Friday, December 21, 2007

Shame on us?

Alain be Botton writes in The Philosophers' Magazine here about the treatment his work has received at the hands of some professional academic philosophers including -- he names names so I don't have to -- one or two people who work like me on ancient philosophy. His piece concludes:

It clearly feels very important for academic philosophers to guard their borders aggressively. Doing so has brought them extraordinary neglect and mockery. I’d recommend that they learn to make philosophy into a big tent and stop being so threatened by practioners who don’t share their assumptions, lest they find out that there are no more true believers.

I know Alain feels very strongly about this; he was written to tell me as much when I posted something he felt discredited his work in much the same way here he says other professional philosophers have done. But I still think there is something of an improper contrast being made, and perhaps being pursued by both sides. It seems to me that a 'big tent' might well be a good idea, but only so long as it's big enough that we can do what we each do without having to jostle for space or feel threatened by one another. Attacking writers like de Botton for doing what they do might well be unfair and/or unproductive. I see no reason not to call it philosophy. But similarly, telling professional academic philosophers they are somehow doing a disservice to philosophy by pursuing more abstruse or technical or less popular avenues of research is not going to get us very far either. That too offers too narrow a vision of what the subject is and should be.

1 comment:

DEM said...

If I may give my own opinion on this subject, I must say that I've always disliked those authors who either don't have the capacity to write about philosophy in the strict sense of the term or do have the required capacity but don't want to make the effort to do so. I've read de Botton's article and I completely understand McCabe's and Lear's criticisms. One thing is an introductory philosophy book by a specialist in a given field and quite a different thing is book written by a guy who doesn't have the necessary education. Something I've seen quite a lot is that those who write philosophy for the Layman usually use ideas taken from the works of different philosophers without acknowledging their debt. I mean, they present those ideas as if they were their own.

A final note: I wonder if de Botton's can compare himself with Montaigne and Schopenhauer.