In today’s On the Square, J. David Nolan considers the way the regrettable Colin McGinn has revealed some real problems in philosophy, ones that reach a bit deeper than sexism. Professional philosophy has become, for many, an exercise in egoism:
To be sure, there are real perversions of behavior among university-employed philosophers, but if we are to take seriously the question “What’s Wrong with Philosophy,” we have to look more broadly at how the field conceives of itself and how it conducts itself. Alcoff says that philosophers like to believe that “debate is meant to be a means to truth.” An admirable sentiment. She recognizes, however, that the mode of robust “rough and tumble” debate that characterizes contemporary philosophical circles often opens the door to couched personal attacks which aim to establish intellectual superiority rather than seek the truth.
Read the rest here. Coincidentally, right now I am reading Emil L. Fackenheim’s The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought, which makes some of Mr. Nolan’s points pretty forcefully for Hegel: “Hegelian philosophy cannot be a mere theory of life which is merely over against life. Its truth of thought must be also—and already—a truth manifest in life.” (Not the most powerful passage in the book thus far, but definitely one of the shortest.)
A sidenote on Dr. McGinn, for the unvirtuously curious: Philosophy’s very own Anthony Weiner has a blog where he routinely defends himself (and tries to redefine the phrase “hand job,” in which he seems unduly invested). The contents of the blog, I admit, prejudice me against Dr. McGinn. However, in his words, I am indeed a person who is “conventional and boring.” Being boring is, of course, the greatest moral failing there is. However, I present the blog merely as a resource for those wishing to learn more about this case.
He does appear to delete posts from time to time, probably because other people also find those posts prejudice them against Dr. McGinn. At the very least, I could no longer find certain memorable posts. Luckily for all of us, his blog is mirrored over at Goodreads, so you can read some of the deleted posts for yourself, such as “The Genius Project” or the post where he elaborately explains that if he asks you for a hand job and then calls you a bitch, he’s really just talking about manicures and female dogs. (Memo to J. David Nolan: Colin McGinn thinks what’s really wrong with philosophy is paying insufficient attention to philosophy of language.)