Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fellowships for Philosophers

There's been a discussion lately on the Leiter Report blog about the small number of philosophers receiving prestigious awards (MacArthur, Guggenheim, etc.). I commented on this post. My argument is that it has as much (or more) to do with dysfunction within the philosophical profession as it has to do with animus directed toward philosophers by others.

Now, some seem to believe that those philosophers who do win MacArthurs, etc., aren't really philosophers or aren't working in the core areas of philosophy. That is, they're either Rorty or Patricia Churchland, or they do applied or cross-disciplinary work, which isn't as valuable as the real stuff namely metaphysics, epistemology, and logic. I think that line of thinking is rubbish and further indicates the dysfunction in our discipline.

There's a lot more to say about this, but one quick question: why should I care whether philosophers are winning MacArthurs? I'm not going to win a MacArthur, and I've learned to live with that, and so I'm sure philosophers at Harvard, Princeton, NYU, etc., can learn to live with it too. I mean, I'm sorry if you don't win the MacArthur, but if you teach at Harvard (or wherever) it's difficult to feel too sorry.

I suppose the response is that it's good for the profession (and for me) if philosophers are winning awards, and so I should care for that reason. But philosophers are winning the awards - they just happen to be philosophers like Rorty and Churchland and people who do applied or cross-disciplinary work. So, really, the gripe is that the winners aren't the right kind of philosophers: i.e., they're not analytic epistemologists, metaphysicians, and logicians. But then I really fail to see how having more analytic epistemologists winning awards would help the profession (and I speak as an analytic epistemologist). Rather, it's precisely people like Rorty, and Churchland, and Peter Singer who've done a great job of raising the profession's profile - and good for them: if they win awards, I have no problem with that.

So I still don't see why I should care if (certain kinds of) philosophers aren't winning the big prizes.


Blogger Sharon Crasnow said...

Two things: Nancy Cartwright won a MacArthur once upon a time. Does she count? Second, if I was reading him correctly, one of the many former Executive Directors of the APA seemed to think that the dysfunction of our professional organization had something to do with it. That we know very little about just how many philosophers there are, how many are women, where they teach, and so on is fairly unusual for a professional organization.

5:34 PM  

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