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05/07/2013

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Helen De Cruz

The focus is often on Templeton, but as your post indicates, the problem runs a lot deeper.
In Europe, Australia and Canada, a lot of research is funded by state-financed and private-funded grants. A large percentage of academics are not in tenured or TT positions, but on temporary projects, where they have to manage to keep themselves and others afloat. Many of those projects explicitly ask for a concrete applicability in business or for an immediate broader societal relevance.
As a result of this, many of these projects in philosophy are in areas like practical ethics, including medical ethics, enhancement, applied philosophy of science, etc. There are projects on the ethical consequences of nanotechnology. In the Netherlands, traditionally a place with both a continental and an analytic tradition, continental philosophy is rapidly dwindling as a direct result of its apparent lack of fundability.
Given that projects are often evaluated by broad, interdisciplinary panels (this is the case, e.g., for the Dutch NWO and Belgian FWO), less sexy forms of philosophy have a hard time getting funded (e.g., metaphysics, most areas of epistemology, ancient and medieval philosophy, philosophy of art). In many European countries, there has been a decrease in funding for permanent positions within universities (e.g., in Britain), sometimes accompanied by an increase in funding for granting agencies (this happened in the Netherlands, where it's virtually impossible to get a permanent position if you have not been able to get a large state grant).
This will over time have large consequences for philosophy. I've known several people deliberately steer their research into a more fundable direction, for instance someone who did philosophy of mind with a focus on the self who is now working on neuro-ethics. While I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing, it is worrisome that concrete applicability becomes a driving force in deciding the direction of philosophy.

Joe

"Philosophy, ideally, should be a search for truth, not a search for what people-with-money-would-like-to-promote."

I think we need a little reflection on the ways in which ordinary activity in philosophy departments fails to live up to this standard. Philosophy is a luxury discipline, pursued by people in societies who have the resources to support it. There is no organized philosophical activity without funding from somewhere, and without funding agents who will want that money funneled towards varieties of philosophy of which they approve. The only way to avoid this reality is to leave academia.

Marcus Arvan

Joe: suppose I said it's not smart to cross the street blindfolded because it's very dangerous. Then you say, "Well, if you think danger should be avoided at all costs, you should never leave the house." This misses the point of the first claim. Danger comes in degrees. Some dangers are worth chancing, others aren't. The same is true pernicious effects of money. Some effects are so pernicious that they should be avoided. Others are not. It's uncharitable to suggest that just because one thinks a *lot* of private money is bad, one should by parity of reasoning leave the discipline.

T.M.

I am not worried about the rise of useful philosophy at the expense of analytic metaphysics, continental literary analysis or medieval philosophy. In fact this may be quite a good thing overall and I would like to see more philosophy that is more, as it were, traditional, being connected with thr sociopolitical, scientific, or ethical issues relevant to the time. Nowadays hardly a month goes by that I see philosophers complaining of terrible scholarship that is lost in its own world, and focusing on relevance and usefulness is a good response to that. It would be good if people knew what a philosopher was.

More worrisome is that the funding and job structure will be made even worse for philosophy; as Helen said above, the move from funding permanent positions to grant agencies. It would be a tragedy if philosophy departments were to transition into a sophistry departments, and this is the risk when the funding comes from agencies that already know what the right results are.

Marcus Arvan

Helen and T.M.: thanks for your comments. Those are my worries -- that the discipline may in deep, subtle, and not-so-subtle ways be driven by money more than by ideas. Whenever I see someone get a 3 million dollar grant (!) and all the public accolades that come with it, the more people will sacrifice philosophical integrity for it. Guess there's not much we can do but to wait and see what happens.

Dan Dennis

Hi Helen

You say that the number of UK permanent philosophy positions has decreased – I was not aware of this being the case, do you have figures?

Commonly when people get grants they have sabbatical and hire a temporary teacher, but that means a rise in the number of temporary jobs without a decrease in the number of permanent jobs. So in itself the grants would not cause a reduction in permanent positions.

I would certainly rather grant giving agencies provided no-strings money and let philosophers decide what to research. For all its imperfections, this is what the REF does for instance, giving money to those departments which have been successful in recent years and letting the individuals within it decide what to spend it on, rather than the state dictating future research topics.

However if it is a case of either having extra money coming into philosophy or not, then it is good if there is extra money coming in. There would only be a problem if it reduced the amount of no-strings money available.

Cheers

Dan

Helen De Cruz

Dennis: I said that the *funding* for permanent positions in Britain has decreased, and this is surely the case (since 2010, funding for British academia has been subject to budget cuts. The rise in tuition fees was meant to compensate for the spending cuts). I do not know if the number of British continuing positions has decreased - I tried to find figures, but no luck. Anecdotally, following the funding cuts, we have seen several UK departments (including in small departments in philosophy) close down. I would not be surprised if proportionally, there is an increase of stipendiary temporary lecturers compared to permanent faculty over the years (similar to the US situation). In any case, I have spoken to faculty members of various British universities who say they would actually need to hire new permanent lecturers, but can't afford to.

The situation you refer to (with the sabbaticals) is an American situation. In Canada, Europe, and Australia, projects work differently. They are often state-subsidized, and come in several forms including, (1) person-based postdocs, such as the British academy postdocs, the (Dutch) NWO veni and vidi scheme, or (2) large grants for individual profs who can hire postdocs to carry it out, such as AHRC grants. Both of these types of grants provide positions for postdocs: either work on a grant of your own, or work on a project of someone else, as a postdoctoral research assistant.
In some countries, like Germany, it is common for PhDs to be in postdoc positions for years, hopping from one temporary project to another until one is in one's late 30s or early 40s, and then, hopefully, secure a permanent position. It's similar in Belgium, some Scandinavian countries, and Australia.

So given this, the project market does have a large influence on the agenda of philosophy. Young philosophers need to be careful in the kinds of postdoc projects they submit - do they have "impact"? Will an interdisciplinary panel, composed of literature scientists, historians and archaeologists, and the odd philosopher, understand my project? And prospective project leaders need to be similarly careful in the kinds of projects they submit. So the direction of research of young philosophers is pushed towards where the money is, and this seems to be practical ethics (all fields), applied philosophy of science, rather than, say, metaphysics or medieval philosophy.

Dan Dennis

Hi Helen

You said ‘there has been a decrease in funding for permanent positions within universities (e.g., in Britain)’ which is not the case if funding for permanent positions that comes direct from central government is replaced with funding from fees paid by students. Indeed there may even be more funding for permanent positions overall because philosophy courses are relatively cheap so they are relatively profitable for universities to provide – though doubtless there will be winners and losers. As the new system has only just been introduced I assume it is not yet clear how it will bed down over time.

I know Middlesex philosophy department was shamefully closed down two or three years ago, and Keele philosophy department merged with Politics and International Relations (but they still offer philosophy degrees and employ permanent philosophy staff) – are there any other closures?

As I say, I would rather state money – eg AHRC – was handed over without strings. I don't think state committees are better at picking the best areas for research in philosophy than are philosophers.

But any private money that is additional to state funding is welcome – again I would prefer it without strings but its not unreasonable if the donors want particular issues researched: no one is worse off if the money is offered but refused. And surely it is better that someone has a postdoc in a subject area that is not his first choice than that he has no position and has to drop out of academia and get a job?

Best wishes

Dan

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