On Professionalization and Greatness in Philosophy

Eric Schwitzgebel has a nice post on Mulliken’s recent argument that philosophy is, these days, too rushed because of the hyper-professionalization of departments and the tenure process. He notes his (slight) disagreement, given that it shouldn’t be too awful for someone at a research institution to produce a given number of articles a year and such. As I note in the introduction to my forthcoming book on speculative realism, I find the quick move to out-do one another in the race to the next new thing a drawback of the contemporary period. But on the other hand, the problem of the terminal associate means that this could quickly become a bad faith argument by someone forever tinkering on some never-ending project that really doesn’t exist, all while holding a spot better taken up by an up-and-coming young scholar who could really use the space to escape the turmoils of the current market. I just don’t know how one threads the needle between these two phenomena–not pushing for too many (ultimately useless) publications early, while also making sure a more-or-less permanent spot isn’t taken up by someone who will never produce. Sure Kant and Gadamer published their first great works at 57 and 60 respectively but they were also writing quite constantly lectures and so on.

Schwitzgebel makes a great point that philosophy is done through writing. Precisely. It must be done constantly and consistently–or it’s an art never realized. Yes Socrates never wrote and oral discussion is often paramount. But I often find that, as question periods at conferences make clear, one can seem quite impressive by asking the hard questions or delighting in dialogue but then one really can’t put together any sustained writing (you know the type: the one who goes for the jugular but has never published anything and seems to delight in taking down those who have). I know too well my book on time has taken longer than I’ve wanted, that I’ve escaped to tinker on ideas that end up false paths, when I could take short cuts to just getting it out there. And I know the best philosophy is one that is patient, does not just get caught up in the now, and takes time to brew. But the brewing process–to use a not-very-good metaphor–is writing itself, not avoiding it by convincing oneself (as is easy to do) that unlike those high publishing rascals, you’re just the genius biding his or her time.