be able to select among multiple job offers.

Your response does away with all this complexity, which might be to YP’s benefit.

I also applaud you for sending the message that one can “seriously pursue” philosophy outside the academy. I think this is right. As I’ve been telling my master’s students, you don’t need a PhD to be a philosopher. Yes, it’s hard to it outside the academy. But it’s not that easy to do within the academy either. Better: it certainly doesn’t automatically go with the territory.

Indeed, one must learn to be philosophical about his job as a professional philosopher. Taking the long view, it wasn’t that long ago since excellent and influential philosophy was written by people outside the university. It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision a future in which we return to that.

My other reservation stems from the fact that I wish the profession had more people in it who shared YP’s concerns about the profession. Seems a shame to chase them all away.

My reservation about this reservation, of course, is that no student should sacrifice herself for this profession. There are other ways to be a philosopher and other ways to do good in the world.

APP:  We agree completely that we framed the options as starkly as possible, for the sake of simplicity, and in particular we left out the whole “semi-professional philosophy” option that APP has discussed in earlier versions of this conversation, not to mention other sorts of complexity.

Obviously, it’s option (ii) that interests us most.

Scads of blah blah blah bullshit have been presented at conferences, and posted on departmental and other professional philosophy websites, about “alternative careers for philosophy majors and/or MAs and/or PhDs,” whereby they end up being some other kind of good little do-bee professional, and in effect quitting serious philosophy.

But there has been almost no discussion whatsoever about how one could pursue real philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling outside the professional academy, with or without a PhD, and still make a living. 

We mean: is it really possible to make a living by means of pursuing real philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling altogether outside the professional academy, in the real world?

–Not by grinding lenses like Spinoza, or doing some other daytime job, in order to support your real-philosophy addiction, not by being supported by rich patrons, and not by writing popular books, but just by doing philosophy in the marketplace.

If so, that would be something no one has done since Socrates.

Is it really practically possible?

Or will people who attempt this inevitably end up like Socrates himself: having a small and loyal following, but permanently unemployed and indigent, with “mental health issues,” and a public enemy?

AG:   There is an option iv, which happens to be the one I am pursuing: Remain engaged in philosophy and pursue commerce.

When the time is right and you have the financial security and flexibility, pursue academic philosophy as an aside to commerce.

Once complete, relish the freedom of not having to do philosophy as a profession under the constraints of the academy while being equipped with the tools to do philosophy with rigor.

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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.