Saturday, January 12, 2008

a question of “Philosophy” (as gardening)

If the Philosophy Department disappeared from your university, what difference would it make?

Its literature could be covered in other departments, right? Since every domain’s curriculum has its “foundations” component or “theory” component, the correlate philosophical literature could find good place in the wider context of its subject matter, as part of a rich appreciation of the domain it pertains to. Right?

Moral philosophy, for example, divides up into a more-or-less standard set of issues, and issue-centered moral philosophy (“Applied Ethics”) can easily be associated with specific subdomains outside philosophy, such that abstracted inquiry—so-called moral “theory”—would be as compelling as the applied issue which motivates it.

This would be pragmatics raised to the level of academic domain design: “Pure” inquiry thereby gains its incentive from practical issues which imply need for it within the practical domain (e.g., regarding questions of conceptual foundations or implied schools of thought: naturalist, communitarian, contractualist, consequentialist, etc). Indeed, this is how the philosophy curriculum itself has traditionally worked: moving from the survey course that is articulated relative to standard issues, then to focus on specialty areas (e.g., 20thC epistemology), and then to focus on specialists (e.g., episemological inquiry by John Greco) or special topics.

A keynote here is that every academic domain has its conceptual dependencies which imply a manifold legacy of intellectual history directly pertinent to problem-solving and innovation in each domain.

One may pretend otherwise about professional life (which echoes an anti-intellectualism that may be especially American), but important problem-solving and innovation depend on lucidity of problem/prospect formulation and depend on attendance to dependencies (constitutive interests and logical, methodological, normative structurings) that imply fateful conceptual stances which, thus faced with difficult challenges (given their ever-changing environments), need new stances, dependencies, and lucidities.

For this kind of reason, there will always be need for what’s standardly called “philosophy,” regardless of whether or not departments of philosophy flourish as such. But does this call for more philosophy as such? (This isn't a rhetorical question, as if I'm rationalizing a “No“ to my question.)

Anyway, domains that flourish aren't philosophically naïve (I would argue). Though philo-sophy has grown very conceptually technical, it remains at heart vital to domainal flourishing, constructiveness, or productivity.

So, the issue of my opening question—If the Philosophy Department disappeared from your university, what difference would it make?—is not about philosophy among academic domains, but about the point of sustaining (and facilitating) the gathering of domainal philosophical interests in some singular clearing, so to speak (a department), devoted to interdomainal, manifold discursive inquiry according with the history of professional philosophy. After metaphysicalism, what sense can be made of saying that ethics, epistemology, etc., are part of a kind of inquiry, traditionally called “philosophy,” that has some overriding (integrative?) sense?

More particularly, what good, outside of professional philosophy, is an interest in, say, ethics as such, across domainal problem sets? (Why should one care that it's good for professional philosophers' paychecks?) Is “Philosophy,” anymore, basically like English Literature: the leisurely repository of a canon, whose adherents provide a cultural service to more-practical domains, i.e., to those more importantly concerned with how we actually grow to live well or not (e.g., the street-smart professionals, public health project managers, business executives, government experts, etc.)? [I'm not dismissing English Literature; rather, bringing, say, “the question of literature“ into the question of “Philosophy“.) Do we need, for example, general conceptions of living well apart from what specific domains can discern? Don't professional education, public health, etc., do just fine on their own? Who needs questions of philosophy as such?

All of the above is rhetoric tacitly appealing to readers who don't think much about what philosophy is, done here in terms that such a reader probably wouldn't find cogent, but for a probable reader here who does think about philosophy (but probably wonders why I seem so skeptical, as if I'm in a department that's losing budget, which is not the case). Such is the freedom of the blog to be ambivalent about audience, as a matter (in my case) of muddling toward a specific focus that does not muddle. The above's a rhetoric of tacitly questioning myself further about how to proceed here, given a large-scale agenda I have at hand. You may know I harbor a sense of philosophy as such in terms of a discursivity of conceptual inquiry that can be constructively—progressively?—inter-/transdomainal.

Indeed, the past is preface, and, it so happens, I'm highly optimistic about planetary humanity (which is a vague rubric for the whole global warming, WTO, UN, immanently post-Bush League world in the cosmic web).

Our world muddles along like human nature itself: satisficing—profiting from good luck and coping with bad luck. So, it's no wonder that domains strive to sustain their self-interested integrities (whatever their communitarian values of academic fraternity); and they conceptually satisfice along the way, having only a degree of self-lucidity that their evolving interests need or desire (always relative to member careers). Interdomainal integrations of conceptual legacies are leisure suits? (Isn't freedom of expression a lovely thing.)

Could it be that professional philosophy as such (allegorized by the singularity of the “Department of Philosophy”) is largely a monument to classical (innocent) dreams of unified insightfulness (otherwise, being basically a caretaker of a canon and service provider to endeavors that really matter), ever more strongly facing our evolving reality (a planetarity that buries metaphysicalisms) that depends on unforeseeable emergences and time-limited satisficings which altogether have no integrated origin and no integrable basis because we of evolving reality retrojectively rewrite (re-posit) Our so-called “Origins” in serendipities of its futuring (ultimately open); and cannot be validly subsumed in some integrable telos? (—as if “freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose“? No, it's our evolutionarity that outstrips metaphysicalisms.) Primordial mystery is ultimately appealing for the Openly inquirial mind, born of the ecological openness of evolving itself (not to mention the unresolvable question: From whence did the Big Bang happen?).

We decide—or else, unavoidably imply—whether our deontic appeals are naturalist, communitarian, contractualist, consequentialist, etc. because there is no alternative to facing our humanity's aggregate condition of leading itself through its evolution, furthering itself through its irregular flourishing that's increasingly self-designing. This is the burden, as well as the opportunity, of intelligent life that's become a planetary organon of communicative flows.

The dream of unified insightfulness expresses an appeal of synergistic inquiry that remains generative for our universe of evolving horizons, and Philosophy is the legacy of shepherding that synergistic appeal. It follows the emergent lead of domains happily living unto themselves, in terms of leading voices from those domains, reminding us of the increasing singularity of our planetary condition—at once Gaic (re: global warming), transnational, globally economic, and singularly “scientific“ (especially after scientism)—as if “the“ Conversation of Humanity could have a specific membership, but always only relative to specific foci. Discursive inquiry is integrally experimental, like some pretense of intellectual virtue proffering exemplarity (against idiosyncrasy).

So, we have our bibliographical flowers (our scholarships and monographs), and the Conversations are gardens of interplay (and competition of advocacies), ways to flower in, ideally, some landscape having, perhaps, some topography, integrable, at best, by some topology that, ultimately, evolves?