Monday, September 04, 2006

Suggestions from the Philosopher

Not Aristotle, but my housemate.

The keynote lecture at the 27th annual Graduate Philosophy Conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this year piqued my interest. The keynote lecture was "Ethics and the Collapse of Civilization" by Jonathan Lear (John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor, Committee on Social Thought, Department of Philosophy, the University of Chicago). (I think he is also married to Gabriel Richardson Lear.) I asked my housemate what he thought of him, but he couldn't offer anything substantive that I can recall.

The theme for this year's philosophy graduate student conference at Fordham this year was
"The Future of Philosophy." I was going to write something on the impact of peak oil on universities in general, and philosophy in particular, and the vocation of a Catholic philosopher.
Now that it is passed, looking at the conference program as a Catholic, my reaction is "Who really cares?" I don't really see anything that would be of interest to the general public, just to a small group of people with certain specialties.

Another version of "geekdom"? Perhaps.

I asked the Philosopher what would be some good classical texts discussing the nature and purpose of philosophy.

Plato's dialogues: Philebus, Protagoras, Gorgias, Phaedrus
(To look at the arguments for the superiority of the philosophical life to all others.)

To these I would have added the practical bent of classical Confucianism.

Then I would proceed with a historical examination of the decline of the Greek schools and see if any comparisons could be drawn between their situation and the current state of universities in the United States.

Then some judgments:
(1) It would become increasingly difficult for departments of philosophy to justify their existence in universities that were oriented towards job training and other practical ends. (Unless philosophy departments made bioethics and business ethics courses a big component of their programs.)

(2) A lot of discredit that has fallen upon philosophy as an "academic discipline" is due to academic philosophers themselves.

(3) Universities themselves may be put out of business by peak oil, since the economy would not be able to sustain the existence of so many, and the job-training and skills they offered would become mostly irrelevant to economies that would have to shift towards becoming localized and less oil- and technology-dependent.

Followed perhaps by a recommendation that philosophers, if they sincerely loved truth and pursued it, should ready themselves for the upcoming economic downturn by finding a job they could handle, and offer their teaching for free, for those who were interested.

My housemate also recommended Roger Scruton's Thinkers of the New Left (plus, of course, The Meaning of Conservatism)--I don't think I would find much in Scruton that would be of interest to me, though I should note that last I heard, he will be giving lectures (on aesthetics) for the Institute for the Psychological Sciences.

I was also thinking of writing something for the American Maritain Association conference this year, but decided that it wouldn't be worth the time and expense, since I wasn't sure where I would be this semester and if I would have funds. My topic? Biological structuralism and Aristotelianism. I still hope I can finish up the paper, and submit it to a journal.

Whoopee... there's a blog for people to post info about upcoming philosophy conferences.
social decline (Jonathan Lear)

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