Friday 5 July 2024

Pranay Sanklecha's Psilosophical narcissism.

Pranay Sanklecha, has given up a promising career as a tenured professor of philosophy. He explains why in Aeon- 

 I decided that my new research project would be on the meaning of life.

 There was a Monty Python film of that name. It turns out that meaning is nothing very special really- Just 'try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.' Sadly, that's not the meaning of life which is simply trying not to fucking die or, if you can't manage that, at least try to ensure your species doesn't go extinct any time soon. 

I worked in a tradition of philosophy that people still call ‘analytic’.

Frege and Russell started to develop a type of mathematical logic which became independent of philosophy in the Thirties with Godel, Turing, Tarski, Gentzen etc.  That tradition is going strong as is the intuitionist program of Brouwer, Heytig etc.  The late Voevodksy's 'univalent foundations' was particularly promising for computer proof checking. Some years ago, a computer found the flaw in Godel's argument for the existence of God. The 'reverse mathematics project' is similarly promising. It has shown how a 'divine axiom' could show the consistency of mathematics. In other words, a direct descendant of Russell and Frege's project is proving very useful. Moreover, several open problems in Math and Physics are 'philosophical'. It's just that academic philosophers are no longer smart enough to work on them. Thus, what they do work on is less and less meaningful because it is not contributing to scientific or technological or economic progress. It has been superseded. However, there will always be specialists in arcane fields of research who turn back to the classics of philosophy as they grapple with 'open problems' of a foundational sort. One might say that philosophy is a 'displacement activity'- i.e. something very smart people do when they get stuck or when they are seeking a new 'paradigm' to unite disparate fields on the basis of greater generality. 

The basic idea of analytic philosophy when it was first propagated was simple.

Logicism was simple and did result in much improved logical calculi.  

At its core, it consisted of G E Moore’s favourite question. Someone would say something like: ‘Being is indivisible’, and Moore would ask, ‘But what on earth does that mean?’

Around this time, Russell was discovering that there has to be 'restricted comprehension' otherwise you get paradoxes. 'Being is indivisible' would have been interpreted at that time as meaning 'all things are composed of indivisible atoms'. Then it was discovered that atoms are very complicated indeed. You can 'split' them. There are fundamental particles. Sadly there seem to be lots and lots of them.  

To put this in more theoretical terms, the big idea behind analytic philosophy was to replace metaphysics with linguistic analysis.

It was to give well defined 'extensions' to 'intensions'- i.e. each word to correspond to a well defined set of objects.  Weiner made a good contribution in this regard.

Advocates of this ‘linguistic turn’

which replaced ideal 'intensions' with context based 'extensions'. The problem with 'intensions' is that they change as the knowledge base changes. They are 'dialectical'. Analysis wants to operate on things which don't change as they are being studied or used. But this turned out to be a tall order. Sure, we can give arbitrary 'extensions' to intensions. But 'naturality'- i.e. non-arbitrariness- turns out to be far to seek. William Lawvere, by the beginning of the Seventies, was trying to show that you could have a category theoretical, mathematical, way of representing the Hegelian dialectic. But other great mathematicians- Godel, Grothendieck- were also finding God at the very foundations of mathematics. At this point, the Philosophers backed away from mathematical logic though some kept up the pretense of rigor or, if they were French, pretended they understood what a 'manifold' actually is.  

believed, in Richard Rorty’s words, that ‘philosophical problems are problems which may be solved (or dissolved) either by reforming language, or by understanding more about the language we presently use.’

It is true that a lot of paradoxes are merely semantic. It is an open question whether 'intensional paradoxes' persist even after good enough 'univalent foundations' are discovered.  

The way to make progress on the question of God’s existence was not to find more arguments for and against Her existence.

If praying to God gives you the ability to perform miracles, what further argument do you need?  

Rather, one made progress by investigating what it meant to say ‘God exists’.

One can certainly investigate alleged miracles.  

Today, it’s hard to fully inhabit the excitement felt by the pioneers of analytic philosophy

Why? There are people working on AI and Quantum computing etc. who are plenty excited. Russell and some of his chums thought they were on the verge of discovering rules which would transform society into an egalitarian, pacifist, utopia. We may no longer share that social vision but do have great faith in technological progress. Nobody thinks that what the scientists are up to is meaningless though other scientists may cast doubt on the viability of particular research programs.  

and their immediate descendants,

there was a mystical aspect to mathematical logic. Brouwer's intuitionism is an example. It is said that a lecture by Brouwer motivated Wittlesstein's return to philosophy. Much of the latter's charisma had to do with the religious passion he brought to his stupid ranting.  

but it’s impossible to doubt that there was considerable excitement at the time. Michael Dummett,

a good Christian who took the trouble to study mathematics 

a Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford, and not therefore a man given to emotional pronouncements, claimed that:

'Only with Frege [ie analytic philosophy] was the proper object of philosophy finally established: namely,

mathematical logic 

first, that the goal of philosophy is the analysis of the structure of thought;

structures are mathematical 

secondly, that the study of thought is to be sharply distinguished from the study of the psychological process of thinking;

because mathematics does not supervene on psychology. It is independent of it.  

and, finally, that the only proper method for analysing thought consists in the analysis of language.

Sadly, natural language is really complicated. To give it a mathematical model required first order and second order and third order languages. Who knows if this will ever 'bottom out'?  

While it remains usual to speak of analytic philosophy, nobody nowadays can say what it really means

That's okay. It is a 'rigid' enough designator.  

Bliss it must have been in that dawn to be alive! But the French Revolution went from equality to tyranny, and in time, it turned out that Dummett had been too optimistic about analytic philosophy.

He had also been too optimistic about voting theory and the possibility of democratic social progress. Still a good man and devout Christian who took the trouble to study math rather than just recycle his lecture notes.  

The programme was revised and ultimately abandoned.

Sadly, it is still taught.  

But the term ‘analytic philosophy’ has outlasted the historical movements of analytic philosophy. While it remains usual to speak of analytic philosophy and analytic philosophers, nobody nowadays can say what it really means.

Stupidity degenerating into Grievance Studies or wokeness. You start off by saying 'everybody agrees that gender reassignment surgery must be made compulsory for heterosexual males but how can this be funded in an environmentally sustainable manner such that we make progress towards achieving other important goals regarding Diversity, Inclusivity, Equity and saying 'have a nice day' to people whose dicks you are chopping off?'  

Some people associate it with clarity, which is hilarious if you actually read analytic philosophy. Here, for instance, is Robert Nozick in Philosophical Explanations (1981):

Nozick was putting forward a view of personal identity.  

We have said that W is a whole relative to parts p1, … , pn when the closest continuer of W need not be the sum of the closest continuers of the parts pi,

you are still you if someone cuts your legs off 

when (a) it is possible that the closest continuer of W exists yet does not contain as a part some existing closest continuer of one of the pi’s; or (b) it is possible that the closest continuer of W exists and contains some part q that is not a closest continuer of any of the pi (nor a sum or other odd carving up of these); or (c) it is possible that at some later time no continuer of W is close enough to be it, even though each of the pi then has a continuer close enough to be it – the parts exist at the later time but the whole does not.

If a clone with your exact memories replaces you, has 'personal identity' been preserved? What about brain transplants? Consider Neo in 'Matrix'. Does he really have a 'personal identity'? 

I suppose, one way to answer such questions is to say that 'personal identity' is just a solution to a coordination game. It can change if it is useful to do so. We may agree that the new Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the previous one if that is useful for our Society.  

That sentence has many properties. I’m not sure clarity is one of them.

It is clear enough. But is it useful? I suppose some of Nozick's students became corporate lawyers and had to draft contracts with even more rigorous 'boiler plate'.  

Others say it has something to do with ‘rigour’. This may be closer to the truth, but only if you take it as something to do with rigor mortis.

No. It is possible that a physicist might find something in the passage which permits him to reconfigure his theory of elementary particles so that some important technological innovation can be made.  

Consider Susan Wolf writing on meaning in life. She has just expressed the idea that the ‘best sort of life is one that is involved in, or contributes to something “larger than oneself”.’

Why not contribute to something smaller than oneself- like a baby?  

But as soon as Wolf has said this, she realises she has not been rigorous, that the thought has not been properly explained. She immediately tells us that: ‘[c]ontemplation of the case of Sisyphus should, however, be enough to show that this “larger” must be understood metaphorically. We may, after all, imagine the rock Sisyphus is endlessly pushing uphill to be very large.’

Sisyphus is not contributing to the rock. Wolf is being silly. The fact is a person condemned to do a pointless task may still inspire others by the strength of character they show.  

I think we can all agree that this is very rigorous. The thought has been pursued until there is no more thought possible.

No. The thought is silly and easily refuted. 

The lemon has been squeezed dry. Sisyphus could have been pushing a very large rock up that hill. The largeness of rocks, we now see, is not the type of largeness that Wolf had in mind. It is a different type of largeness. One might almost venture to call it… metaphorical.

Metaphors can inspire us. The Fabians were inspired by the industry of the beaver. It would take a long time and a lot of hard work to build up Socialism, starting at the municipal or parish level, in Britain.  Sadly, I didn't get to stroke any actual beavers at the Beaver's Retreat bar at the LSE. 

Another way people have tried picking out analytic philosophy is to base it on a geo-linguistic criterion and call it Anglophone philosophy. But this is very unfair to the poor German professors churning out pages of turgid prose in what Bernard Williams called the ‘style [that] tries to remove in advance every conceivable misunderstanding or misinterpretation or objection, including those that would occur only to the malicious or the clinically literal-minded.’

Lawyers do this all the time. But mathematicians have to be even more scrupulous.  

No, nowadays – and ironically for a tradition that prides itself on ruthless thought and hard-edged precision – analytic philosophy is basically just a vibe. And as with all vibes, it’s clear who belongs and who doesn’t. As someone working in the analytic tradition, I knew exactly what ‘the literature’ was and what kind of stuff I should be reading for my research.

The problem is that smart people aren't writing that shite. It would be easy enough to update Rawls by applying 'incomplete contract theory' but why bother? Economists capable of that sort of analysis can get paid big bucks by Jeff Bezos. Indeed, they could become billionaires and endow Universities rather than pray for tenure and a bigger office and better quality graduate students.  

Despite ‘the meaning of life’ being the topic that non-philosophers think philosophers work on, it’s actually been a very marginal topic in analytic philosophy.

Life is about surviving. Meaningful work is work which increases the chances of survival of our species. But doing boring stuff too may be helpful. There's no reason why analytical philosophers should not update the work of their predecessors in line with breakthroughs in other disciplines. Sadly, the profession became adversely selective and you now have cretins teaching drooling imbeciles. No logical arguments are made. There is just ipse dixit posturing of a woke type. Jason Stanley says everybody is a Fascist. Amia Srinivasan is slowly working her way to the discovery that dicks cause rape. Dicks should be banned.  

Sure, interest in the issue was never fully extinguished, and every so often an older philosopher – it was almost always an older philosopher, who had a secure professional position and reputation and could therefore afford to write about the meaning of life – would write a little paper about it. But for pretty much all of the past century, it was not the sort of thing that anyone worked on before getting tenure.

If only shite is published in a particular field, the people in that field will be obliged to pretend to read that shite.  

However, lately there has been something of a revival of interest in the topic in analytic philosophy. Over the past 15 to 20 years, more and more papers and books have been published.

Anyone can write a self-help book. Philosophers are victims of horrendous epistemic self-abuse. There are people who may want to read accounts of such 'survivors'. When I was a kid, Pirsig's 'Zen and the art of motor cycle maintenance' was a best seller.  Apparently, he had studied philosophy at Benaras Hindu University. Bhagwan Rajneesh started off as a philosophy lecturer in India. Pranay appears to be of Indian descent. He may make a lot of money setting up as a Guru. 

The work has begun to coalesce into something approaching a recognisable sub-field of the discipline. One of the foundations of the analytic work is a distinction between the meaning of life and meaning in life.

It is a distinction without a difference. Why not speak of the various lives of Meaning and the different kitty cats which have made their homes in it?  

Questions about the meaning of life refer to the question of whether human life as such has a meaning,

some human lives have a lot of meaning to other human beings. Mine, not so much.  

or whether the universe does.

It means a lot to cosmologists.  

It’s a holistic kind of question.

It may be if you subscribe to holism. Otherwise, it can be a highly specific question which can be answered by a crucial experiment.  

Meaning in life, on the other hand, refers to the ‘individualistic’ question of how and where and whether individuals can find meaning in their own lives.

Some can. Maybe some can't. Perhaps psychiatry can help them. That is certainly worth researching. It may be that some people find much consolation in Philosophy. Nothing wrong with supplying that if your talents that way lie. 

The consensus view is that the two questions are fundamentally distinct and theoretically separate

unless they aren't 

– you can have a meaningful life in a meaningless universe, and vice versa.

and meaning can have lots of different lives and pervade various universes.  

How robust this separation is I’m not entirely sure, but that doesn’t matter for our current purposes.

Unless it does. We'd feel pretty silly if it turns out that God created the Universe with the purpose of bringing us all to the Angel Moroni.  

The point for now is that on this distinction, we can say that my crisis of meaning and my research project were both about meaning in life – the very thing that analytic philosophers wrote and talked about.

Sadly, you'd have to be Saharon Shelah level smart to contribute to model theory.  

There’s a Sherlock Holmes story in which the plot turns on a dog that doesn’t bark when it should have.

which meant that the murderer was the dog's owner. It is obvious that if there is a guard dog and the dog was not heard to bark then there could not have been an intruder.  

And as I read more and more analytic philosophy on meaning in life, I kept stumbling into this non-barking dog.

Why didn't analytic philosophers simply say that they were writing nonsense? Why do people paid to do a particular job pretend they are actually doing that job and it isn't useless or stupid? 

I spent a long time reading, taking notes, straining to figure out what I was struggling with. The more I tried, the less I understood.

It is easy enough to controvert any piece of analytical philosophy sentence by sentence. Why not do so?  

Eventually, I realised that there was no there there.

Why tear down obvious nonsense?  

I had been trying to understand an absence. In the analytic literature on meaning in life, there is remarkably little sustained engagement with nihilist or sceptical worries about value.

Because philosophy has become ipse dixit arbitrary stipulation of an absurd kind. Essentially, the analytical philosopher says things like 'why is it that though we all agree dicks are evil, nevertheless Mummies don't bite of their infant son's dicks?' The answer, obviously, is 'Everything is the fault of Neo-Liberalism.'  

The basic version of this worry is very simple: it’s the worry that nothing is valuable.

Nothing is intrinsically valuable. But you can't stop anybody putting any value on any particular thing. Some women get very angry if I touch their bum even though they are constantly touching their own bum. I think this is because I iz bleck.  

You’d think that this was quite an important worry to consider when thinking about the meaning of life – nihilism is very much a thing. It’s not that you had to endorse nihilism, but you at least had to engage seriously with the reasons people have for being nihilists. Analytic philosophers dealt with this worry by assuming it away.

Which is reasonable given that courts and financial markets are constantly putting values to various things.  

For instance, Wolf, the doyenne of the field, proposes the theory that ‘meaningfulness consists in active engagement in projects or activities of worth’.

We say 'I understand the meaning of such and such person's action', when we establish a motive and a modus operandi.  Sometimes, we recognize that a particular action had no motive. It was meaningless. 

She recognises the threat of nihilism and accepts that her theory ‘would be utterly destroyed if it turned out there were no such things as projects or activities of worth at all’.

In particular, if it turned out that only stupid people do philosophy.  

Her response is to call it ‘an article of faith’ that there is a distinction between worthwhile and worthless projects. And like all articles of faith, that only speaks to someone who already believes.

Or wants to.  

This view assumes that meaning in life is a realisable and sometimes actually realised property of an individual life

A perfectly reasonable assumption.  

Here is another example. Aaron Smuts argues in Welfare, Meaning, and Worth (2017) that: ‘one’s life is meaningful to the extent that it promotes the good’. He sees, naturally, that nihilists might have problems with this account but he dismisses this issue right away: ‘I will merely note that I see no compelling reasons to take nihilism seriously … Nothing more can be said in favour of objective value here. I acknowledge that the good cause account is off the table for nihilists. So be it.’

Stupid people can't promote shit. Still, if they don't read other's shite, who will? 

These examples are suggestive, nothing more. But there is an explanation behind them that is important. The neglect of sceptical and nihilist worries about meaning in life is no accident. Rather, it is a necessary expression of the debate as it is framed and conducted.

Not really. Skepticism was easily assimilated by Plato's academy. Mahayana Buddhism may be considered 'nihilistic' but it spread far and wide. Modern epistemology has benefitted greatly from methodological skepticism or even nihilism when it comes to the ontological undergirding of reality.  

Philosophers working on meaning in life love cases. They identify paradigmatic examples of meaningful lives, and then use them to draw conclusions about the necessary and sufficient conditions for living a meaningful life.

The fact that someone else may have led a meaningful life, does not mean yours would be meaningful if you imitated them. This is one reason the people of Paris rejected me when I dressed up like Joan of Arc.  

Thaddeus Metz is explicit about this at the beginning of his book Meaning in Life (2013): ‘I, like most in the field, take specific exemplary instances of great meaning to have been realised by the likes of Mandela,

who was battling something real 

Mother Teresa,

who was an obedient daughter of an actual Church 

Einstein, Darwin,

both were genuinely smart 

Picasso, and Dostoyevsky.’

both had great artistic talent.  

Wolf, too, speaks of ‘Gandhi, perhaps, or Mother Theresa, or Einstein, or Cézanne’ as ‘paradigms of meaningful lives’, and uses these cases to make arguments and claims about meaning in life.

When it comes to politics, things may not be so clear cut. Was Gandhi's life meaningful? It was certainly 'consequential'. But were the consequences good or bad? More importantly, did the cunt know he was a stupid, mischievous, liar? 

This method of using paradigmatic cases is closely linked to one of the foundational assumptions of the analytic project. Wolf states the assumption clearly when she describes what she accurately calls the ‘standard view’ about meaning in life.

This is the 'ipse dixit' method which has destroyed philosophy. You have to pretend that the 'standard view' is some 'Preference Falsification' based Virtue Signaling shite.  

As she puts it, the standard view holds ‘that meaningfulness is an intelligible feature to be sought in a life, and that it is at least sometimes attainable but not everywhere assured.’

The standard view is that this is just hot air which poorly paid pedants have to pretend to believe in.  

The view assumes, in other words, that meaning in life is a realisable and sometimes actually realised property of an individual life.

It is a predicate not a property. Suppose I am the first to die of some horrible new disease and it is named after me. Some researcher, a century from now, in finding the cure to this disease also discovers a way to make us virtually immortal. In death, my life would have become very meaningful even though my entire existence has been wholly worthless.  

We can see why the method and the assumption go together. When you use paradigmatic cases of meaningful lives to think about meaning, you’ve made a commitment to the claim that people can and sometimes do live meaningful lives.

No you haven't. However, anybody can claim you have committed to sucking them off. Kicking them in the balls may curb this nuisance.  

From this perspective, the method generates the assumption.

Saying so doesn't make it so.  

And if we look at it from the other angle, the use of the method is an expression of the assumption, and an explanation of why the former is so widely accepted.

Is it accepted? No. Few people bother with this stupid and useless subject. Nobody gives a fart what these nutters accept or reject.  

If you assume that meaning in life is something that is sometimes actually realised in individual lives, it makes perfect sense to try to find examples of those lives in which it is realised so that you can then start identifying some general features of meaningful lives.

Why not just make them up? Superman doesn't really exist though I spent a lot of time putting on my Y fronts over my trousers. That's one reason my wife divorced me.  

The problem is that the method and the assumption are deeply flawed. To see why, consider Leo Tolstoy’s own crisis of meaning:

he was mentally ill. There are pills now available which may have helped him.  

'In the middle of my concern with the household, which at the time kept me quite busy, a question would suddenly come into my head: ‘Very well, you will have 6,000 desyatins [unit of land] in the Samara province, as well as 300 horses; what then?’ And I was completely taken aback and didn’t know what to think. As soon as I started to think about the education of my children, I would ask myself, ‘Why?’ Or I would reflect on how the people might attain prosperity, and I would suddenly ask myself, ‘What concern is it of mine?’ Or in the middle of thinking about the fame that my works were bringing me I would say to myself, ‘Very well, you will be more famous than Goethe, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Molière, more famous than all the writers in the world – so what?’ And I could find absolutely no reply.'

Many Russians were deeply religious. That wasn't always a good thing.  

Let us now imagine that a well-meaning friend of Tolstoy’s introduces him to the present-day literature on meaning in life. The literature would tell him: ‘Leo, it’s alright. We got you. Your life, you see, is a paradigmatically meaningful life. So, first of all, don’t worry that it’s meaningless. It’s actually the very model of a meaningful life. And then, if you want to know some more, well, from your life, and from other paradigmatic cases of meaningful lives, we can tell you (at some level of abstraction) what is required to live a meaningful life.’

No. The friend would say 'ask your GP for Zoloft'. Also, get a Netflix subscription and binge watch 'Friends'. 

Tolstoy is hardly going to find any of this of much use. His problem is precisely that he thinks his life is meaningless, so a theory of meaning that is built on the assumption that his life is meaningful is at best a joke to him.

Actually, Tolstoy was a pretty bright guy. Talking to him about serotonin might have got him interested in neuroscience. 

I speak of Tolstoy, but I am speaking of myself too.

Tolstoy was a great writer. Perhaps Pranay will write the 'War and Peace' of our generation.  

I had turned to analytic philosophy with a hope born of desperation. I longed for something that would help me with my crisis, something that would relieve the pain. I found nothing. The assumption that allowed the analytic philosopher to proceed was the exact locus of my crises.

So, Pranay took the wrong course at Uni. Still, he did well in it and was on track for tenure. Perhaps he will turn to literature or set up an Ashram or retrain as a Corporate Lawyer. 

Does anything really matter? That’s what Tolstoy and I both want to know.

Because that's what matters to them. Tolstoy wrote some remarkable stories precisely because he was mentally ill. 

And analytic philosophers don’t just refuse to answer this question – they couldn’t even ask it, because their project only got started on the assumption that things did matter. What use was this to us?

You are welcome to 'bracket' the question and proceed to see what happens if you assume things matter. Sadly, if stupid and useless people are doing it, the outcome will be garbage. Smart people will desert the enterprise.  

This is a problem for the analytic debate.

Only stupid people are doing it.  

Philosophers working in this tradition of questions of life’s meaning explicitly aim to address existential questions about life’s meaning, and to be capturing and addressing the human experience of searching for meaning. So even purely on their terms, the fact that they assume away sceptical and nihilist concerns and experiences is a problem.

The problem is that they are stupid. Sadly, so are poets and socioproctologists and poets who are socioproctologists.  

The analytic debate takes something of existential concern

getting paid 

– a question that was for many people literally a matter of life and death – and managed to be blind to much of their experience.

which is what happens when you get paid to do a boring job.  

It takes one of the most profound questions that human beings

stupid people can ask questions same as smart people 

can ask and has turned it into a discussion of the private prejudices and contingent beliefs (also called ‘intuitions’) of a bunch of people who have been similarly socialised.

Stupid people. That is the problem. Sooner or later they will start pretending that they are playing a vital role in keeping at bay Nazi Vampires from Outer Space. Also, Neo-liberalism is very evil. 

And in doing these things, it’s not exceptional.

It is right and proper that some stupid people get to teach stupid shit to other stupid people. Not everybody can be smart you know. I suppose Pranay was promoted in the name of 'Diversity'.  

It’s actually a symptom and an illustration of something much bigger and more important than a bunch of academics getting something wrong in one local debate.

What is bigger and more important is that China may overtake us in STEM subjects.  

Consider the temples of ancient Greece. Once they were thick with blood and smoke. They were places where living creatures were sacrificed, where novices were initiated by frightening esoteric rituals, where strange chants mingled with cries of pain and ecstasy. Today, they are tourist attractions.

The Greeks converted to Christianity. But then Hellenized Hebrews had helped create Christianity.  

The discipline of academic philosophy is like those Greek temples.

No. The disciple of Classical philosophy is like that. Greek civilization will always attract interest and smart philologists- not shitheads like Martha Nussbaum- will always be respected. Analytical Philosophy, on the other hand, failed almost immediately. Russell and Whitehead stopped being productive in mathematics. Brouwer didn't. By the time Russell met Godel, he was too far removed from the subject to be able to understand the younger man.  

Its practitioners are caretakers wandering around empty rooms, painting the walls, and washing the floor while the entire edifice collapses around them.

Caretakers are useful. Academic philosophers appear wholly useless.  

There are many signs of declining vitality at the general level. Daily Nous, a popular professional philosophy blog, has a category called ‘Cuts and Threats to Philosophy Programs’, which is instructive in itself – it wouldn’t have been necessary in 1960.

Because University enrollment was rising and Philosophy is cheap to teach. More and more professions- even Accountancy!- wanted to hire only graduates so as to raise their prestige and so even the most useless Departments could burgeon. Still, it should be remembered, some smart people did gravitate to philosophy back then. Hilary Putnam and David Lewis may have become morons but they didn't start that way.  

The entries in this category testify that philosophy programmes across the United Kingdom and the United States are regularly threatened with closure. Increasing numbers are being cut, and I am willing to bet a tenured professor’s annual salary that there are significantly more cuts coming.

It was a mistake to think that granting more and more degrees would raise productivity.  

The cutting of programmes is a natural reflection of the fact that people don’t want to study philosophy. Philosophy degrees in the US are either modestly up or stable relative to 2017, but significantly down relative to 2010. If you extend the period out to roughly the past 20 years, then philosophy majors as a percentage of bachelor’s degrees have stayed roughly stable – but only because it was already low, between 0.4-0.6 per cent. These are important pieces of evidence, but they are secondary. They are symptoms and manifestations of something much more important, namely an internal decline and an inner death.

Because of adverse selectivity. One way out is to go for Grievance Studies and 'diversity'. Instead of philosophers babbling nonsense, why not recruit genuine lunatics from the homeless population? 

Look at the words that professional philosophers produce. Look, for however long you can bear, into the pages of arcane journals filled with intricate disputes about how many trolleys can dance on the head of a pin.

'The Good place' got a lot of viewers though it featured a lot of that type of philosophy.  

Peek into classrooms that are filled with the atmosphere of boredom and futility. Speak to young philosophers, young practitioners of the discipline, the ones who should be filled with love and excitement for philosophy and see instead their disappointment and their cynicism.

Fair point. On the other hand, one might say that much of 'Paideia' is about lowering expectations and replacing 'magical thinking' with a willingness to put up with a boring, routine, job in return for participating in an economy where some very smart people can make useful discoveries. 

I was once one of those young philosophers. I came to philosophy as so many other young people, as so many of my contemporaries, as so many of my students over the years came to it. We were driven by deep and authentic need, by the needs that human beings have always had – the need to make sense of our lives, the need to be consoled for our suffering, the need to be awed by things greater than ourselves, the need to experience the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Philosophers are welcome to introduce their students to ideas and techniques from different disciplines. Love of knowledge should extend to love of all that is worth knowing. But the love of something is not itself that thing. Epistemology isn't itself Knowledge. Ontology has no being of its own. Ethics is generally only studied by people who have no fucking ethics. Pretending otherwise is silly.  

We yearned for wisdom, for glimpses of ideas and people that allowed us to believe that there was something very fine in human beings and that we might legitimately strive to live in ways that cultivated and expressed it.

So, Pranay has a bone to pick with the guys who set the curriculum. But, they faced their own constraints. Thus, if they had hired boring shitheads, then they had to get those boring shitheads to teach boring shite.  

That is what we yearned for. What we found was something rather different. Geoff Dyer put it well in Out of Sheer Rage (1997):

'Walk around a university campus and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch.

Smart peeps don't want to hang around campuses because young people are horrible.  

I recently met an academic who said that he taught German literature. I was aghast: to think, this man who had been in universities all his life was teaching Rilke.

Nothing wrong with that. A guy with a deep knowledge of German cultural history could find lots of very interesting things to say about him.  

Rilke! Oh, it was too much to bear. You don’t teach Rilke, I wanted to say, you kill Rilke!

The guy is dead. Get over it.  

You turn him to dust and then you go off to conferences where dozens of other academic-morticians gather with the express intention of killing Rilke and turning him to dust.

Dyer wants to kill off something- that's true enough. But why get so angry over some harmless dude who teaches Rilke and probably buys cheap reproductions of Greco's angels and is hoping to marry a nice Ukrainian girl- except it turns out the girl is actually a dude?  

Then, as part of the cover-up, the conference papers are published, the dust is embalmed and before you know it literature is a vast graveyard of dust, a dustyard of graves.

No. Literature is stuff produced by guys like Rilke not those who teach German for a living.  

I recognise that anger. It still makes me angry now, to think of the depth and the beauty and the pain of the human need, and of how it is met by dusty professors playing their little games.

Very true. Pranay had escaped from the Bengal famine but his Professors didn't give him some nice samosas to eat. Also, they made him read books.  Fuck you, Professors! Fuck you very much indeed!

But anger is not an easy place to live from; nor is it the most fertile. Over time, the anger receded, and it was replaced by something that felt like a moral challenge. If academic philosophy really was so awful (and it was), then shouldn’t I try to offer an alternative?

You'd have to get up to speed on open problems in Math. That stuff makes your brain hurt.  

Philosophy was once alive too, almost terrifyingly so.

No. It had to compete for fees from wealthy young men who might prefer instruction in the law or in martial arts or estate management.  

Why else would a man called Socrates choose to cheerfully go to his death rather than betray it?

He saw himself as a scapegoat whose sacrifice would be helpful to his beloved City. The truth was he made a hash of his legal defense.  

Can we make it alive again by going back to a vision of how the Greeks did philosophy?

Our Math is better. Just focus on open problems in it.  

No. Philosophy was alive for the ancients because it was the form – which they needed to invent – that authentically expressed some very deep and constant human needs.

No. The Athenians lived in a polity where being able to convince others through reasoned argument was a very valuable skill to have. Cicero certainly profited by his study of Greek philosophy. Philosophy lost prestige when military skill determined who got to be Emperor. Religion however could exert a countervailing power- at least in Western Europe.  

The way to reanimate philosophy, to fill it again with life and vitality and urgency, is not to copy an old form.

It may be. But what works best is telling lies. Pretend that philosophy can make your dick bigger and also solve the Climate crisis. At any rate, that's what Socioproctology can do.  

For philosophy to become a living thing, for a form to be invented that speaks to human beings today, it

must make my dick bigger 

needs to go back to the needs that the form once contained and satisfyingly expressed.

In the 'Lysis', Socrates shows that training in philosophy will enable you to seduce young boys from good families.  

How? I have no suggestions about which I am certain.

You can make a living attacking philosophy. Also, it would be helpful if you pointed out that your dick has gotten much bigger since you quit teaching that shite.  

I am suspicious of any grand programme here because the whole thing about a live form – about life itself, possibly – is that its growth must be – to a large extent – unplanned, it must evolve organically, it must grow and change as a response to the needs and the context in which it first comes into being at all.

Pranay's parents were wrong to send him to human school. He should have been allowed to grow up into a goat- if that is what he needed to be. 

Instead of programmes or manifestos, then, let me offer two basic principles that have guided my own experiments. 

Principle 1: If we are trying to create (or rediscover) a philosophy that is a vital response to authentic human need, then let us go wherever the human need is.

There is no human need for philosophy. Simon the shoemaker should have stuck to his last. Socrates should have spent less time hanging out with the likes of Alcibiades.  

Let us go back to the world, to the modern equivalents of the Greek agora,

India has plenty of bazaars where Pranay is welcome to lecture 

let us do philosophy in places and with people where we are not protected – and mummified – by the sophisticated conventions and intricate rules of the institution of academic philosophy.

Why do a job in return for a wage? Why not wander the world making a nuisance of yourself? Brain surgeons shouldn't operate in hospitals. They should lurk in the shadows of back alleys waylaying people and giving them nice cranial lobotomies.  

Principle 2: If we are trying to create (or rediscover) a form of philosophy and an activity of philosophising that is alive, then we need to be alive ourselves

which is why it is important to keep checking the obits just to be sure you haven't died.  

and our life needs to be in the form. This does not mean confessional or autobiographical philosophy (though it can be that too, if it wants). It means rather… actually, no. You need to decide what it means.

Only if you have nothing better to do.  

I’ve put my money where my mouth is. I left academia in the summer of 2022. Since then, I do philosophy in the world. I do it with people and for people who really are grappling with philosophical questions – not as theoretical puzzles, but as things that matter in their lives. In this activity, I have glimpses of philosophical activity that is alive, and these glimpses are sufficient for a lifetime.

Philosophical questions cash out as 'open questions' in STEM subjects. If Pranay can help Terence Tao prove the Reimann hypothesis, then he is doing philosophy in the world. Otherwise, he is indulging in a narcissistic day-dream. I suppose it is part of Aeon's racist project to depict darkies like Pranay as utter cretins. 

Perhaps Pranay will return to the Jainism of his ancestors. He may pluck out his hair by the roots and take 'diskha' as a monk. Plenty of such people do a lot of good in the world while rigorously expounding Jain epistemology (which is supposed to have inspired Pyrrho and the skeptics) and their very interesting 'dhravya' dynamic conception of ontology. One word of warning- Jain soteriology is for alpha type high achievers who want to work out their salvation on their own. Grace can't be transferred from the Guru or Acharya. That's why I have to stick to Hinduism where even utterly useless people can be saved without any effort on their own part. 

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