I came across this interesting blog post by Alex Dunn, "By Definition, Philosophy is for White Men", which takes up a very different aspect of Peter Unger's now-notorious 3 quarks daily interview: namely, Unger's treating everything that has any clear connection to the empirical world as "not philosophy." Basically, Unger says that Bertrand Russell wasn't really doing philosophy when he was arguing for peace, that Tim Maudlin is doing "adulterated" philosophy in doing empirically-based philosophy of physics, etc. For Unger, philosophy proper (we might call it) is "what analytic philosophers do" (something which he considers empty).
Now, although Unger thinks analytic philosophy is empty, Dunn says, Unger is, whether he recognizes it or not, playing into a perniciously exclusionary conception of what counts "as philosophy." (I would also add, along with others, that Unger displays a problematic and exclusionary obsession with deeming "who's smart", but I digress). Anyway, what's the problem, according to Dunn? The problem, very roughly, is this: for Unger, philosophy is basically inquiry that has nothing to do with the concrete world--the world in which people suffer from war, poverty, injustice, discrimination, etc., the implication being it is a discipline by and for white men to talk about meaningless things rather than things that matter to non-whites, non-men, etc.
"But wait a minute", you say, "doesn't philosophy investigate those things? Hasn't there been a whole lot of theorizing about justice, injustice, morality, discrimination, etc.?" Well, of course there has, but let us take a deeper look.
I was at a conference several months ago having a discussion with a very famous (and nice!) senior philosopher who, out of the blue, said the following to me (I paraphrase):
I can't help but be struck by the fact that the areas of analytic philosophy that carry the greatest prestige -- analytic metaphysics, epistemology, philosophical logic, metaethics, etc. -- are almost to a "t" fields that are about as far as one can get from being relevant to everyday life. Even in ethics, the most prestigious area--metaethics--is concerned with entirely abstract questions about "moral facts."
He then sort of went through different sub-fields of philosophy, and suggested that the more relevant to real life (particularly injustice!) the sub-field is, the less prestige the area seems to have. The most prestigious areas, he suggested, were something like the following:
- Philosophy of Language
- Philosophy of Science (physics, etc.)
The next most prestigious areas, he implied, were probably:
- Normative ethics
- Social and political philosophy
Next, the least prestigious areas include:
- Applied ethics
- Feminist philosophy
- Critical race theory
Further, he said, it's really no wonder our field is dominated by white men. Our discipline has basically taken the areas of philosophy that are as far removed as possible from the daily experiences of injustice, exclusion, etc., that non-white/non-males experience and given those areas the greatest prestige, whereas the areas that speak most directly to the interests and experience of non-white/non-males are given far less prestige, and often derided publicly and privately.
Finally, I would add, if we look at areas that deal with justice, etc., the most prestigious figures--Rawls, Nozick, etc.--have tended to be those who focus on ideal theory (or describing perfectly just social-political systems), all but ignoring nonideal theory (the area of social-political philosophy that deals with injustice).
Are all of these trends simply accidents, or are they, more peniciously, reflections of discipline that favors the interests of a dominant majority? I leave it to you to think about and discuss!