June 27, 2005

Leiter's Provocative Query: What Are The Root Causes of a "Reverse Philosophy Brain Drain"?

There is an amusing little post over at Brian Leiter's place about a "reverse philosophy brain drain." Seems many of America's best and brightest philosophers are decamping to the saner climes of Canada and the U.K.---leaving these boorish, quasi-fascist Bushian shores behind! Brian states that "the political situation in the U.S. was a factor" with academic Charles Travis, for instance, who had written:

My decision [also] does have something to do with dissatisfaction with the U.S. After all George Bush did in his first term to prove that he was unfit to hold any public office--as much as you could expect in that regard from anyone--Americans voted for him anyway. I think that fact speaks more ill of America and its future than all the unspeakable, shameless things Bush has done since re-election. I shall be glad to be living elsewhere.

After intimating that the Bush Reich explains at least some of the moving about hither dither of our so noble, dissident-like, philosophe class--Leiter concludes by inviting his commenters to opine on the possible reasons for the so-called "reverse philosophy brain drain."

Seemingly on cue, a Bryan Frances comments:

I am in the process of moving from the University of Leeds to Fordham University. I did it purely for personal reasons, not because of any dissatisfaction with Leeds. However, I did apply for some posts in Canada even though I have no personal connections there, and the right-wing idiocy widespread in the US was a strong factor against my move. After Bush was reelected several of my UK colleagues as well as non-academic friends expressed amazement at the stupidity of Americans. I could not offer any defense!

We might call Mr. Frances something of a 'reverse philosophy brain drain' manque. We almost lost him because of the pervasive "right wing idiocy" over here--but (phew!) "personal reasons" still have him deigning to bless these fine shores. Frances is a smart and busy man, of course, currently working on projects that will doubtless have a major impact on the broad currents of philosophical thought. From his faculty page:

In a forthcoming OUP book, a forthcoming Noûs article, and a work in progress I argue for a new kind of scepticism with a new kind of sceptical argument. It has the traditional form (here's a sceptical hypothesis; you can't neutralize it; you have to be able to neutralize it to know P; so you don't know P), but the sceptical hypotheses I plug into it are "real, live" scientific-philosophical hypotheses often thought to be actually true, unlike any of the outrageous traditional hypotheses (e.g., 'You're a brain in a vat'). Notably, the argument goes through even if we adopt all the clever anti-sceptical fixes thought up in recent years. Furthermore, the sceptical conclusion is bizarre: you can know that there are black holes, but you can't know that your shirt is red, that Moore thought that scepticism is false, that John Rawls was kind, or even that you believe any of those things.

Big stuff this! And coming soon to Fordham (Manhattan campus, bien sur, as he points out on his site--lest we think he'd be festering among the hoi polloi in the Bronx)! But it seems he's coming somewhat reluctantly, you see, as how could 59 million people be so dumb et cetera et cetera. You'd think someone so very clever and versed in all varieties of skepticism might deign to stop for a brief moment and seriously consider why a majority of Americans might have voted for Bush. After all, must it be simply because the pro-Bush voters are all so outrageously bovine and stupid? I had offered some reasons here, for instance, and I don't think they were constitutive of the rantings of a simpleton, or a crypto-fascist, or some rank imbecile. But in the serried ranks of Leiter and ilk's world, there is a seeming Hitlerization afoot in these United States, and we may be losing our very best and brightest "philosophers" to a "reverse philosophy brain drain."

The list is impressive, and almost panic-inducing:

Let's review the facts for the past two academic years (very roughly), which have (in my experience) been unusual. Leaving the U.S. for Britain have been: Charles Travis from Northwestern to King's College, London; Luc Bovens from Colorado to LSE; Alan Carter from Colorado to Glasgow; Wayne Martin from UC San Diego to Essex; Elinor Mason from Colorado to Edinburgh; Knud Haakonssen from BU to Sussex; Larry Moss from Notre Dame to Exeter; Andy Clark from Indiana to Edinburgh; and Christopher Shields from Colorado to Oxford. In addition, Mike Martin (UCL), Michael Otsuka (UCL), Michael Potter (Cambridge), and Hannes Leitgeb (Bristol) have all turned down U.S. offers recently...

...Leaving the U.S. for Canada have been: Bob Batterman from Ohio State to Western Ontario; John Beatty from Minnesota to British Columbia; Sylvia Berryman from Ohio State to British Columbia; Adam Morton from Oklahoma to Alberta; Benjamin Hellie from Cornell to Toronto; Diana Raffman from Ohio State to Toronto; Byeong Yi from Minnesota to Toronto; Jessica Wilson from Michigan to Toronto; Jennifer Whiting from Cornell to Toronto (and she recently turned down Stanford as well).

I have to admit I've heard of a grand total of zero of these individuals, but I'm in business and not philosophy, and that likely makes me something of a philistine in Leiter-world. But if Knud Haakonseen, say, (great name!) decided to decamp from BU to Sussex because Chimpie-in-Chief made the Massachusetts-livin' seem too primitive or toxic or such--well, I have to say, I couldn't care less. Though I'm sure he's a great guy and all.

It's funny, though. Going through Leiter's comments section, you'll find, shall we say, more mundane factors seem to play quite a role in the venue-selection decision-making process too...

For instance, witness this comment further down the thread:

Aside from the political landscape, one factor that has been mentioned and that should not be underestimated is the fluctuations the currency market. Let’s take a starting salary of 55k Canadian (probably a reasonable average but variance is high). With the current exchange rates, that corresponds to 45k US whereas three years ago, that would have corresponded to 34k US. If you have no loans it doesn’t make a difference (after all, rent in Canada is paid in Canadian dollars) but if you have debts in US dollars, moving to Canada three years ago was an expensive proposition. In my case, I turned down American offers because I wanted to go back home (UofMontreal), but the strong Canadian dollar (or weak American dollar…) made that decision, much more reasonable financially than it would have been a few years ago...

You don't say! Money, just plain ol' crass greenbacks, pounds and Canadian $'s--that might have played a role in all this moving about to the freer sanctuaries up north and 'cross the Atlantic? Well I'm just shocked, shocked...No, dissapointed even. I thought there was real political outrage at play here, nay, courage even--and I'm somewhat deceived that may not be the case, in the main. Yes, truth be told, I feel somewhat let down. Too few Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns in our midst these days, alas. Still, we can be thankful there are at least some--busily going about the hard task of safeguarding the Republic--even, quite courageously, from the rogue Emperor's ancestral seat of Austin itself.


Posted by Gregory at June 27, 2005 10:24 AM | TrackBack (4)
Comments

So, what you are saying is that these "philosophers" will no longer be teaching in American universities?

Well, the dollar may be down, but I think the value of an American university degree just shot up...

Posted by: Captain Wrath at June 27, 2005 12:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You know, if this keeps up, one day we may have no philosophers left at all!!!

Posted by: Pixy Misa at June 27, 2005 12:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This seems like a grand opportunity to indulge in bemused anti-intellectualism, but if this is carrying through into other disciplines (science, mathmatics, economics), I would begin to worry.

Also, when folks think of "philosophy", they think of Rousseau, Marx, Nietsche, and Derrida. To the extent these people have been taken seriously, the world has been harmed. But a lot of "philosophy" has implications in the fields of logic and mathmatics. For example, the theroizing that formed the basis of the computer came out of the intersection of math, logic and philosophy.

In other words, it's fun to snicker at the pretensions of emigrating professors and fellow bloggers, but real harm may be happening here.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at June 27, 2005 12:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One aspect in this equation, though not stated in your essay, is none of these people would have a position at all if they did not espouse hatred for George Bush and the unwashed that wander the political savannah. Even to the casual observer this "Hate Bush and the USA" meme appears to be a cottage industry. If you are a person of any repute at all, getting some modicum of notice by the press for an anti Bush screed will have the minions lining up to throw money and kisses in your direction.
I can report directly that for all their supposed education the one thing they haven't learned is humility. Especially pompous windbags like Herr Leiter. You may come across the occasional thinker from time to time but they tend to keep to themselves since the atmosphere is so poisonous. Talk about walking in lockstep.

Posted by: Beto Ochoa at June 27, 2005 12:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I didn't have to look very far to find something to back my assertions. Here ya' go.

Posted by: Beto Ochoa at June 27, 2005 01:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When one of the big philosophy corporations decides to outsource to Canada or Iceland or India, let me know. Until then, I think a nap is of higher intellectual worth than Leiter's politically driven hand-wringing.

Posted by: BlogDog at June 27, 2005 01:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

All of these philosopher are leaving the USA!
Horrors!
The shame! The outrage!

May I say that they are simultaneously raising the intellectual levels of both the USA and Europe?

BTW: I have an MA in Philosophy, so I know a bit about this area.

Posted by: RichardK01 at June 27, 2005 01:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled Moderate,

"In other words, it's fun to snicker at the pretensions of emigrating professors and fellow bloggers, but real harm may be happening here."

Maybe, but I'm skeptical. I'm sorry, but if these people are really leaving because they cannot deal with an elected President, that's an indication that they are rather shallow and/or narrow thinkers. I think that there is an attempt to portray themselves as Albert Einstein fleeing the Nazis, which is laughable on several levels.

Perhaps they are fleeing, but from a populace that no longer buys into their questionable work and theories. Maybe they are now uncomfortable because more students are asking them hard questions that they cannot answer. Perhaps there is a bit of the Emperor's New Clothes involved in all this. Best to leave to more hospitable echo chambers.

Now, if we can just get Ward Churchill to pack up....

Posted by: Captain Wrath at June 27, 2005 01:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I read the little blurb from the promo for his latest writings. The first word that popped into my, admittedly feeble mind, was “What?”. It read a lot like a Professor Irwin Corey bit without the funny stuff. I’m also not surprised that he would land in Manhattan. I wonder if I can get the No-Doz concession for his classes.

Professor Irwin Corey quotes.

“If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going.”

“Marriage is like a bank account. You put it in, you take it out, you lose interest.”

And a personal favorite: “Remember "I" before "E", except in Budweiser.”

Now, these are the words of a true philosopher.

Posted by: thirdfinger at June 27, 2005 01:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How does he _know_ that 60+ million people actually voted for Bush. How does he know that Bush is actually President.

He ought to live what he prints...

Posted by: r8ix at June 27, 2005 01:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Unfortunately, if all the academics keep leaving, the value of the dollar will rise again, and they will eventually return. That, of course, will drive the dollar down.

It's a vicious cycle.

Posted by: Alan Greenspan at June 27, 2005 01:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Poor Dr. Francis. He can't be a lucid or important thinker, if he is writing stuff like our blog host is posting, or thirdfinger is ...um.... thirdfingering. But, then, how to explain this bit of lucidity?

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at June 27, 2005 01:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled,

I am not sure what you are saying in you last post, so I am not sure how to respond.

I THINK I know what you mean, but I don't want to put words in your mouth.

Posted by: Captain Wrath at June 27, 2005 02:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Alas Greg,

You could have used this space to write about the foolishness and immorality of abandoning one's country when one loses a political battle (and I say that as an American who is also on this losing side). But you chose instead to complain about the pointnessness of philosophy, a completely trite and ridiculous topic unless informed by actual knowledge of the subject.

Do you really want to massage the inane anti-philosophy prejudices of the commenters above when there's this important real issue presented by Leiter's thread?

An opportunity lost, since I would have been interested to read your reflections on the real issue.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 27, 2005 02:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wrath:

The implication left by the host's post is that Dr. Francis (and the others casually dissed) is someone who cannot express himself clearly and is likely dispensing bs dressed up in fancy impenetrable terminology. This is done in way of dismissing the importance of a "philosophy brain drain" and diminishing the significance of professors fleeing the US because they can't stand Bush. As a refutation, I linked to a very clear piece by the same author that is about "How to Write a Philosophy Paper".

I have read that there is a problem with US universities losing people to overseas, or not getting as many of the overseas best and brightest. This is nothing I have direct experience on, but, in this context, I found our host's posting far enough from his usual high standards that I felt some sarcasm was in order. Making cheap shots about a field where one has little or no knowledge is usually not a good idea. (For recently cited examples, see Lileks on Torture, as properly eviscerated on this site.)

As for the subject of the post -- professors leaving because they hate W....Well, that's an overreaction probably bred of excessive self-importance, to say the least. But if it is happening, it's also a problem.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at June 27, 2005 02:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Over at Richard L Cohen in a set of comments on his post about the decline of Europe (q.v.), is what I think an heuristic perspective on all this. A commenter called Narrator was eulogizing the EU, where he would not have to pay for health care or worry about expenses for his children's college. A kindler, gentler society, too. Narrator is a very fine writer whose comments exemplify the left perspective better than anything I have seen.

I suspect Narrator expresses the economic perspective of the fleeing philosphers. They actually believe there exists free health care, free college, a civilized level of free social services, free 6-week vacations, jobs above the poverty line for those who want them, and no jobs for those who don't. In short, the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

In the face of these emigrations, with all the human and intellectual tragedy they suggest, my suggestion is to short the euro.

Posted by: Simon Kenton at June 27, 2005 02:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If a bunch of pro-fascist pseudo-intellectuals want to flee to more hospitable climes, I say "Go for it."

Philosophy is a buyer's market and there will be every chance that morally and intellectually superior individuals will take their place.

As r8ix pointed out, punks like these are the worst misologists of all

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 27, 2005 02:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's my take on the sophistry of the bad professor:

http://saturninretrograde.blogspot.com/2003/01/article-48-this-is-old-essay-of-mine.html

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 27, 2005 02:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled, I think it you looked around, you'd discover that mathematical and symbolic logic have largely moved out of philosophy anyway. Thirty years ago, when I was an undergrad, logicians were just as likely to be in a philosophy department as not; now they're almost always in either math of computer science.

This isn't really all that unusual, as philosophy has a tendency to export anything that becomes useful and call it something else: previous examples include physics and chemistry.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at June 27, 2005 03:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled Moderate,

Actually, in the hard sciences and engineering the trend is almost entirely the other way: folks come from the rest of the world to work/teach here. I've had several friends come to the US, go back the EU when their kids get a bit older and college costs become visible, and then move back in under 2 years. And we won't even discuss the problems many of the East Asian countries have getting their students back. As a US white male I was a definite minority in engineering graduate school.

I suspect we're losing our "philosophers" and "humanities" professors simply because they are marginalizing themselves with their indoctrination techniques, and that's costing them support, which is in turn finally getting to their pocketbooks. I'm sorry, but having been forced through the Liberal Arts curriculum, I've lost nearly all respect for it. I learned far, far more reading the actual classics than anything that's typically been taught in university for the last 20 years.

Posted by: nerdbert at June 27, 2005 03:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nerdbert,
I'd qualify your statement as folks "would like to" come from the rest of the world to work/teach here. The mess that's been made of the legal immigration process is discouraging many qualified applicants, who end up in Canada or Western Europe. I'm concerned that we will lose our edge if this continues/worsens. I'm not blaming W. for the initial mess necessarily, but it would be nice if he fixed it! Meanwhile, prospective terrorists can simply walk across the southern border with the rest of the illegals, but that's an entirely different rant.
Respectfully,
Gino

Posted by: Gino at June 27, 2005 03:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Charlie:

There could be something important developing right now that is ready for export. I don't know that there is, but do you know that there isn't? This the problem with theoretical stuff -- you don't know it's important until someone finds an application for it.

nerdbert:

Is that still true? Some wise bloggers have spotlighted this as an area for concern.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at June 27, 2005 03:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Apalled,

Myself, I love the liberal arts, was a minor in philosophy (ethics in particular) and don't think your point is a bad one. However, I still come down with Greg on this one. Most philospophy is worse than useless, a few greats make up for it. That isn't a criticism, that is just the nature of the enterprise. Few professors have anything all that new or interesting to add. Or to put it another way, little new is of any interest in the field. What is new and interesting is quite important but we will hardly suffer even if they leave.

Why? Because by its very nature the gains we get from philosophy are not dependent on where those philosophers reside. Those few new areas where it is useful (such as in computers) are turned into useful applications by others and it is those "engineers," if you will, we need more of.

If Charles Travis comes up with anything commercially useful we'll find out. As for the other worthwhile philosophical projects of a less remunerative nature, his findings can be acessed by all of us in good time wherever he may live. Neither Hume, Locke, Hobbes, Smith, Leibnitz, Sartre, Heidegger, Plato or Socrates lived on our shores. For good or ill it doesn't matter.

Posted by: Lance at June 27, 2005 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am reminded of nothing more than the immortal words of Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker's Trilogy:

"You'll have a national philosophers' strike on your hands!"

Oh, the horror!

Posted by: TallDave at June 27, 2005 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for the subject of the post -- professors leaving because they hate W....Well, that's an overreaction probably bred of excessive self-importance, to say the least. But if it is happening, it's also a problem.

I doubt it. As dominated by leftists as higher education is, and as many problems as that has caused America over the past 30 years, that sounds a lot more like a "benefit" than a "problem."

Good riddance.


Posted by: TallDave at June 27, 2005 04:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What's so damned sadly ironic is that the sort of sceptical drivel this guy spouts is precisely why people feel justified in their anti-intellectualism and why so many turn to religion for answers. If scientific knowledge is unobtainable on principle, then scientists become an object of disdain, and their product is brought down to the level of religious dogma. Fifty years ago, a man who believed that the Earth was created in six days and is just 10,000 years old would not have been considered a serious candidate for the presidency. The only reason he can be elected now is because the progressive dementia of the left makes him look sane by comparison. It is the left that put Bush in power, because the only people they could find to run against him were anti-american pseudo-intellectuals. They lowered the bar for the office of president the day they nominated George McGovern, and they have kept it at about knee level ever since. If the left really hates Bush, they should pull their head out of their... navels, and take note that reality really does exist, and the purpose of the human mind is to understand it, not spin its wheels looking for pseudo arguments for why it is unknowable.

Posted by: Ardsgaine at June 27, 2005 04:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, in the hard sciences and engineering the trend is almost entirely the other way: folks come from the rest of the world to work/teach here.

Gee, I wonder why that is.

I mean, does anyone really have to ask why Intel, Oracle, Sun, MicroSoft, etc aren't French or German companies?

Posted by: TallDave at June 27, 2005 05:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fifty years ago, a man who believed that the Earth was created in six days and is just 10,000 years old would not have been considered a serious candidate for the presidency.

What a crock. Bush doesn't believe that or form policies based on that idea; no serious religious person does. That kind of snobbery betrays real ignorance: the ignorance of several hundred years of rational Christian debate on the subject of reconciling religion and science.

And 50 years ago you could say a prayer in a public school without being expelled, and somehow they survived that era.

Posted by: TallDave at June 27, 2005 05:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Apalled,

Yes, it's still very true. We make it unreasonably difficult for qualified folks to come to the US (don't get me started on the insanity of US immigration laws), but it does happen very often.

As a practical matter the pattern is pretty well set. You get a guy you like, then you write a rediculously specific job description for the job you want him for, something that almost nobody else could possibly qualify for. Then you publish that in various publications (preferably obscure and low readership) and claim that the guy you want is the only applicant, so the gov't lets you hire them. Then the guy has to go through the green card system and you've got him as pretty much slave labor until the card is granted since it's well nigh impossible to switch employers during that time since it resets the entire procedure. It's a horrible system with an incredible amount of paperwork and it causes more stress than the poor hired engineer needs, but it's a common pattern.

Posted by: nerdbert at June 27, 2005 05:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The US is not a random sample, is it? It is built on the legacy of self-selected immigrants, who were willing to make great changes in their lives (immigration being somewhat more in the past than an intellectual fashion statement) in search of liberty and opportunity.

This process of speciation of ideas, to crib a term from ecology, continues. Those who believe in the American ideals make the move, leaving behind those who don't. It takes only a few to make a difference in a society, so for Europe (in particular) this attrition of its own "Americans," is significant, as it shifts the balance in favor of the statists.

And it's accelerating. Now, an emigration is much less of a deal than it was in the past, so why would a European who truly opposes statism stay? Why indeed, when it's so much easier to simply up and out? The speciation accelerates.

And the complement, for Lefties and other statists to move back to Europe, merely completes the trend, one that apparently will not end till Europe has run itself thru the same cycle as the USSR.

Too bad; they're nice people individually, but their love of hierarchy is their undoing.

Posted by: Sighs Matter at June 27, 2005 06:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

TallDave wrote
"What a crock. Bush doesn't believe that or form policies based on that idea; no serious religious person does."

One word: Schiavo.

The decision to pursue that was based on a creationist, rather than an evolutionist, view of man.

"That kind of snobbery betrays real ignorance: the ignorance of several hundred years of rational Christian debate on the subject of reconciling religion and science."

Ha! You mean like Immanuel "I found that I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith" Kant? He reconciled the two. He destroyed the rational foundations of knowledge, and reduced science to just another form of religion. Religionists have been reaping the benefits ever since. Whereas once they felt obliged to make religion sound more scientific, now they just assert that science is the atheist's religion.

"And 50 years ago you could say a prayer in a public school without being expelled, and somehow they survived that era."

But there were stronger intellectual currents within the culture at large that worked against that. Now the intellectual life of the culture has been all but destroyed, and the resurgence of the Augustinian view of religion is not a comforting sign. This is how it looked in Rome just before the fall.

Posted by: Ardsgaine at June 27, 2005 06:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

TallDave wrote
"What a crock. Bush doesn't believe that or form policies based on that idea; no serious religious person does."

One word: Schiavo.

The decision to pursue that was based on a creationist, rather than an evolutionist, view of man.

"That kind of snobbery betrays real ignorance: the ignorance of several hundred years of rational Christian debate on the subject of reconciling religion and science."

Ha! You mean like Immanuel "I found that I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith" Kant? He reconciled the two. He destroyed the rational foundations of knowledge, and reduced science to just another form of religion. Religionists have been reaping the benefits ever since. Whereas once they felt obliged to make religion sound more scientific, now they just assert that science is the atheist's religion.

"And 50 years ago you could say a prayer in a public school without being expelled, and somehow they survived that era."

But there were stronger intellectual currents within the culture at large that worked against that. Now the intellectual life of the culture has been all but destroyed, and the resurgence of the Augustinian view of religion is not a comforting sign. This is how it looked in Rome just before the fall.

Posted by: Ardsgaine at June 27, 2005 06:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Urp. Sorry for the double post. It gave me a server error after the first one. :(

Posted by: Ardsgaine at June 27, 2005 06:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I see much good in this trend, if it, in fact, exists.

1. Unemployment in the US may drop to even less than half of what it is in Old Europe.

2. American students can still be forced to read and expound upon the invaluable screeds written by these "philosophers" of whom few people, no matter how educated, intelligent or successful, has ever heard.

3. People who do not believe that financial (not to add personal) success comes ultimately from creating something of value will be far happier in Europe, which also no longer believes in this fascist notion of earning a living.

4. Europe will continue to be a less significant economic competitor, as it is burdened with more taxpayer-funded salaries for the unproductive.

I ask you: what of any value has Charles Travis produced? Has he helped anyone learn to live a better life? Has he helped anyone be fundamentally happy? Has he added more to the world than he has been paid to put students through the General Education agony that philosophy classes are?

Philosophy is a nice hobby, like croquet. Some might lament the exodus of croquet greats to some foreign shore where the sport is taken more seriously, but would it really matter to anyone else?

Provided the sport is not banned, so I can play it if I so choose, I wouldn't care if the professional competitors found, say, Monaco more inviting. More power to 'em.

I wish them well, and that the door doesn't hit them on the ass too hard on the way out.

Posted by: Barry at June 27, 2005 06:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Philosophy professors of the current ilk are worth precisely zero to America. Please, please keep leaving in droves.

On the other hand, the scientists and engineers flocking to the US in record numbers are of enormous value to the country.

To say that this is a win-win situation is a huge understatement.

Posted by: GaryS at June 27, 2005 06:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Barry wrote:
"Philosophy is a nice hobby, like croquet."

I understand why you say that, but it is incorrect. Philosophy is the foundational science for all other knowledge. It answers the questions of what exists, what we know, and how we know it. It forms the basis for all human action, defining right and wrong in both the personal and political spheres, and providing standards for great art. A good philosophy is required for civilization. When philosophy goes bad, civilization crumbles. It's not enough to say good riddance to bad philosophers. We have to replace them with good ones. The beginning of that is to recognize the vital importance of philosophy and not leave it to irrational nihilists who despise civilization. But when you go looking for good philosophers, here's a hint: don't look in the seminary colleges.

Posted by: Ardsgaine at June 27, 2005 07:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's see. Leiter notices that in his field, philosophy, an apparently larger than usual no. of American academics have accepted posts in England or Canada. He wonders whether one of his philosopher correspondents is right to assert that this is in part motivated by disgust with the Bush administration. Another philosopher corresponding with him confirms that in his case, yes the motivation was in part political. Without jumping to any conclusions, Leiter next asks: "What do philosophers think? Is this a trend? What explains it?" Several philosophers respond, some vouching for the political motive, others adducing other reasons.

This inspires you to several paragraphs of ignorant sneering about philosophers, followed by quoting one poster on Leiter's site who mentions an economic motive. This exercise proves what exactly? That lucre must always be the motive? That philosophers are insignificant because you know nothing about philosophy? That you're clairvoyant, and you can divine what conclusion Leiter's really come to, regardless of anything he says? Is this what people mean by "fisking"? It certainly isn't argument; it's just ill-mannered, illogical drivel.

Posted by: C. Schuyler at June 27, 2005 07:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"one day we may have no philosophers left at all" and that is a good thing.

We can call this clear the deck so the younger more vibrant new thinkers can really think and shine, instead of repeating the tiresome cliches masquerading as deep thinkings.

Posted by: ic at June 27, 2005 07:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

C. Schuyler,

My "sneering" about modern Sophists in the academy is very well-informed, thank you.

Their anti-intellectual hatred for geniune intellectual engagement will not be missed. There are far more qualified and intellectually mature people qualified for philosophy professorships than there are positions. Even a cursory understanding of the history of the disicipline highlights that.

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 27, 2005 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Scientists and Engineers are not flocking to the US in record numbers, they are flocking to other countries in record numbers and avoiding the US. Graduate programs in Canada and the UK are receiving far more applications from top students around the world because those students no longer want to go to the USA. Universities in the US have long held the top position for research because they attracted the best students from around the world. That position is going to change in large part because of the ignorant anti-science movement in the US.

Posted by: Martin L. Martens at June 27, 2005 07:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If even one person a day, who believes so faintly in democracy that he or she will leave America due to unhappiness with the result of an election, America is improved. I despised Clinton, still do, but leaving America never occured to me. So maybe these guys have more of an issue with America, than they do with Bush. Or am I belaboring the obvious?

Posted by: Moptop at June 27, 2005 08:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ardsgaine: Say what?

I don't see how Bush's position on the Schiavo case has any relation to believing the Earth was created in six (literal) days, or is only 10,000 years old.

It has a basis in belief that Man is created by God, yes, but those two beliefs are not the same, and I think you'll find the latter one much less likely to be objected to, and far less obviously silly.

Me, I still think it's an incorrect belief, but I can't make myself think less of Bush for holding it - greater minds than mine, by far, have shared it as well (Lewis and Chesterton in this century alone).

(And I agree generally with Lance that Philosophy, as a discipline, is generally of pretty low value, especially its current practice; and I say this as someone with his Bachelor's degree in the subject. Certainly, I see no reason to believe that those most likely to do Important Work in the field are especially likely to be sufferering from Bush Derangement Syndrome and flee the country. The contrary might even be so; certainly it is possible.)

Posted by: Sigivald at June 27, 2005 08:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some of the above is sort of funny, to someone who hasn't been thoroughly indoctrinated -- and someone who knows enough about history to know that, until recently in the course of human endeavor, those engaged in philosophy were also engaged in science, engineering, business and politics. Philosophy may have once been the foundation of achievement, but has since shot off on a self-serving, but self-marginalizing, tangent. The culture and financial structure of modern academia has enabled and cemented this.

But let's talk about "the ignorant anti-science movement in the US". Where do you find this? Perhaps the Greens? PeTA? Creationists? Marxists?

Empirical evidence -- more aptly called "reality" by those in the workaday world -- never swayed any of them. But these groups have long existed here, and originated in Europe.

Have you anything of interest to add to your cursory yet "authoritative" statement about this growing "anti-science movement"?

Posted by: Barry at June 27, 2005 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What's the old Joke?

All French philosophers really want to be novelists...

All German philosophers really want to be theologians...

All British philosophers really want to be scientists...

And all American philosophers really want to be British philosophers...

That might explain some of it. It’s a prestige thing more so than a flee the herd thing. That’s the way it was in the nineties when I earn my degree in philosophy.

Posted by: Howard Walker at June 27, 2005 09:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This could really be good news for some of the philosophers out there waiting for professors to die or retire to get a job. With the job market as tight as it is for academics, I think that anything that causes the haughty, know-it-all types to seek distant shores should be viewed as a "good thing".

Posted by: Paul at June 27, 2005 09:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Seems fitting that people engaged in mental masturbation would head to the continent with the lowest birthrate.

Posted by: Matt at June 27, 2005 09:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just think of it as evolution in action, improving the gene pool in the good ol' USA.

Posted by: N. O'Brain at June 27, 2005 09:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am reminded of a great comment from Jonah Goldberg: "in the US, we use intellectuals for entertainment. In Europe, these people can cause real damage." Therefore, to the extent where such "intellectuals" depart our shores, the risk of societal harm is reduced.

I am also reminded of one of the books of the Hitchhiker's Guide series, in which Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect briefly encounter a ship filled with a wide-ranging selection of useless people (advertising executives, bureaucrats, etc.) -- who never quite realized that they were sent away from their homeworld precisely *because* they serve no useful function.

As Greg points out, it would be far more worrying if we were losing mathematicians, scientists, software engineers, etc. Fortunately, those sorts of people tend to *come* here, not leave.

Posted by: Scott Kelly at June 27, 2005 10:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am reminded of a great comment from Jonah Goldberg: "in the US, we use intellectuals for entertainment. In Europe, these people can cause real damage." Therefore, to the extent where such "intellectuals" depart our shores, the risk of societal harm is reduced.

I am also reminded of one of the books of the Hitchhiker's Guide series, in which Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect briefly encounter a ship filled with a wide-ranging selection of useless people (advertising executives, bureaucrats, etc.) -- who never quite realized that they were sent away from their homeworld precisely *because* they serve no useful function.

As Greg points out, it would be far more worrying if we were losing mathematicians, scientists, software engineers, etc. Fortunately, those sorts of people tend to *come* here, not leave.

Posted by: Scott Kelly at June 27, 2005 10:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks a lot, Greg, for making life harder for those of us in the academy--and there are more than you perhaps realize--who try to defend limited government, private property, and personal freedom, but who are not as vocal as Brian Leiter.

Your achievement is to have confirmed the prejudice of every left-leaner who stumbles on your post that even conservatives with intellectual aspirations are fundamentally idiots who despise the life of the mind.

First, you dismiss Bryan Frances's research on the basis of what appears to be no understanding whatever of the passage you quote, a passage not written for as general audience. I daresay that in fact you don't understand it, and perhaps that's why you think it is rubbish. But of course you wouldn't have the same dismissive reaction if you read the equally incomprehensible (to you) research summary of a theoretical physicist (perhaps one of the many whose work has no apparent practical consequences). You would give the physicist the benefit of the doubt.

Second, you suggest that certain philosophers whom you list are no good or produce worthless work because you haven't heard of them. You consider the possibility that you might be dismissed as a philistine for that, but that's not the point, since you're obviously not a philistine for not having heard of these people. The problem with your position is that if you were given a list of, say, prominent biochemists under 45, you wouldn't have heard of them either, but you would surely infer nothing about their abilities or the quality of their work from that fact.

Why are you, and some of your zealous commenters, so hostile to philosophy in particular? Do you not realize that great contributors to the tradition of conservative/libertarian political thought like John Locke, David Hume, JS Mill, and, in the twentieth century, FA Hayek and Robert Nozick were philosophers?

Posted by: Andrew M at June 27, 2005 10:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Thanks a lot, Greg, for making life harder for those of us in the academy--and there are more than you perhaps realize--who try to defend limited government, private property, and personal freedom, but who are not as vocal as Brian Leiter."

Please be more vocal. A lot more vocal. We need you.

FA Hayek was an economist.

On to another subject...

Does anyone see the irony of someone moving to the UK to escape US fascism, when a priority of the ruling political party there is to ban "incitement to religious hatred"? This is, of course, a code for "criticism of a religion".

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4075442.stm

Now, doesn't that effectively ban much of Philosophy?

Is that somehow less "fascist" than US Law?

Posted by: Barry at June 27, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The beginning of that is to recognize the vital importance of philosophy and not leave it to irrational nihilists who despise civilization."

This is definitely a moving thought.

The conventional wisdom that philosophy is onanism for aesthetes is only right inasmuch as the people currently practicing philosophy are predisposed to treating it that way.

It isn't philosophy's fault that it's full of wankers.

I suppose a better question is whether the top talent working at Intel or Los Alamos or Scaled Composites would make a more valuable contribution to society were they to take up philosophy.

Personally I think building spaceships and microchips represent a kind of philosophy-by-example which, given the times, make as bold a statement as any "Critique of Pure Reason".

Posted by: Just As Sloshed As Schlegel at June 27, 2005 11:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Faux philosophers are leaving tthe US of A real engineers and scientists are coming in.

What's not to like?

Posted by: M. Simon at June 28, 2005 12:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sakharov was a nuclear physicist first.

Walesa was a plumber.

Jefferson was a farmer.

Franklin was a printer/scientist.

My take is you can't do practical phlosolpy with out some first hand experience with manipulating reality.

Posted by: M. Simon at June 28, 2005 12:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As a third year grad student in philosophy I'd have to admit that I have never heard of ANY of the philosophers you listed as well Greg. As such, I would look at their departure much like the Germans looked at Lenin's.

Posted by: Jason at June 28, 2005 12:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Philosophy is the foundational science for all other knowledge. It answers the questions of what exists, what we know, and how we know it. It forms the basis for all human action, defining right and wrong in both the personal and political spheres, and providing standards for great art. A good philosophy is required for civilization."

Now I am a philosopher so I tend to have a rather inflated view of my own profession, but even so that has to be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.

Do you really need philosophy as a "foundational science for all other knowledge" to grow a damn tomato or catch a fish? I have no patience of anti-intellectualism, but that kind of BS is just pathetic.

Posted by: Jason at June 28, 2005 01:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How many philosophers does it take to put paper in the printer?
BTW: I AM! It doesn't matter whether I think.

Posted by: John at June 28, 2005 01:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Old joke.

A physicist goes to the university head for some new expensive equipment. The head says, "Why can't you be like mathematicians? All they need are paper, pencils, and erasers. Or like the philosophers. They only need paper and pencils."

Posted by: Jim C. at June 28, 2005 02:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Andrew M.,

It is precisely BECAUSE I love philosophy that I'm glad to see pro-totalitarian sophists leave this country and not denigrate the discipline here any more than it has been.

An understanding of genuine philosophy is absolutely necessary for the higher life of the mind, something these jerks deride and mock every time they get the chance. (as in Greg's example above)
Strawson goes over their heads completely and Maritain doesn't even exist for them.

The conservative tendency towards making bad misological generalizations is reprehensible, yet understandible in the light of the nonsense being spewed by idiots like Frances et Cie.

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 28, 2005 03:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jason,


"Do you really need philosophy as a "foundational science for all other knowledge" to grow a damn tomato or catch a fish?

Historically, those actions existed prior to the existence of the discipline but...

Yes, your action expresses confidence in the existence of an external reality. It may be a naive form of realism, but it is an implied philosophical position.

"I have no patience of anti-intellectualism, but that kind of BS is just pathetic."

If you are a philosophical realist who opposes the "linguistic turn" in philosophy in favor of a more catholic and traditional view of the discipline, it makes perfect sense.

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 28, 2005 03:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jason,

I suspect that "Ardsgaine's" attitudes have been shaped by a reading of Ayn Rand, since that is the classical Objectivist view of the discipline. (cf. Rand's speech to the West Point cadets which serves as the title essay of PHILOSOPHY: WHO NEEDS IT)

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 28, 2005 03:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jason,

I suspect that "Ardsgaine's" attitudes have been shaped by a reading of Ayn Rand, since that is the classical Objectivist view of the discipline. (cf. Rand's speech to the West Point cadets which serves as the title essay of PHILOSOPHY: WHO NEEDS IT)

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 28, 2005 03:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jason,

I suspect that "Ardsgaine's" attitudes have been shaped by a reading of Ayn Rand, since that is the classical Objectivist view of the discipline. (cf. Rand's speech to the West Point cadets which serves as the title essay of PHILOSOPHY: WHO NEEDS IT)

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 28, 2005 03:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Drat! I kept getting "Server Error" when trying to preview my comment. Sorry about the triple post.

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 28, 2005 03:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Geez, all these pinkos actually obey your "love it or leave it" dictum, and you're still bitching?

WTF does it take to make you guys happy? A little Pol-Pottery, or a full-scale "liquidation" of all the thought criminals?

Posted by: Bart Savagewoofer at June 28, 2005 03:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"WTF does it take to make you guys happy? A little Pol-Pottery, or a full-scale "liquidation" of all the thought criminals?"


No, that's what the "pinkos" love to do and support.

They absolutely love genocidal, ecocidal fascist maniacs like Saddam.

Posted by: Ernest Brown at June 28, 2005 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We're not philosphers, we're skilled programmers who were in good jobs, and we have quit the US for the UK because America has begun to stink. You could try to make an exchange rate case that greed is our motive, but this ignores the concept of purchasing power parity (PPP) and, in particular, the relative cost of accomodation. (Actually, I am curious as to why BD does not mention these analyses.) Anyway, we didn't have jobs to go to, we just had to get out.

Posted by: jeb at June 28, 2005 08:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A few comments:

1. The evidence is sketchy at this point, but one thing that appears to be happening in the last few years is that Europe and Australia are becoming more competitive with universities in the US in terms of attracting top faculty, retaining good students, and publishing articles in top professional journals, particularly in the theoretical sciences. For instance, theoretical computer science is thriving in Europe.

2. If this gap is actually closing, this might explain why more people are up and moving: it is no longer necessarily professional suicide to leave the US, whatever one's reasons.

3. So far as this apparent trend is actually happening, I think it is a cause of concern. The issue, then, isn't people leaving the country half-cocked for knee-jerk reasons; rather, the issue is that the risk of professional harm from leaving--for *whatever reasons* is diminishing.

4. Philosophy is an unusually diverse field, and much of the posts here do not appear well-informed. Epistemology has been mentioned, so let's consider it. One thing we're trying to do in theoretical computer science is to understand better how human beings are so successful in doing what seem to be very mundane intellectual tasks: how we understand a spoken sentence, recognize a loved-one's face, or reason out a problem. This is extraordinarily difficult, mathematically, computationally and, yes, philosophically.

Indeed, it is turning out that some of the nitpicking analytic exercises that strike many undergraduates as torture--such as the exercises in thwarting skeptical arguments, mentioned above, and the chasing down of conditions necessary and jointly sufficient for justification--are (many of them) prescient first-tries at algorithms to get around key sticking points in the quest to build machines that reason as we do. At minimum, this work--the best of it, at least--has given us a map of some of the conceptual terrain we must navigate to construct working mathematical/computational models of sophisticated human cognition.

I should also add that at least one of the people on the list of philosophers to decamp from the US to the UK was very strong in this area. (And I have no idea what his politics are and could care less.)

6. Finally, I would suggest that there are other contributions that serious philosophy makes, which probably don't make it into your typical undergraduate course. Contributions that are, perhaps, even more important than the technological one I've cited here. We're quite exercised at the moment about the next supreme court justice, for instance, and the litmus test that will be used to select a replacement is a philosophical position--originalism--which is quite a bit different the litmus test of how the candidate plans to vote on particular polarizing cases for the electorate, which was the standard in the 80s and 90s. It might be nice to know what originalism is, whether it is a coherent position, whether it is one that is a good idea for a justice to follow and, say, whether people identified as originalists *are* actually originalists. This is largely, though not entirely, a philosophical exercise.

My position is that we need people to untangle each of these topics that I've mentioned, among others, and that the value attached to doing so, and doing it well, is far from trivial and also quite irrelevant to the philosopher's politics.


Posted by: dot at June 28, 2005 09:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I must say, Ernest, your "but the Liberals are worse" response was a brilliantly incisive piece of original thought.

But you're neglecting to answer my question. You and your friends in Freeperland are fond of using the phrase "love it or leave it." These limp-wristed academics, who clearly do not share God's unique love for America, have chosen to follow your advice and decamp.

Why are you guys so annoyed when somebody does what you ask them to do? Are you so unused to getting your way that you just don't know how to react when you do?

Just be happy, guys.

Posted by: Bart savagewoofer at June 29, 2005 05:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I must say, Ernest, your "but the Liberals are worse" response was a brilliantly incisive piece of original thought.

But you're neglecting to answer my question. You and your friends in Freeperland are fond of using the phrase "love it or leave it." These limp-wristed academics, who clearly do not share God's unique love for America, have chosen to follow your advice and decamp.

Why are you guys so annoyed when somebody does what you ask them to do? Are you so unused to getting your way that you just don't know how to react when you do?

Just be happy, guys.

Posted by: Bart savagewoofer at June 29, 2005 05:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brian Leiter is a first-rate philosopher, and his well-known www site evaluating philosophy graduate programs is trustworthy and excellent. But his politics are a bit over the top. I know most of the philosophers he mentions by reputation, and a few personally. Like many if not most academics in the humanities, they are probably left-of-center. Like me (who is not left-of-center), they probably like most European countries. However, I am very, very sceptical that any of them are moving abroad because of Bush et al. This thought strikes me as silly.

Intellectuals are often embarassed by the apparent lack of intelligence of public figures. But they often are unable to recognize different kinds of intelligence. That often happens.

Christopher Morris
Professor of Philosophy
University of Maryland

Posted by: Christopher Morris at July 2, 2005 03:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bart,

Since you were stupid enough to invoke two of the worst LEFTIST examples of mass murder and degraded bigotry, showing your ignorance of context, I thought it only appropriate to point out who REALLY loves "Pol Pottery" and accusations of "thought crime."

Besides, your statement about me is asinine. I'm not mad, but GLAD that they are leaving. After all, it's a free country.

Posted by: Ernest Brown at July 2, 2005 05:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jason,

Getting back to this thread late, but here's my response anyway.

Growing tomatoes and catching fish are not what I would consider defining characteristics of civilization. Still, Ernest's response was essentially correct. Those actions predate philosophy as a recognized discipline, but they do not predate philosophical thinking.

As mankind advanced, certain questions had to be posed and answered. What is the nature of the world? How do I know it? How should I live my life? How should the society in which I live be organized? The answers provided to these questions in early times were typically based on superstitious beliefs, and took the form of religion. Primitive men believed that the world was controlled by spirits, and their answers to the foundational questions were colored by that belief. It was only when the Greeks came along that people began to understand nature as an impersonal mechanism, acting according to certain laws and not controlled by supernatural beings. That is when philosophy became a discipline distinct from theology. That is also when western civilization was born.

Ernest is also correct that the point I was making comes from Ayn Rand's speech at West Point. You should read it.

For what it's worth, I have a BA in Philosophy.

Posted by: Ardsgaine at July 4, 2005 10:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
"Awake"
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
Search
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Columnists
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
Security
Books
The City
Western Europe
France
United Kingdom
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Spain
Central and Eastern Europe
CIS/FSU
Russia
Armenia
East Asia
China
Japan
South Korea
Middle East
Egypt
Israel
Lebanon
Syria
B.D. In the Press
Archives
Categories
Syndicate this site:
XML RSS RDF

G2E

Powered by