Is Philosophy largely irrelevant? Or at the very least, no different then say, gardening?
Like many other people, I always hope that when I teach logic it would help my students to argue more effectively, more critically, and really, more logically. I am not the first I am sure to be disappointed. Even the students who can understand and conceptualize the techniques of logic often can’t seem to execute these skills in day to day situations. What they learned in the logic classroom becomes irrelevant. All that ” logic stuff:” truth-tables, syllogisms, Venn diagrams, existential factuals etc. were of no use to the reasoning students face day to day, whether in another course, or while listening to our country’s leaders prate upon god knows what. The addition of critical thinking to the term logic, thus creating the Logic and Critical Thinking course, which was supposed to curb some of these problems by making it more relevant (let’s look at arguments found in our lives using some fancy techniques), but it is more of the same. Many of my students are all too ready to take things at face value, often misunderstanding rhetoric as rhetoric, misunderstanding the role ideology plays in daily life, and often have trouble recognizing the difference between a nicely constructed argument and a fallacious one when we compare them side by side. While I understand this as the my role as the teacher, e.g. to teach how to dissect, analyze and critique an argument, it’s rather disheartening sometimes.
Many of my students are lower/middle class and come from families not part of the meritocracy. I think that on the whole the institution I work at has an opportunity to convince its students of how little “gnosis” (as someone I know puts it) we actually have in our possession, and how dangerous is the illusion that fulfillment can come from either spiritually-minded or political ideologies. My students are not suspicious enough, however much I prod them. Nothing seems to faze them. However, I think this is a symptom of the broader American culture.
Consider this. Why is the work produced by/within the American Philosophical Association (and here we may as well add those identity-politic festishizers over at the American Academy of Religion) completely ignored by the rest of the country? Why don’t congressmen, business leaders, the White House, have “philosophical advisors?” One might point to the last 100 years of philosophy. Many of the recent philosophical trends, not least deconstruction, part of the general “turn to language” in the 20th century–a movement, as one of my friends would argue, that began with Hegel–seems on the face of it to be largely irrelevant to the concerns of the larger population. And why not? Let’s take the “recent deconstruction phenomenon” for one example. In one (albeit reductive)sense, isn’t “deconstruction” simply the continual clever manipulation of words, syntax etc? This points to another question that gestures back to Aristotle, do philosophers in the academy concern themselves with the “good life?” Or other forms of life? One might even ask if philosophers in the academy are actually philosophers in this sense?
And this points to another problem: the vast amount of secondary literature that is produced, is on the whole, solely produced to be a line or two on the cv. The publish or perish attitude promotes this, which in fact is flooding libraries, the internet, bookstores and databases with largely monotonous, narcissistic mediocre academic drek (I include myself). I wonder what it would mean to refuse this structure. After all, philosophers weren’t bona fide professionals until the late 18th or 19th century.