Friday, March 27, 2009

Doomed! We're all doomed!

Some recent discussions about the place of the history of philosophy in philosophy teaching and also the prospect of a colloquium some time next year in Cambridge on a similar topic have got me thinking about ancient philosophy most generally and, particularly, what its prospects are. I did think they were pretty cheery: lots of departments, especially in the US, seem to be committed to maintaining a presence for ancient philosophy in philosophy departments and there are jobs in the UK too.

Then I read again Jonathan Barnes' 'Bagpipe music',Topoi 25, 17-20 (online here). It's entertaining, for sure, as you would expect. But it strikes a very different note. Many of its concerns apply generally to modern academic life (pressure to publish too much, too early; too many Companions to the Handbook Guide to Introductions to Reading so and so...) and Barnes’ concerns for the discipline relate in part to institutional pressures and the demands of a modern academic career. They are therefore somewhat more generic than his specific concerns for philologically informed scholarship in ancient philosophy. Here's a taster of the tone:
Q: Where is ancient philosophy going now?—A: Downhill, and to the dogs. Q: Where will it go in the future?—A: Further downhill, and right past the dogs. Q: What can be done?—A: Not much. Q: What will be done?—A: Nothing.’
How far past the dogs have we got? Have we even got within barking distance yet?

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