The Secret lives of Philosophy Profs…


An amusing article from The Philosophers Magazine, not having to do with those sexy shiny new toilets (unfortunately), but amusing nonetheless. Really, it’s a window into my ego driven, out of control RegisPhilbin-like-id, completely narcissistic soul:

Having read the repudiations of wealth in Plato, the Epicureans, and Augustine; having read about moderation and restraint in Cicero, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein; and having accepted the low pay rates of the academy, philosophers ought to be, I concluded, the sort of people whose contempt for money and status would be matched only by the purity and passion of their engagement with reasoning, theorising, contemplation, and speculation. Alas.

Instead, I’ve found that the secret lives of philosophers are more often than not pre-occupied with status and acquisition. What one might call “positioning” conversations that, back in the day, had been largely confined to the dolorous waiting area for job candidates at American Philosophical Association meetings, now seem commonplace at conferences, receptions, lectures, and wherever philosophers gather. Like debutantes at the ball, philosophers now often spend much of their time dropping names, gossiping, promoting their connections, hawking their publications, passing out business cards and polishing their self-promotional web sites. Having rarely heard the phrase “Research Institution” during the first decade or so of my life in the profession, and then among only administrators, I now encounter it at nearly every professional meeting I attend. It seems to trip off the tongues of younger faculty, in particular, as easily as remarks about the football standings.


Speaking of which, philosophers have even taken to ranking their programs in a linear, hierarchical way – or rather deferring to the barely-informed rankings of others. That these rankings are actually taken seriously in a profession so diverse, so pervaded by idiosyncrasy, so flush with an overabundance of talent, and so thoroughly populated by people sophisticated enough to know better, is simply breathtaking. One now finds post-graduate students selecting programs, and even hiring committees making appointments, on the basis of “the standings”. Like a member of the admissions committee to a fancy country club, a colleague of mine from a prominent university, for example, with an entirely straight face told me that faculty members there wouldn’t even consider hiring a newly minted PhD who hadn’t graduated from a program “ranked” in at least the top fifteen of the Leiter Report. Without a hint of shame about this intellectual laziness, this philosopher told me that applications from candidates not in the top fifteen aren’t even read.

It’s enough to make the hiring process at an investment bank look intellectually rigorous.

The author (continuing with his idealistic whinery he started with above, something about “love of wisdom”) concludes (oh the irony):

One implication of this little secret is that professional philosophers have become less and less egalitarian in their view of education. The midwest United States, where I work, is littered with liberal arts colleges established by academics in the nineteenth century, and land-grant universities established in the twentieth, by intellectuals devoted to the democratic idea that intellectual culture, including philosophical culture, should be spread widely among the populace. Increasingly however, even as they preach tiresome denunciations of privilege and power formulated in the language of Foucault and critical theory, academics now flee or aspire to flee to institutions where status and money pool. Finding philosophers devoted principally to the love of wisdom and to sharing it broadly has become, as Spinoza said of all excellent things, as difficult as it is rare.

Indeed. Or as the kids say, “Snap, yo.”

Read the whole thing here

6 thoughts on “The Secret lives of Philosophy Profs…

  1. Meh. Virtue’s always been an easy claim and a hard sell.

    By the way, this rant conforms to my own prejudices, so it’s both hilarious and in some epistemologically-sophisticated way I’ll invent later if necessary much truer than that crap from about the inherent idiocy of tenured professors.

  2. Pingback: worth a chuckle « Object-Oriented Philosophy

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