The End of Philosophy?

Michael Ruse’s Do We Need Philosophy? (Chronicle of Higher Education. 8/15/2010) masterfully weaves together reflections on the death of his colleague David Hull*, transitions in philosophy, the increasing costs of higher education, and lamplighting in philosophy.  A significant part of the piece focuses upon Mark Taylor’s** NY Times Op-Ed recommendation to consolidate philosophy departments at Columbia and NYU (Academic Bankruptcy. 8/14/2010).*** Ruse eloquently concludes:

I think that David’s life was truly worthwhile. But was he a bit like a lamplighter, someone who had a good career in his day but for which we no longer have need? Are we getting to the point where philosophy, if it is to be taught at all, could just be a subgroup within an English department? (Wouldn’t they just love that, with their obsession about Heidegger!) ****  And if philosophy goes, what about classics and more? What about departments of religion?!

Quite apart from the economic worries I expressed above, I cannot but feel that something will be lost if universities do just become glorified technical institutions, or business schools. Personally, I don’t think you can claim to be an educated person if you have never done any philosophy. With Socrates I agree that the unexamined life is not worth living, and unlike the average scientist or engineer in my experience (Richard Dawkins being at the top of my list), I don’t think you can do philosophy on your own after work in the pub. I think that knowing something of the great thinkers of the past is vital.

But then don’t forget that I am only five years younger than was David Hull, and, like him, I have had a full-time career as a philosopher. Maybe you are just hearing the sad lament of another lamplighter.

So, what do you think, “Do we need philosophy?”  Is the economic downturn (and/or shifts in our culture) leading toward the end of various specializations in philosophy?  Should the focus of philosophy be upon ensuring each student has a class (or 2) in living the examined life and/or informing the faculty of each class in how to incorporate reflections/musings upon living the examined life? Reflecting upon my studies at Grove City College, the core curriculum provided a glimpse of philosophers and worldviews in the context of following Christ.  I took logic as an elective.  All of these classes, and the others in the core curriculum, have been foundational in providing perspective for my daily work on campus and the blog.  In addition, the material in these classes (and my other classes in general) have been a “para-academy” gift to offer in many ministry contexts.  So, “yes, we need philosophy.”  Of course maybe, I’m actually arguing for a certain stream of philosophy founded upon Building a Christian Worldview (developed further in Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought. What do you think?

Do we need philosophy as a discipline in higher education?

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*For more by Ruse visit Philosophy of Science Association.

**Mark Taylor is the chairman of the religion department at Columbia University.  In addition, he’s the author of the forthcoming Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities, click here to check out a Chronicle of Higher Ed Commentary (8/8/2010) adapted from the book.

***Related article of interest: Stop Admitting Ph.D. Students (Inside Higher Ed. 8/18/2010) by Monica J. Harris, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky.

****Update (8/18/2010, 8:50 am): I just finished reading Okla Elliott’s Guest Review: Logic: The Question of Truth (Translated by Thomas Sheehan. Indiana University Press, 2010) for Inside Higher Ed (8/17/2010). Anyone have insights to share regarding the question of truth?

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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