My blog has lately become a series of posts directing you to my other posts about politics. Just to change things up a little, I'm going to post an email that I wrote to the philosophy department tonight. Lots of grad students here are trying to convince faculty to eliminate the language requirement, which now requires fourth-semester competence in a foreign language. Some graduate students oppose it. This is the majority of an email that I sent to my fellow students today:
There are lots of ways to be a good philosopher, and contribute to philosophy. You can develop a deep knowledge of Greek, read many ancient philosophers, and become an Aristotle scholar. You can study lots of philosophy of mind, take several classes in the psychology department, and become a philosopher of perception. You can read in all areas of philosophy, and do work that connects different areas. I wouldn't want the world of philosophy to lack any of these types of people.
There is, however, no way to be a perfect philosopher. Life is short, and grad school (we hope!) is shorter. Making people take three more classes extends their time in grad school by a semester, or displaces three other classes that they would've taken. So how should we set up our requirement structure to produce the best philosophers possible? And how should we set it up so that students can do the other things that will be required of them, like teaching undergrads and evaluating job talks in other areas?
Here's my proposal: only require everyone to take those things that everyone will find more valuable than what they would've taken otherwise. Since we'll be required to evaluate job talks in other areas, it's sensible to have a system of distributional requirements between core analytic philosophy, ethics, and history. (I take Brian Weatherson's choice of this tripartite categorization system as the natural one by which to divide job postings in the JFP as defeasible evidence of its value.) Since basic logic is a common teaching requirement and occasionally useful in all areas, we require competence with basic logic. Maybe there are other things that almost every successful philosopher, from metaethicists to Hegel scholars, will need. If so, we should argue for them on this basis.
Guidance in our course of study need not come from a requirement system. In fact, it should come from personal interests that drive hard work, promising lines of thought that require more study for fuller development, and conversations with faculty and other students. There are many wonderful faculty members and graduate students in our department with whom we can have these conversations. They're eager to help us design the course of study that is best for each of us.
Our department is capable of producing excellent philosophers of many different kinds. This doesn't mean that we should have many requirements -- in fact, it means that we shouldn't. To impose many different requirements isn't to promote all different specialties -- it's to promote generalism at the expense of all else. A system with few requirements permits the generalist and all kinds of specialists to flourish. This is the system that I fought for two years ago, and I'm willing to fight for it now.
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