Since the comments are still behaving very strangely, I thought I’d repost Alexei’s comment-question here at the top and see if this theme can move out of our discussion of “post-academics”:
Rather than continue this ‘debate,’ I was wondering if maybe I could tease out something interesting, concerning a rather Benjaminian theme of ‘progress’ that’s floating around unidentified in the polemics. All this talk of ‘newness’ vs. the need to know the ‘history of philosophy’ (understood as a disciplinary regime, I suppose, as a discourse) presupposes a fundamental belief that intellectual developments in the humanities exhibit the same features as the development in the sciences — i.e. that what we call ‘progress’ exhibits cumulative and transitive properties. Said simply, the reason names and faulty positions aren’t important in math (which is about the only ’science’ I’ve ever taken courses in — and honestly, I was a terrible math student), past knowing why a theorem is called the so-and-so theorem, is that the history of the discipline is ‘built-into’ the newer techniques and approaches. The only history one needs are the competences to manipulate (and the vision to project) certain techniques. One can’t worry about non-linear algebra if one can’t do algebra first. One can’t do number theory, unless one has a handle on mathematical logic and the methods of proof. One can’t make it very far in systems theory, if one doesn’t understand Sigma-notation. So there’s a sense in which the competences one needs in order to study a science supersede a historical overview of the discipline itself. But this presupposes, of course, that the history of a discipline is ’sedimented’ in its techniques and practical competences, which are themselves only important as means to some modern-day newness.
It would be insane, for instance, to teach mathematical logic out of either Frege’s Begriffschrift or Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica, since what’s valuable (or at least arguably valuable) is contained in our present — streamlined, more or less contradiction free — first-order predicate calculi. Although these texts are interesting (and there’s something really, really neat about Frege’s notation, which you can’t get in FOPCAL) from a historical perspective, they are totally useless for our present purposes. They’ve been outmoded, their deep insights absorbed, and their problems resolved (or the wacky bits that produced them have been dumbed).
But the question remains: what outmodes a philosophical approach? Under what conditions would we say that some approach exhibits a cumulative and transitive property, which renders previous thought redundant? I’m not convinced there is any such condition — especially since the only appeal one can make is to nebulous notions like probity or truth, both of which, however, exhibit a contextuality and value-relevance that undercuts the idea of cumulative advance.
Anyway, I would be interested to here what others think. Does philosophy exhibit a progressive movement towards some ideal state? What would this state mean, and how would we identify whether we’re moving away or towards it? It strikes me that unless you’re willing to embrace some such thesis concerning progress in the humanities, there’s no legitimate way of bucking the system, since there’s no set of competences (’rules’) that arguably supersede historical antecedents.