Wednesday, November 6, 2019

On Medium: Is Philosophy a Con?

Here's an article I posted on Medium, about whether the academic job prospects for philosophy grads are grim because Western philosophy itself is somehow flawed. The link I just provided should get you past the paywall.


  1. Academic philosophy is a financial sink hole and to my knowledge has only ever been profitable for apologists for the status quo. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that philosophy as a whole is useless or stultifying. I was both shocked & amused when physicist Stephan Hawking declared that philosophy was dead & science needed to start addressing the questions that philosophy had failed to answer. That a scientist as brilliant as Hawking didn't seem to grasp that science - both as a method & a worldview - is founded upon philosophical positions really underlines just how exigent basic philosophical literacy is for scientists.

    There seems to be this impression among non-philosophers that philosophy has spun a lot of webs, but never caught a fly. While science progresses from one theory to a better one, philosophy stagnates. If I were foolish or wealthy enough to pursue a PhD in philosophy, I'd happily challenge this idea. It's absolutely true that philosophy has progressed. Some philosophical positions (consequentialism, positivism, libertarianism, hard dualism) really have been roundly and thoroughly refuted even if they still have some misguided adherents. The moribund image of philosophy is simply another symptom of the philosophical illiteracy I mentioned above.

    1. I agree with you about Hawking. In fact, I wrote an article about that in 2013 (link below).

      I don't think I argued that philosophy is useless. I argued that philosophy's a con in that it bewitches us (somewhat as Wittgenstein said, but not really), as it were, and what we learn from Western philosophy--from where we stand within its history--isn't conducive to a happy life. In that sense philosophy is stultifying: it makes us look foolish with our naive preference to be narrow-minded and comfortable in ignorance.

      I agree there's progress in philosophy's history. For example, the shift from Thomistic teleology to cosmicist naturalism (from ancient to modern philosophy, roughly speaking) is "progressive," in a sense, but again that advance is also a setback in practical terms, since it makes life harder for honourable, informed folks who care about their intellectual integrity.