Archives For philosophy

Author Information: Robert Frodeman, University of North Texas, Robert.Frodeman@unt.edu

Frodeman, Robert. “Socratics and Anti-Socratics: The Status of Expertise.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 5 (2017): 42-44.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3AO

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Image credit: J.D. Falk, via flickr

Do we, academically trained and credentialed philosophers, understand what philosophy is? It’s a disquieting question, or would be, if it could be taken seriously. But who can take it seriously? Academic philosophers are the inheritors of more than 100 years of painstaking, peer-reviewed work—to say nothing of centuries of thinking before that. Through these efforts, philosophy has become an area of expertise on a par with other disciplines. The question, then, is silly—or insulting: of course philosophers know their stuff!

But shouldn’t we feel a bit uneasy by this juxtaposition of ‘philosophers’ and ‘know’? We tell our introductory classes that ‘philosopher’ literally means to be a friend or lover of wisdom, rather than to be the actual possessor of it. And that Socrates, the patron saint of philosophy, only claimed to possess ‘Socratic wisdom’—he only knew that he knew nothing. Have we then abandoned our allegiance to Socrates? Or did we never take him seriously? Would philosophers be more candid quoting Hegel, when he noted in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit that his goal was to “lay aside the title ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowing”? But wouldn’t that mean that philosophers were not really philosophers, but rather sophists?

Two Types of Sophists

The Greeks knew two types of sophists. There were the philosophical sophists, who had skeptical beliefs about the possibilities of knowledge. Protagoras, the most famous of these, claimed that experience is inescapably subjective: the same wind blows both hot and cold depending on the person’s experience. But also, and more simply, sophists were people in the know, or as we say today, experts: people able to instruct young men in skills such as horsemanship, warfare, or public speaking. There are some philosophers today who would place themselves into the first category—for instance, standpoint epistemologists, who sometimes make similar claims in terms of race, class, and gender—but it seems that nearly all philosophers place themselves in the latter category. Philosophers today are experts. Not in philosophy overall, of course, that’s too large of a domain; but in one or another subfield, ethics or logic or the philosophy of language.

It is the subdividing of philosophy that allows philosophers to make claims of expertise. This point was brought home recently in the dustup surrounding Rebecca Tuvel’s Hypatia article “In Defense of Transracialism.” Tuvel’s piece prompted the creation of an Open Letter, which collected more than 800 signatories by the time it was closed. The Letter called on Hypatia to retract publication of her essay. These critics did not merely disagree with her argument; they denied her right to speak on the topic at all. The Letter notes that Tuvel “fails to seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions….”

Tuvel’s article and subsequent publishing of the Open Letter have elicited an extended series of commentaries (including no less than two op-eds in the New York Times). The exact criteria for those who wished to censure Tuvel has varied. Some thought her transgression consisted in the insufficient citing of the literature in the field, while others claimed that her identity was not sufficiently grounded in personal experience of racial and/or gender oppression. In both cases, however, criticism turned on assumptions of expertise. Notably, Tuvel also makes claims of expertise, on her departmental website, as being a specialist in both feminism and the philosophy of race, although she has mostly stayed out of the subsequent back and forth.

My concern, then, is not with pros and cons of Tuvel’s essay. It is rather with the background assumption of expertise that all parties seem to share. I admit that I am not an expert in these areas; but my claim is more fundamental than that. I do not view myself as an expert in any area of philosophy, at least as the term is now used. I have been introduced on occasion as an expert in the philosophy of interdisciplinarity, but this usually prompts me to note that I am only an expert in the impossibility of expertise. Widespread claims to the contrary, interdisciplinarity is perhaps the last thing that someone can be an expert in. At least, the claim cannot be that someone knows the literature of the subject, since the point of interdisciplinarity, if it is something more than another route to academic success, is more political than epistemic in nature.

A Change in Philosophy?

The attitudes revealed by L’Affaire Tuvel (and examples can be multiplied at will[1]) suggests that we are looking at something more than simply another shift in the philosophical tides. There has always been a Hegelian or Cartesian element within philosophy, where philosophers have made claims of possessing apodictic knowledge. There has also always been a Socratic (or to pick a more recent example, Heideggerian) cohort who have emphasized the interrogative nature of philosophy. Heidegger constantly stresses the need to live within the question, whether the question concerns being or technology. He notes as well that his answers, such as they are, are true only approximately and for the most part—zunächst und zumeist. In this he follows Aristotle, who in the Ethics 1.3 pointed out that some areas of inquiry are simply not susceptible to either precision or certainty of knowledge. To my mind, this is the condition of philosophy.

Grant, then, that there have always been two camps on the possibility of expertise in philosophy. But I suggest that the balance between these two positions has shifted, as philosophy has become a creature of the university. The modern research university has its own institutional philosophy: it treats all knowledge democratically, as consisting of regional domains on a common plane. There is no hierarchy of the disciplines, no higher or lower knowledge, no more general or specific knowledge. Researchers in philosophy and the humanities see themselves as fellow specialists, rather than as intellectuals of a markedly different type than those in the natural and social sciences.

Today these assumptions are so deeply embedded that no one bothers to note them at all. Few seriously propose that philosophers might have a role to play other than being an expert, or that our job might be to provoke rather than to answer. I, however, want to raise that very possibility. And operating under the assumption that naming the two positions might help rally troops to their respective standards, let the two camps be designated as the Socratics and the Anti-Socratics.

Part of the attraction that Science and Technology Studies (STS) has held for me has been its undisciplined nature, and the faint hope that it could take over the Socratic role that philosophy has largely abandoned. Of course, the debate between the Socratics and Anti-Socratics rages in STS as well, framed in terms of Low and High Church STS, those who resist STS becoming a discipline and those who see it as part of the necessary maturation of the field. I admit to feeling the attractions of High Church STS, and philosophy: expertise has its prerogatives, chief among them the security of speaking to other ‘experts’ rather than taking on the dangerous task of working in the wider world. But I think I will throw my lot in with the Socratics for a while longer.

References

Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics.  Oxford University Press, 2009. https://goo.gl/XCOhe9

Brubakermay, Rogers. “The Uproar Over ‘Transracialism’.”  New York Times. May 18, 2017. https://goo.gl/Qz9BKs https://goo.gl/sTwej9

Frodeman, Robert and Adam Briggle.Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st-Century. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Fuller, Steve and James H. Collier. Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge: A New Beginning for Science and Technology Studies. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel’s Preface to the “Phenomenology of Spirit”. Translated by Yirmiyahu Yovel. Princeton University Press, 2005.

Schuessler, Jennifer. “A Defense of ‘Transracial’ Identity Roils Philosophy World.” New York Times. May 19, 2017. https://goo.gl/sTwej9

Tuvel, Rebecca. “In Defense of Transracialism.” Hypatia 29 March 2017. doi: 10.1111/hypa.12327

[1] See, for instance, https://goo.gl/QiTyOw.

Author Information: Robert Frodeman, University of North Texas, Robert.Frodeman@unt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nN

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dickins_christmas

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As we do every holiday season, last night we watched the 1951 version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. It was deeply comforting, and deeply troubling. It’s great because the director (Desmond-Hurst) treats the subject matter with the gravity and modesty it deserves. This is the version that haunted my childhood: how Marley’s face on the door knocker frightened me, as did his banging of chains. Ditto the hand that juts out from the black figure of the ghost of Christmas Future.

But what frightens me now is what the story portends for our future. The movie declares that it’s a story of redemption, or as it says, of (individual) reclamation. But it is about something more fundamental than that. It assumes the existence of a moral and metaphysical order. The accounts always balance: Marley wears the chains he forged in life, and if Scrooge is to avoid the same fate he must come to his senses. Of course, terrible injustices exist in Dicken’s London, but there is a stability to the world that is intensely consoling. Now, however, it’s this stability and consolation that’s been lost.

I feel that the greatest task of the philosopher—I mean the term in a generic sense, which includes STSers and many others—is to try to identify the deepest, most profound, and most significant problem of his or her time and think it through. Of course, people will differ in their evaluation of what this is. But that’s ok. In fact it’s good, for it increases the chances that someone will get lucky and hit upon the right problem. This is what led me to environmental philosophy, and then to interdisciplinarity, and most recently to what might be called policy studies but which is really about thinking through the problem of the mismatch between the supply and the demand for knowledge.

Now, all these issues remain central. But I am increasingly gripped by the sense that it is our loss of a moral and metaphysical order that is the chief problem of our time—an instability that is being driven by science and technology. It’s a point that Ted Kaczynski spotted early, though I reject his methods. When I read about the latest developments in AI and DIYbiology I feel a world spinning out of control—and feel that it is this feeling, mis-interpreted, that has led us to Trump. It’s spawned a wildness that expresses itself in Trump’s statements and behavior, and of some of those who support him, a feeling that things have been spinning out of control (MAGA); but rather than trying to react in a conservative or Burkean manner to reestablish order, the urge has now become nihilistic, expressing itself as authoritarianism and irrationality—Bannon’s ‘let’s blow up the entire system’ and the GOP’s ‘who cares if Putin threw the election, our guy won’.

So it is that here, teaching in Texas, I find myself saying repeatedly to my classes: you guys say you are christian; you picket abortion clinics; but why aren’t you picketing the biology building, which represents a much greater threat to your world order? In this sense I think Fuller is correct, that our political choices are reorienting themselves from left-right to what might be called black-green—that the real debate before us is between those who seek deification via technoscience, versus those hoary old metaphysicians who declaim the folly of that path and call for the observance of some type of larger order and limit.

It’s a battle that I fear I am on the losing side of. Which goes a long way to explain my love of old movies like A Christmas Carol, where I can (for all the Jim Crow or sexism or other stupidities) for an hour or two find a moral and metaphysical order that offers me solace.

Author Information: Lyudmila A. Markova, Russian Academy of Sciences, markova.lyudmila2013@yandex.ru

Markova, Lyudmila A. “A Brief Reply to Maya Frodeman.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 3, no. 9 (2014): 53-54.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1Br

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I would like to consider briefly three points in connection with issues raised by Maya Frodeman.

1. Academics’ approval or disapproval in transforming the knowledge production system in universities does not mean much. Certainly the majority of academics do not want such changes, but the main reason is not that they fear losing their position in the social structure of the university. Rather, a serious difficulty follows in recognizing and taking up new ideas. Many academics believe sincerely that new knowledge policies will destroy science. And they are right if science is considered by politicians, in the same way as by academics, and if the science policy does not take into consideration the changes outlined by Robert Frodeman. Philosophy offers the ability to see the current features of contemporary science that make it fundamentally different compared to classical science (which some scientists and philosophers perceive as the only possible one).  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Robert Frodeman, University of North Texas, frodeman@unt.edu and Adam Briggle, University of North Texas, Adam.Briggle@unt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1Ap

Editor’s Note: Bob Frodeman and Adam Briggle were kind enough to share a draft (further abridged) of the introduction to their proposed book Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st Century Philosophy. The book is under consideration for publication in our “Collective Studies in Knowledge and Society” series. A reply to their Frodeman and Briggle’s introduction is forthcoming.

Introduction

There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. — Thoreau

Think of organic chemistry; I recognize its importance, but I am not curious about it, nor do I see why the layman should care about much of what concerns me in philosophy. — Quine

Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men. — Dewey

I.

In 1917 John Dewey published “The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy.” This essay, a nearly 17,000 word reflection on the role of philosophy in early 20th century American life, expressed Dewey’s concern that philosophy had become antiquated, “sidetracked from the main currents of contemporary life,” too much the domain of professionals and adepts. While taking pains to note that the classic questions of philosophy make inestimable contributions to culture both past and present, Dewey felt that the topics being raised by professional philosophers were too often “discussed mainly because they have been discussed rather than because contemporary conditions of life suggest them.”  Continue Reading…

Author Information: Kelli Barr, University of North Texas, Kelli.Barr@unt.edu and Wenlong Lu, University of North Texas and Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China, wenlong.lu.unt@gmail.com

Barr, Kelli and Wenlong Lu. 2013. “Re-engineering Ethics: Pushing Philosophy Outside of its Comfort Zone at the APPE Annual Meeting.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (4): 24-32.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-Jv

On the surface the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) annual meeting, held February 28 to March 3 (2013) in San Antonio, Texas, appeared similar to any other philosophy conference. Conference rituals are familiar. Professionals roam from meeting room to meeting room at a metropolitan hotel and listen as other professionals gave careful expositions of their latest research. Between presentations, participants engage in the rite of networking. In an abysmal job climate, in-between moments are key for students and early career professionals seeking to put themselves on the radar of someone whose reputation could help boost their own.

The conference landmarks were made navigable by the extensive map detailing participants and their institutional affiliations, presentation topics, Association news, and advertisements — the APPE program. The program itself merits philosophical study; it both exemplifies and institutionalizes these practices into a succinct and informative navigation tool. Contrary to what one might expect, however, the list of participants includes not only philosophers and professional ethicists, but also academic scientists and engineers, industry members, medical doctors and other health practitioners, sociologists, educators, journalists, anthropologists, publishers, National Academy of Engineering members, communication professionals, and even museum curators. Such a group is remarkably and suggestively diverse. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Daniel A. Kaufman, Missouri State University, DanielKaufman@MissouriState.edu

Kaufman, Daniel A. 2013. “Philosophy’s Academic Viability: A Reply to Frodeman, Briggle and Holbrook.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (3): 1-5.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-G5

Please refer to: Frodeman, Robert, Adam Briggle and J. Britt Holbrook. 2012. “Philosophy in the Age of Neoliberalism.” Social Epistemology 25 (3-4): 311-330.

This is an important article, one that says things that need saying and which are not said often enough, within philosophy. For a subject that has been known historically for its critical edge and its refusal to pay homage to dogmas or sacred cows, philosophy has become quite uncritical about itself and its role in the University and the larger world. Frodeman, Briggle, and Britt have built upon a conversation that Frodeman started in an article last September, in Synthese, [1] one that I believe is desperately needed, if philosophy is to survive the inevitable changes that are coming to the University over the next several decades and if it is ever going to regain the significance it once had, on the course of human affairs. For the record — and this will bear on the drift of my remarks — I think that the latter is far more important than the former. Continue Reading…

Reply to Rockmore, Ilya Kasavin

SERRC —  January 29, 2013 — 1 Comment

Author Information: Ilya Kasavin, Russian Academy of Sciences, itkasavin@gmail.com, Ilya Kasavin: Website

Kasavin, Ilya. 2013. “Reply to Rockmore.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 26-29.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-FK

Please refer to: Rockmore, Tom. 2013. “Kasavin on Social Epistemology and Naturalism: A Critical Reply.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (2): 8-11.

I appreciate very much the comments Tom Rockmore provided on my paper, putting its main problem into a historical/philosophical context. I will address three claims Rockmore makes that seem not entirely correct in describing my position. Hopefully, my examination will help make the rest of my reply more transparent.

Rockmore (2013) asserts:

1.“I agree with Kasavin that context is indeed problematic” (11).

2. “Kasavin depicts philosophy as relying on science, hence as interdisciplinary” (8).

3. “ … [H]e claims that the result, or so-called discourse, is not bounded, hence is not contextual in principle” (9).

Clarifications

Replying to (1), my intention was not to problematize context as it is, but to confront the oversimplified concept of context and its naïve epistemological application. For instance, the context of science is the whole scope of its current sociality and its cultural history — a kind of independent reality accompanying science during its temporal existence. It is usually conceptualized as a limited scope of socio-cultural phenomena that can be analyzed empirically by sociologists, historians, psychologists, anthropologists etc. So, philosophically speaking, science exits in, and is essentially determined by, context. But, interdisciplinarily speaking, a part of science is always partially determined by a part of context. A philosophical view of science can hardly replace an interdisciplinary one and vice versa. They are complementary.

My negation of (2) follows from my above comments. Philosophy does not rely on science in the sense that philosophical problems can be solved by scientific means. Philosophy does rely on science to provide empirical material for philosophical analysis and offer a counterpart in an exchange of views. An interdisciplinary epistemology means epistemology that takes seriously scientific facts and carries on a dialogue with science (and with other cognitive practices as well), rather than epistemology naturalized and reduced to various concrete sciences.

Evidently I cannot accept (3) as far as any discourse, i.e., vivid cognitive process, non-stop language game, or speech is regarded only in terms of, and in interrelation to, context as relatively stable cognitive results laying outside the research focus and taken for granted (e.g., presuppositions, natural attitudes, spheres of evidence). Discourse is also opposed to text. Text is a system of knowledge linguistically constituted, relatively finished and expressing, therefore, a certain intellectual culture. I use the term “discourse” to dub a process of scientific discovery as opposed to justification; philosophical inquiry or reflexion as contrasted to a philosophical system. Continue Reading…