(*Note: link fixed!)
In the comments section of my previous post, Brad Cokelet brought my attention to this absolutely fabulous Dewey Lecture by Ruth Millikan. First, I found Millikan's career story fascinating. Her early career, as she recounts it, was full of great struggles. She had to walk out of an exam of Stanley Cavell's for personal reasons (p. 4). She entered grad school at Yale as only one of two women in a class of 22 students and one of only two students without a fellowship (pp. 4-5). Her dissertation supervisor (Wilfred Sellars) left her program before she had made any real progress on the dissertation (p. 5). While in grad school, she also had a serious back injury, two children, a divorce, spent a summer in mental hospital, and her dissertation took her 5 years (!) to complete, with basically no supervision (pp. 5-6). I thought I had struggles in grad school. Millikan's story really puts things into perspective.
Second, Millikan says of lot of things about philosophy which strike me as important. Indeed, I agree with so much that Millikan says that I hardly know where to begin. Here are a few choice passages:
I said I had some thoughts about the current state of philosophy. I am worried about it. The pressures that have been building up over the last thirty years, due to misguided calls for accountability, financial pressures, the narrow business-model increasingly adopted by administrations in our colleges and universities, resulting losses of effective faculty governance, the unabashed attitude that the primary goal of an educational institution is to win competitions for prestige C these pressures, resulting in the demand for teachers to be committed, first, to helping with PR by publishing early and lots, are extremely dangerous to philosophy. I very much fear that this serious accident in academia could be fatal for philosophy as we have known it. There are other disciplines that these policies, indifferent to the differences among fields, have damaged, but philosophy may be the most fragile. I think that our very first priority at the moment should be to join forces against these pressures.
Philosophy is not a field in which piles of small findings later help to secure fundamental advances. Little philosophical puzzles do not usually need to be solved but rather dissolved by examining the wider framework within which they occur. This often involves determinedly seeking out and exposing deeply entrenched underlying assumptions, working out what their diverse and far ranging effects have been, constructing and evaluating alternatives, trying to foresee distant implications. It often involves trying to view quite large areas in new ways, ways that may cut across usual distinctions both within philosophy and outside and that may require a broad knowledge across disciplines. Add that to acquire the flexibility of mind and the feel for the possibility of fundamental change in outlook that may be needed, a serious immersion for a considerable time in the history of philosophy is a near necessity. This kind of work takes a great deal of patience and it takes time. Nor can it be done in small pieces, first this little puzzle then that...Given all this, it has always struck me as a no-brainer that forcing early and continuous publication in philosophy is, simply, genocidal. Forcing publication at all is not necessarily good.
In philosophy there are no hard data. And there are no proofs. Both in the writing and in the reviewing, deep intellectual honesty and integrity are the only checks on quality. This cannot be hurried. Authors who discover their errors must be free sometimes just to start over. They need time to be sure that their use of sources is accurate. Reviewers need time to digest and to check sources themselves when not already familiar with them, nor should they feel under pressure to pass on essays out of sympathy for the impossible position of young people seeking jobs or tenure. Unread journals should not be proliferating to accommodate, mainly, the perceived needs of administrators to keep their institutions competitive. What we philosophers are after is not something one needs to compete for, nor will more philosophical publications result in more jobs for philosophers. Necessarily, carrots and sticks produce cheapened philosophy.
Perhaps you will hear me as both overdramatic and unrealistic. Certainly my keen sensitivity to these issues results from my certainty that no matter how lucky and how determined, I myself could never have become a philosopher in the current environment. But we have not yet even tested the waters to see what kind of changes we might force if we banned together and, as a national unit, loudly and insistently made our case for more reasonable policies toward philosophy. I think we ought, at least, to be seriously discussing whether there is a way to implement an effective protest.
Anyway, I thought it was a wonderful read, and encourage you all to read it, too!