“…the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
— J.R.R. Tolkein
Worth considering: Philosopher Scott Soames argues that  philosophy’s recent history has been much more impressive than its critics would have you believe, and  philosophy is best done in a university setting, rather than in the public square.
Soames is generally irenic (so long as the grumbling parties are fairly connected to the Anglo-analytic methods he favors). He does not take too seriously the fad of logical positivism in the 20th century, and he does not limit legitimate philosophical interest to any one are of exploration (e.g., he does not dismiss moral philosophy as a going concern). On the contrary, he argues that real advances have been made across the board, and that this is mainly thanks to philosophy’s having been disciplined by the modern research academy. This is no argument, however, for philosophy’s being arcane or divorced from concerns of non-professional philosophers. There is much to consider in this essay.
The impetus for this piece was another that appeared in the NYT “The Stone” philosophy column by Bob Frodeman and Adam Briggle, which argued that philosophy lost its way when it morphed into just another academic discipline (one with science-envy). I confess, I’ve seen it in much the same way as Frodeman and Briggle, and having just re-read their piece I generally still do.
It makes me wonder: Is there just *one* thing that philosophy is? Or is term “philosophy” like term “religion” — a blanket term that (legitimately?) covers widely divergent practices? Is the philosophy for the public square (or philosophy-as-a-way-of-life) “the same thing” as the philosophy done in academic settings and disciplinary practices? If not, is there at least a possibility for a mutually enriching intersection or overlap? Philosophers themselves have been notoriously argumentative about what counts as philosophy at all (for instance, the Derrida affair). Often they divide up their “orthodox” and their “heterodox” and their outright “heathen dogs.” Maybe that’s just part of the game.
But I know I do more than one thing as a philosopher…or maybe I am more than one thing as a philosopher. What and how I teach (and to what end) is not the same (exactly) as what I do when I write a journal article or a book review on a technical issue in, say, ontology. And I don’t think, as a philosopher (not as a philosopher professor), that I am ever “off the clock.” Perhaps I am large and contain multitudes. But why not be large and why not try to contain multitudes? Frodeman/Briggle and Soames. Why not?
Well, I know what she’s trying to say…but my cat needs food! Can we continue to do the wrong thing until we figure out how we’ll do the right thing (which we should do, of course)?
Over there at the New Statesman, a gaggle of interesting people were asked what you can’t say, what we’re not allowed to say…and then to say it. Well worth a scan, but I think I prefer Nick Cave’s answer the best:
The lovely thing about the unsayable is that it is unsaid. As soon as it is said, it is sayable and loses all its mystery and ambiguity. Art exists so that the unsayable can be said without having to actually say it. We cloud it in secrecy and obfuscation. The mind is free to roam and all things can be imagined, under the cover of darkness. How nice that is. The unsayable. How tired we are of having things explained to us. Having things said. How nice it is, when people just shut the fuck up.
And you probably didn’t read this either.