7/25/09

Philosophy and Pop Culture

How's this for completely nauseating academic snobbery? As a contributor to the forthcoming book Twilight and Philosophy, I do take offense!

Our intrepid (or not so intrepid) "anonymous philosopher" claims that people contribute to the many books like this because they
can't get their work into peer-reviewed venues and lack sufficient talent to work on real problems, but feel the need to compensate for their deficiencies by claiming that publishing incompetent philosophy in popular forums is a noble enterprise.
He goes on to say, in the comments--
The sad reality is that the volumes in the "pop culture and philosophy" series (either one) are saturated with poorly written junk philosophy. The entire enterprise is at this point a vanity project-- CV padding for those who couldn't (and don't) get their work published in the usual way, but somehow got a job in philosophy.
Further down, he reviles the whole notion of "public philosphy." (Stung twice! My animal book is being published as part of Blackwell's "public philosophy" series.)

Now, now. A vanity press is one that just satisfies the desire of authors to see their names in print. The philosophy and pop culture books published by Blackwell and Open Court (the Viagra one isn't from these publishers) are hardly vanity exercises. There's a lot of demand for these books. I believe they're quite profitable, and those profits enable the publishers to put out less salable, more academic books. So, a "win" for everyone, surely.

As to why people contribute to these volumes. It would be just too silly to mount a serious defense of contributors and their credentials or motives. Just for fun, let's suppose Mr. Elite Philosopher is entirely right. Folks like us are too dumb to get our work into peer-reviewed journals or think about real philosophy problems. Well, what should we do?

Surely we shouldn't leave the field and seek jobs as chimney sweeps or garbage collectors. There are vast numbers of philosophy departments all over the place--community colleges, backwater branch campuses etc. It's got to be good for us to stay in the field and teach at such places. And if, while we're at it, we want to write fun, light essays for philosophy and pop culture volumes, why not?

I believe Mr. Elite Philosopher's field is political philosophy. What his academic work is like we'll never know, but if it's anywhere near as elitist as his blog, let's hope he keeps on despising public philosophy. I really wouldn't want this kind of thing to have any influence.

6 comments:

amos said...

As someone who has never formally studied philosophy, I would say that people who write about philosophy for us yokels perform a valuable public service. I would note that such top philosophical names as Bertrand Russell wrote very readable and enjoyable books (The Problems of Philosophy, The History of Western Philosophy, Why I Am Not a Christian) for mass audiences.
Roger Scruton's Modern Philosophy is another book for the unwashed masses that is excellent. What's more any number of great philosophers wrote clearly in non-technical language that anyone with normal intelligence can read:
Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Mill, Nietzsche, etc.
Finally, after reading countless articles by elite philosophers in the Stanford Encyclopedia, I would venture the opinion that many of them say nothing in all too many words and could benefit from the experience of having to explain their sublime wisdom to us dumb slobs.

Faust said...

Heh. I hate to think what I am on this fellows Great Chain of Being. Probably an ant or a worm. One can only dream of one day being admitted to the heavenly host under whose peer review he belts his glorious (and tightly argued) song to the Most High.

This man wields the word "Professional" like a prophylactic. I have to say he's not alone. I find it sad the way philosophers busy themselves with their "professionalism." What of Socrates in the marketplace? Epictetus the slave holding forth but never writing anything down? Nietzsche’s work initially received very little attention (and if memory served he left the university). I suppose many wish it still received very little attention.

One should be deeply suspicious of people who divide the world into those who are "respected" and the "losers." (I suspect this fellow may well be a devout libertarian). Surely a slightly more sophisticated continuum could be developed assuming there is even a need for such a thing.

amos said...

Actually, Faust, I would suspect that Mr. Elitist is not a libertarian or a proto-fascist (in his discourse), but leftwing or progressive.

Jean Kazez said...

He certainly does seem to take great pleasure in looking down from his perch. If only he'd just said he'd read these books and been unimpressed, I'd have no qualms. It's the nastiness about motives and credentials that amazes me.

Tom said...

Yeah, the dude's a dick.

If the fact is that people who publish in these books never publish elsewhere, then there is at least a minimal prima facie legitimacy to his point (but more on that in a minute). But is there evidence that he's done the relevant research? I know of several philosophers who have contributed to these volumes who've published papers/books in/on important journals/publishers in philosophy (see the author of this blog as an example). If he has the data, he should let us see it.

More than that, though, is the dumb-ass snobbery behind the view. The ability to write well for a non-philosophical audience and the ability to write essays that will get past the referees of Philosophical Studies are drastically different skill sets--and at least from where I sit, I can't see that one is obviously "better" than the other. Well, inasmuch as I think there is a potential "better" here, I think that lies with the philosopher who can communicate good philosophical ideas to those not trained in philosophy.

Again, the dude's a dick.

Jean Kazez said...

I happened to be in a bookstore yesterday and the philosophy section was full of these things, so I looked at the contributor lists. Lots of these folks have published in Fine Upstanding Places. But some haven't. One of the volumes had a piece by an 8th grade math teacher, for example. But so what? What earthly reason would there be to feel contempt for such a person?

Ack! (I feel the desire to rant and rave returning...)