Thursday, April 08, 2010

Philosophy and the Humanities

Jason Stanley has an article at Inside Higher Ed called, "The Crisis of Philosophy," about the estrangement between philosophy and the other humanities. There's an interesting discussion of it at "Feminist Philosophers", where I left a comment; but I decided I wanted the comment over here as well.

I’m skeptical, I suppose, of the idea that philosophy as we now know it has ever been a natural fit to the humanities. Academic philosophy of the sort with which are familiar (whether analytic or not) came out of a reaction against the development of psychology departments; the psychologists were the people who held that mind should be studied experimentally, and philosophy departments, as stand-alone departments, grew up in response in places where it was assumed that this was not a suitable way to study the human mind. (This in fact, is the explanation for an otherwise curious feature of most philosophy from the early twentieth century to the present, namely that so much of it concerns epistemology, language, and philosophy of mind. Through most of the nineteenth century it had seemed that moral philosophy was absolutely and unassailably the dominant philosophical interest; even the debates in philosophy of science between Mill and Whewell were minor side-disputes in a larger skirmish over utilitarianism.) And since colleges began developing stand-alone philosophy departments, philosophy has gone its own way, usually interacting more with mathematics and psychology than with other disciplines in the humanities; it seems to me that at least a plausible case can be made that if philosophy has become estranged from the humanities, it has estranged itself by paying relatively little attention to topics of importance in other humanities disciplines. (One can sort-of imagine an alternate-dimension academic philosophy that would fit into the humanities well — it would be an academic philosophy where aesthetics, philosophy of history, and political philosophy are clearly the primary philosophical interests in the field, where Collingwood is read more widely than Russell and early modern classes focus on theories of taste rather than disputes over dualism and on Hume’s essays rather than the Treatise or the ECHU. That would be a very different academia.)

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