Sunday, March 08, 2009

Practicing without a license

Brian Leiter asks whom we most wish the media would stop referring to as a philosopher -- Ayn Rand, Jacques Derrida, or Leo Strauss. Derrida at least was hired to teach philosophy at the Sorbonne, and Strauss did his dissertation with Ernst Cassirer. Can't say anything like that for Rand.

My thinking on this is that when Derrida or Strauss is thought of as a philosopher, that's an embarrassment to philosophy and a problem for the humanities. But when Ayn Rand is thought of as a philosopher, that's a disaster for philosophy and a problem for the world. So I voted Rand.

7 comments:

Kartik said...

I think Derrida was a perfectly reasonable philosopher: he just happened to deal more with language and concept rather than ethics and metaphysics, and whether or not one disagrees with his ideas, one cannot argue that he has caused any detriment to society (or even to the humanities, unless you give literary theory and outsized role). The same cannot be said of Rand.

Ed said...

Maybe y'all will earn outcast-expelling privileges once you start making some progress...

[tongue firmly in cheek]

Neil Sinhababu said...

I don't know, Ed, I feel pretty good about how we gave birth to all the sciences.

Well, we've got tons of people working on language too, Kartik, so I have no objection to that. I do think he's caused some detriment to the humanities, simply because of the influence of his sort of literary theory. I've had a bunch of interactions with people in English departments where they do really weird things that presuppose deconstructionist views about meaning (or sometimes reader-response views, which is more Stanley Fish's fault, but that's a problem too).

Stephen Bank said...

What's the big problem with Strauss anyway? I'm familiar with how awful Ayn Rand is because she's part of popular culture, and with Derrida because real philosophers engage with his arguments, but Strauss, I never hear him mentioned anywhere.

djw said...

Why is it so important to expel them from the club. Ayn Rand is a grossly incompetent philosopher. Derrida is a maddeningly obtuse philosopher. Strauss is a occasionally insightful philosopher hampered by a profoundly implausible and just plain weird meta-theory about the history of philosophy.

This sort of boundary policing exercise makes me wonder if John Emerson doesn't have half a point about professional philosophy.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Well, think about this in terms of, say, dentists. There's some pressure to say that the guy who thinks he can fix your teeth through crystal healing isn't a dentist at all, rather than saying he's just a very bad dentist.

djw said...

I guess the case against a robust methodological pluralism in Dentistry seems a bit more prima facie sensible than it does for philosophy.