As some of you might know, the philosophy department is being cut at Middlesex University in the UK. While I was initially taken aback by the decision, and then fiercely opposed to it, I have since come to embrace it. In fact, I think I have even come to see its profound wisdom and good fortune.
My first set of concerns is with regard to the age-old and tiresome battles between the sciences and the humanities. Yes, the sciences have won, and to that I say: hooray! Why? Well, for a number of reasons.
First, I think it’s been clearly demonstrated that the sciences alone have access to a truth to which the humanities can only aspire.
Let’s say you or a loved one struggles with guilt, and you want to find out more about it. Where are you, as an enlightened citizen, going to place your trust: in empirical observation, laboratory method, and quantitative analysis, or the writings of a complete madman?
I think the answer is abundantly clear.
Secondly, it’s also been established that the humanities are little more than a diversion, a plaything for the wealthy, and a drain on monies and human efforts better spent on things like eradicating disease and building bridges. Think of the countless hours undergraduates spend discussing Shakespeare or Schopenhauer when they could be in the laboratory inventing or discovering.
Thirdly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the natural sciences boosting their credibility at the expense of the humanities. Plenty of people, on a daily basis, make themselves feel better by putting others down, and I don’t see them coming to any harm because of it.
My second set of concerns has to do with the nature of philosophy. If philosophy must be taught, it seems to me it should at least be of the right sort. And by this, of course, I mean the kind that is a branch of mathematics, looks to logic the way the sciences look to the scientific method, and circumscribes itself to speaking authoritatively only on matters of linguistic usage.
I’m not sure whose idea it was to promulgate philosophy as the “love of wisdom” – a definition nobody could ever make with any precision. What good, I ask, is a discipline if each and every one of its constituent terms can’t be precisely defined and operationalized?
Philosophy, it seems to be, ought to be about the serious business of figuring out the meanings of words rather than the vague, childish, and ultimately meaningless “meaning of life.” “Continental” philosophy, you see, tries to steer the ship in that very direction, confusing undergraduates tremendously not just with regard to the nature of philosophy but life itself.
This brings me to my last point. When philosophy is allowed to wander off the reservation, as it were, it begins to ask certain kinds of questions no self-respecting society should tolerate. For example, students in continental philosophy are not only encouraged but trained to ask about things like very important social customs and practices.
Continental philosophy students like to ask things like “what is the purpose of our colleges and universities” when the answer has already been settled: to prepare and train students to become the most efficient components of the machine of culture they can be. These students not only believe but encourage others to join them in believing education is different from training, information from formation, and that education is an end in itself rather than a means to an end.
Lastly, when it comes to means and ends, I can’t tell you how important it is for societies to follow predetermined ends rather than question the value or even legitimacy of those ends. (That’s why science and quantitative analysis is so important, you see – it can’t speak to the value of ends but only to the best means to those ends!)
One of a society’s most solemn undertakings is the decision to pursue war against other societies in order to deprive them of geopolitical advantage or natural resources. This has been done throughout history, and is essential for the healthy growth and development of empires such as our own.
When the decision is made to go to war, it is absolutely imperative that each and every member of the society follow along and does what s/he’s told. Students exposed to continental philosophy not only ruin the game for themselves but everyone else as well.
They don’t allow wars to be sold as exercises in virtue, morality, or revenge. They question a fundamentally adversarial relationship to nature that has not yet begun to pay its biggest dividends. They problematize reduction of the moral to the legal. Perhaps worst of all, they don’t permit people to wallow in their anger and indignation towards specially designated groups – as if they had any expertise in social engineering!
These “philosophy types” question each and every order, replacing a population’s fear, indignation, and impulse with thought, nuance, and equivocation. I can’t begin to tell you what kind of sand this throws into the wheels of a cognitive, productivist culture.
Left to their own devices, then, these people not only make incredibly poor conscripts, but make it incredibly hard to conscript others (through social pressure as well as perfectly legal means) into war as well as the production and consumption of more and better stuff.
Far wiser minds than mine have asked what is for me the essential question: how can we remain a free people if we don’t blindly follow the orders of our leaders? Continental philosophy just gets in the way, and for that, I say simply: good riddance.