Who Are You, and What Are You Doing Here?
1.0 Cooperate or Die
The story of science is a story of progress through collaboration. The story of philosophy, on the face of it, is a story of neither: it is an academic cocktail party cliché that when an area of philosophy starts making progress, it’s time to request funds for a new department. If this observation is supposed to be a mark against philosophy, I’m not sure I understand the jibe—surely it’s a compliment to say that so much has sprung from philosophy’s fertile soil, isn’t it? Whether or not the joke contains a kernel of truth (and whether or not it does indeed count as a black mark against the usefulness of the discipline) is not immediately important. This project is neither a work in philosophy as traditionally conceived, nor a work in science as traditionally conceived: it is, rather, a work on a particular problem. I’ll say a bit more about what that means below, but first let’s start with an anecdote as a way into the problem we’ll be tackling.
In 2009, Columbia University's Mark Taylor, a professor of Religion, wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times calling for a radical restructuring of academia. Among the controversial changes proposed by Taylor was the following: "Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed." This suggestion drew a lot of fire from other academics. Brian Leiter, on his widely-circulated blog chronicling the philosophy
- Taylor (2009)