Nihilism and Revolution

The End of Philosophy

What happened to just thinking?
Rebecca Wolsak, Inter Pares

With only one class left, my degree from the prestigious philosophy department of the University of Pittsburgh is not far away. Since my first class I have muscled my way through philosophy’s greats. Plato’s Republic? Piece of cake. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? Easy as pie. Even phrases like panta rei and cogito ergo sum are pushovers to me.

Yet despite all of this heavenly knowledge that has been bestowed upon me, I am left unsatisfied. My professors amaze me with their ability to clearly elaborate on any subject, but they never apply their timeless wisdom to reality. Instead of rigorously debating the problems of today, my professors lull the class to sleep with lackluster lectures on trivial topics. Do I possess a priori knowledge? What is the form of me? Am I a thinking thing? Let’s be honest: being lost in the clouds never saved a child from starvation and it never will.

My grades are determined by how well I can regurgitate uninspiring thoughts. I had a class last year, for example, which covered modern philosophy. One of our main subjects was Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. We found several flaws in Descartes’ arguments but instead of constructing our arguments against his conclusions, we were forced to merely summarize them. Such mediocrity and mental garbage drives me to one simple conclusion: philosophy is extinct.

If we are to believe that philosophy is some guy’s opinion, then we have forgotten the essence of philosophy. Philosophy is the touchstone of all progress. We must remember that philosophy is the purest form of dissent. If we do not ask questions, if we do not question authority, if we do not pressure ourselves, then society will never advance. All progress comes from change, and philosophers used to be the backbone of change. Whether we go back thousands of years to Socrates’ “corrupting the youth” or more recently to Bertrand Russell’s condemnation of the Vietnam War, it is obvious that philosophers used to take a stand against a callous system. Now they simply summarize and overanalyze all the irrelevant aspects of life.

This “magnificent” philosophy program I have experienced is a glorified course in writing book reports. Philosophy has been badgered to death by dogmatic opinions and shallow thoughts.

What happened to just thinking?
What happened?


Jordan Romanus

90 comments on the article “The End of Philosophy”

Displaying 51 - 60 of 90

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Anonymous

Listen to philosophy lectures by this west Texan lecturer, Rick Roderick. They've been hosted at http://www.wimpywombat.net.

I've studied philosophy at university but none of my professors were as inspiring as Rick. He actually addresses why it is important to think and why it is important to apply the wisdom to reality.

I really like the Self Under Siege lectures. Fatal Strategies was especially good explaining Baudrillard's theory of the hyper real.

Watching these lectures will convince you that philosophy is not entirely dead. Although Rick is :(

Anonymous

Listen to philosophy lectures by this west Texan lecturer, Rick Roderick. They've been hosted at http://www.wimpywombat.net.

I've studied philosophy at university but none of my professors were as inspiring as Rick. He actually addresses why it is important to think and why it is important to apply the wisdom to reality.

I really like the Self Under Siege lectures. Fatal Strategies was especially good explaining Baudrillard's theory of the hyper real.

Watching these lectures will convince you that philosophy is not entirely dead. Although Rick is :(

Jennifer

I thought this article was a joke. I'm still not convinced that that isn't the case, but I'll comment anyway.

"We found several flaws in Descartes’ arguments but instead of constructing our arguments against his conclusions, we were forced to merely summarize them. Such mediocrity and mental garbage drives me to one simple conclusion: philosophy is extinct. "

I am a philosophy major at another top department, and your experience sounds nothing like mine. We are most definitely required to critique arguments, and explicitly instructed to not merely summarize them. At my school, if a student were to submit a non-critical paper that only outlined the author's argument, then that student would most likely receive an F.

I am skeptical that a professor at a top program like Pitt would not only NOT require students to critically engage with Descartes' Meditations, but actually prevent them from doing so. What, so you approached the professor in office hours, offered your own counterarguments to Descartes, asked if you could write an essay that offered your own original analysis of the material, and then she refused? Did she say why she wanted you to submit a book report? Did you ask? I find this whole example really difficult to believe. At any rate, your conclusion is far too strong to be inferred from one particular instance in one required undergraduate survey course. Needless to say, you are at least correct that summarizing an argument is not sufficient to count as "doing" real philosophy.

"All progress comes from change, and philosophers used to be the backbone of change. Whether we go back thousands of years to Socrates’ “corrupting the youth” or more recently to Bertrand Russell’s condemnation of the Vietnam War, it is obvious that philosophers used to take a stand against a callous system. Now they simply summarize and overanalyze all the irrelevant aspects of life. "

Do you really think that philosophers are not concerned with contemporary problems? Surely you were required to take at least one ethics or political philosophy course? The number of philosophers working on global justice or just war theory is evidence that they ARE in fact interested in shedding light on and questioning the "callous system".

The professional ethics journals publish on topics such as the morality of affluence, the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, etc. Philosophers do take real-life examples, such as a famine in Bangladesh or the obvious injustice of global political and economic structures, as their starting point for critical discussion of an issue.

In short, they are already, as you put it, "applying their timeless wisdom to reality". It's just that (apparently) few people care what they think. You yourself majored in the discipline yet appear to be completely ignorant of an entire branch of the field. That might be a shortcoming of your department, but did you ever seek it out? Did you ask your professors why nobody was concerned with these issues? They might have pointed you in the direction of Thomas Nagel or Peter Singer and opened you up to rich and lively debates that are very much ongoing.

"Instead of rigorously debating the problems of today, my professors lull the class to sleep with lackluster lectures on trivial topics. Do I possess a priori knowledge? What is the form of me? Am I a thinking thing?"

In most if not all academic disciplines, students are expected to complete a wide variety of courses. Presumably, this is so degree holders are fairly well-rounded in a particular subject and are at least familiar with a map of the terrain, so to speak. Not every English major enjoys reading Chaucer, but I'd bet that most are required to slog through The Canterbury Tales. That does not entail that all works of literature are similarly dull or that all English courses are a waste of time. Philosophy majors typically have to complete at least one course in each of the following: logic; metaphysics; epistemology; history; ethics. You might snooze through metaphysics, but that doesn't mean philosophers aren't heatedly debating ethics.

Furthermore, some debates that seem inconsequential on the surface are in fact relevant to the more applied topics that you are so concerned with. If you had continued pressing the question, "but why does this matter?" and actually reflected on it you might have found more answers. Even the most abstract branch of philosophy--logic--is relevant to "what ought I do in situation x?", which suggests that you were too busy feeling superior to your professors to engage in the very thing you are trying to encourage with this article.

Which makes me think it's a joke.

Jennifer

I thought this article was a joke. I'm still not convinced that that isn't the case, but I'll comment anyway.

"We found several flaws in Descartes’ arguments but instead of constructing our arguments against his conclusions, we were forced to merely summarize them. Such mediocrity and mental garbage drives me to one simple conclusion: philosophy is extinct. "

I am a philosophy major at another top department, and your experience sounds nothing like mine. We are most definitely required to critique arguments, and explicitly instructed to not merely summarize them. At my school, if a student were to submit a non-critical paper that only outlined the author's argument, then that student would most likely receive an F.

I am skeptical that a professor at a top program like Pitt would not only NOT require students to critically engage with Descartes' Meditations, but actually prevent them from doing so. What, so you approached the professor in office hours, offered your own counterarguments to Descartes, asked if you could write an essay that offered your own original analysis of the material, and then she refused? Did she say why she wanted you to submit a book report? Did you ask? I find this whole example really difficult to believe. At any rate, your conclusion is far too strong to be inferred from one particular instance in one required undergraduate survey course. Needless to say, you are at least correct that summarizing an argument is not sufficient to count as "doing" real philosophy.

"All progress comes from change, and philosophers used to be the backbone of change. Whether we go back thousands of years to Socrates’ “corrupting the youth” or more recently to Bertrand Russell’s condemnation of the Vietnam War, it is obvious that philosophers used to take a stand against a callous system. Now they simply summarize and overanalyze all the irrelevant aspects of life. "

Do you really think that philosophers are not concerned with contemporary problems? Surely you were required to take at least one ethics or political philosophy course? The number of philosophers working on global justice or just war theory is evidence that they ARE in fact interested in shedding light on and questioning the "callous system".

The professional ethics journals publish on topics such as the morality of affluence, the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia, etc. Philosophers do take real-life examples, such as a famine in Bangladesh or the obvious injustice of global political and economic structures, as their starting point for critical discussion of an issue.

In short, they are already, as you put it, "applying their timeless wisdom to reality". It's just that (apparently) few people care what they think. You yourself majored in the discipline yet appear to be completely ignorant of an entire branch of the field. That might be a shortcoming of your department, but did you ever seek it out? Did you ask your professors why nobody was concerned with these issues? They might have pointed you in the direction of Thomas Nagel or Peter Singer and opened you up to rich and lively debates that are very much ongoing.

"Instead of rigorously debating the problems of today, my professors lull the class to sleep with lackluster lectures on trivial topics. Do I possess a priori knowledge? What is the form of me? Am I a thinking thing?"

In most if not all academic disciplines, students are expected to complete a wide variety of courses. Presumably, this is so degree holders are fairly well-rounded in a particular subject and are at least familiar with a map of the terrain, so to speak. Not every English major enjoys reading Chaucer, but I'd bet that most are required to slog through The Canterbury Tales. That does not entail that all works of literature are similarly dull or that all English courses are a waste of time. Philosophy majors typically have to complete at least one course in each of the following: logic; metaphysics; epistemology; history; ethics. You might snooze through metaphysics, but that doesn't mean philosophers aren't heatedly debating ethics.

Furthermore, some debates that seem inconsequential on the surface are in fact relevant to the more applied topics that you are so concerned with. If you had continued pressing the question, "but why does this matter?" and actually reflected on it you might have found more answers. Even the most abstract branch of philosophy--logic--is relevant to "what ought I do in situation x?", which suggests that you were too busy feeling superior to your professors to engage in the very thing you are trying to encourage with this article.

Which makes me think it's a joke.

dogbunny

so you finished a degree in philosophy, now stop thinking and go to law school like those that came before you.

dogbunny

so you finished a degree in philosophy, now stop thinking and go to law school like those that came before you.

Anonymous

It's pretty amazing you got through any philosophy courses and are still able to create an article like this.

Didn't you ever learn how useless it is to draw broad conclusions from a very limited perspective and amount of data?

Anonymous

It's pretty amazing you got through any philosophy courses and are still able to create an article like this.

Didn't you ever learn how useless it is to draw broad conclusions from a very limited perspective and amount of data?

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