Sunday, July 16, 2006

Philosophers Outside Philosophy Departments

Continuing on the topic of MacArthur "Genius" awards: this list shows winners by category. There are a few philosophers who've won in related areas - as Sharon Crasnow points out, Nancy Cartwright under "History and Philosophy of Science" (also Evelyn Fox Keller, in the same category).

Lisa Shapiro made a similar point: that if we look at a range of categories, philosophers do quite well. Here's how Jason Stanley responded:

It is also the case that a substantial minority of those listed under philosophy are not people who philosophers would classify as fellow philosophers. I assume a similar situation is true of other disciplines. So a few philosophers occur under other categories, and a few of the people who appear under 'philosophy' aren't philosophers. (Link here, then scroll down.)
Here's the list of MacArthur winners for "Philosophy": Cavell, Patricia Churchland, Kolakowski, Rorty, Scanlon, Shklar. Now I'm wondering which of these don't count as "philosophers." It's one thing to be blasé about their work, but who in their right mind could deny that each of these is a philosopher?

Likewise, who are these "philosophers" who are entitled to pass judgment on who is and is not a "fellow philosopher"? Are we talking about the rank-and-file here? (I don't think so.) Or are we talking about some smug, entitled subset of the profession? (More likely.)

To sum up: 1) I don't see the point in complaining about philosophers not winning MacArthurs when the philosophers who do are dismissed as not being real philosophers. 2) I'm still not sure why anyone should care.

But here's a related topic. Consider the number of philosophers who aren't associated with philosophy departments (or who aren't primarily associated with philosophy departments): Rorty, of course, but also Martha Nussbaum, Peter Singer, Judith Butler. I think I'm right about those four, and there are others I've no doubt missed. (Again, the only reason for denying that they are philosophers is if being a philosopher means being associated primarily with a philosophy department - which would be absurd.)

So this raises the question: why are some of the most prominent contemporary philosophers not in philosophy departments? And how much of this is due to attitudes like the one above?

























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