Teaching Philosophy: “Mildly Discreditable?”


Here’s Raymond Geuss, a  philosopher at Cambridge, discussing the profession of teaching philosophy:

I have what I have always held to be a mildly discreditable day job, that of teaching philosophy at a university. I take it to be discreditable because about 85 percent of my time and energy is devoted to training aspiring young members of the commercial, administrative or governmental elite in the glib manipulation of words, theories and arguments. I thereby help to turn out the pliable, efficient, self-satisfied cadres that our economic and political system uses to produce the ideological carapace which protects it against criticism and change. I take my job to be only mildly discreditable, partly because I don’t think, finally, that this realm of words is in most cases much more than an epiphenomenon secreted by power relations which would otherwise express themselves with even greater and more dramatic directness. Partly, too, because 10 percent of the job is an open area within which it is possible that some of these young people might become minimally reflective about the world they live in and their place in it; in the best of cases they might come to be able and willing to work for some minimal mitigation of the cruder excesses of the pervading system of oppression under which we live. The remaining 5 percent of my job, by the way, what I would call the actual “philosophical” part, is almost invisible from the outside, totally unclassifiable in any schema known to me—and quantitatively, in any case, so insignificant that it can more or less be ignored.

So the experience I have of my everyday work environment is of a conformist, claustrophobic and repressive verbal universe, a penitential domain of reason-mongering in which hyperactivity in detail—the endlessly repeated shouts of “why,” the rebuttals, calls for “evidence,” qualifications and quibbles—stands in stark contrast to the immobility and self-referentiality of the structure as a whole.

I’m teaching Leibniz later this afternoon, and I have to tell you, this isn’t boosting my morale.  Thoughts?

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A Serious Disapointment


Over the weekend I finally got a chance to see the Coen Brothers latest release, A Serious Man.  My initial reaction to the movie was a moderately enthusiastc “Meh.”  However, after I started thinking about it I found myself becoming a bit annoyed and this morning I woke up thinking the film was a total failure. David Denby, who wrote one of the few negative reviews, sums up:

The movie is a deadpan farce with a schlemiel Job as a hero—Professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physicist at a local university, whose life, in 1967, is falling apart. Gopnik’s wife (Sari Lennick) is leaving him for a sanctimonious bastard (Fred Melamed) who covers his aggressions against Larry with limp-pawed caresses and offers of “understanding.” Larry’s kids are thieving brats, and his hapless, sick, whining brother (Richard Kind) camps on the living-room couch and refuses to look for work. There’s more, much more, a series of mishaps, sordid betrayals, and weird coincidences, but Larry, a sweet guy and “a serious man”—upright, a good teacher, a father—won’t hit back. Occasionally, his eyebrows fluttering like street signs in a hurricane, he stands up for himself, but he won’t take a shot at anyone, or try to control anyone, verbally or any other way. He won’t even sleep with the dragon-eyed but sexy and highly available woman next door who sunbathes naked. (read the full review here) Continue reading

Harvard Ethos: Insanity?


So Amy Bishor’s defense is likely to be some form of insanity defense:

Huntsville attorney Roy Miller sat down with WHNT NEWS 19 just minutes after visiting Bishop at the Huntsville Metro Jail. He revealed some startling new details about the case that has grabbed national headlines.

“I just think the case speaks for itself,” said Miller, when asked about Bishop’s mental state. “I think she’s wacko.”

Inside Higher Ed suggests that wackiness comes from her Harvard education:

The lawyer for Amy Bishop told the Associated Press Thursday that she probably is insane and does not remember the shootings in which she is accused of murdering three of her biology faculty colleagues last week at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The lawyer called Bishop “very cogent” in their discussions, but also said that she has difficulties with reality, and he suggested that her actions last week were due in part to being denied tenure, after receiving a Harvard University education. ”Obviously she was very distraught and concerned over that tenure…. It insulted her and slapped her in the face, and it’s probably tied in with the Harvard mentality. She brooded and brooded and brooded over it, and then, ‘bingo.’ ”

Of course, anyone who “after receiving Harvard education” does not get his/her way in life is justified in retaliating in whatever way they can against such society – case closed!