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The Institution of Philosophy: A Discipline in Crisis ? Edited by Avner Cohen and Marcelo Dascal; xv & 334 pp. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1989, $35.95 cloth, $17.95 paper. Discussed by Alfred Louch A discipline in crisis? The question prompts thoughts about declining enrollments, attrition of faculty positions, and the insidious encroachment by well-heeled and better subscribed fields on turf humanists once thought they owned. Uneasy expectations like these are reinforced by the title, which does not speak of philosophy, but the institution of philosophy, its domestication, perhaps, by educational bureaucrats . Tides and subtitles notwithstanding, it is not altogether clear that the uncertain business of earning a living by doing philosophy is on the minds of the contributors, or of the editors who called them to arms. Intimations of mortality—well, unemployment anyway—may nonetheless divert or distract readers as they attempt to sort out allegedly vital differences posed here between philosophy and philosophizing, come to grips with the absurdity or necessity of foundations, encounter feminism and postmodernism as they encounter each other, succumb to pluralism, or witness in philosophy's end metaphilosophy rising like phoenix from the ashes. One author, Carlin Romano, who writes book reviews for the Philadelphia Inquirer, tells us we ought to think of philosophy as illegal, badly in need of a World Court which, I suppose (though Romano does not say so), would dispense draconian and Humean justice to books of metaphysics or theology. Philosophy and Literature, © 1991, 15: 311-322 312Philosophy and Literature The challenge at the end ofthe Enquiry may account as well for Hilary Putnam's amusing, if grammatically dislocating question, "Why is a PhUosopher?", with its less than reassuring, and rather uncertain, answer . If philosophers adhere to the traditional quest for the real, the true, and the good, he seems to say, the discipline is in trouble. Nonetheless , these words are still reasonable labels for the concerns of philosophers . Can we evade altogether an obligation to traditional goals? Yes and no, says Putnam. On the one hand we ought to declare a moratorium on Ontology (the general account of what is really there) and Epistemology (the general method "by which all our beliefs can be appraised"), but on the other we owe it (to whom? Humanity? Ourselves ?) to persevere in something like what ontologists and epistemologists used to do. Get back to "the common," he says, though he is afraid, in saying so, that he might be taken as "advocating a return to 'ordinary language philosophy,' in the sense ofWittgenstein and Austin." He doesn't know what ordinary language is, so he says, though perhaps what really troubles him is the thought that, if we're only doing what Wittgenstein and Austin did, a generation in the busy hives of professional phUosophy has been largely wasted. "Am I leaving anything for phüosophers to do?", he asks, and once more answers, yes and no. So might the generation bowled over by Wittgenstein and Austin have asked, and answered: there are still remnants of philosophy to kick upstairs. A depressing conclusion, particularly if the efforts expended here only replicate thirty-year-old platforms, strategies, and hopes. Philosophers beware: don't let our current politicians see this book. Things are bad enough in academic philosophy as it is. But then, Wittgensteinians and Austinians were not the first to forecast philosophy's doom, nor are their funeral orations more or less premature than obituaries filed in earlier generations. Remember CaIlicles berating Socrates for his disgraceful addiction to philosophy, and at his age too (Gorgias, 484ff.). Think about important things, he says. Callicles, like WUliam James, knew that philosophy bakes no bread. That, as we say, goes without saying. But it is clearly harder at some times than at others to persuade the skeptical that philosophy can compensate for this disability. The year A.D. 642 was by all accounts a particularly bad year for philosophers, and for poets and scientists as well. It doesn't matter whether the story about Omar and the destruction of Alexandria's library is true. It captures (we now say "is a metaphor for") the typical and recurring form of philosophy's misfortunes. Faith is better than discussion...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 311-322
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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