Some Cranky Thoughts on Philosophers

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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I haven’t written anything ill-tempered about philosophers in a while. Those who read me regularly will know that for the last two years, I have been managing an ongoing and increasingly bleak situation with my elderly and infirm parents, so the antics of philosophy’s Bright Young Things haven’t seemed very important. The latest attacks on Kathleen Stock, of the University of Sussex (which have led to her having to withdraw from public events and receive police protection) have made me change my mind, however. I won’t summarize what’s going on, as one can read about the unfolding situation here and here, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already sick to death of the people in my profession. Maybe this is a good thing; a normal thing; the kind of thing that makes the prospect of closing a major chapter in one’s life easier. But whatever the truth is in this regard, the fact remains that I am finding many of my fellow philosophers – and those in academia more generally – difficult to take. Retirement — thankfully, imminent — cannot come soon enough.

For brevity’s sake, I’ve organized my subjects under several broad categories.

The Woke Brigade

The nadir, of course, are those who engage in or enable or cheerlead the kind of things being done to poor Kathleen. To de-platform, harass, villainize and intimidate, attack the employment of or violently threaten a middle-aged woman (or celebrate, promote, or make excuses for others doing so) places one firmly among the ranks of the cowards and moral reprobates, but to do this because of the books and articles she’s written also demonstrates that you are unfit for intellectual and academic life. I’ve talked about this gang before: the Ichies and Scratchies, the Kuklas, Frans, and Ollies, the Stanleys, Mannesplainers and Weinbergs, and the rest of what I’ve called “Philosophy’s Woke Brigade.” [1] They are among the worst people in our profession and are the only ones I will mention by name, as no negative exposure I could give them would add anything to that which they’ve already given themselves through their public behavior, much of which I’ve chronicled. [2] They are one of the reasons that I despair for the future of academic philosophy and want to leave it as soon as possible (another being the discipline’s pedantry, scientism, and overproduction).

I thought it important to deal with this group first and separately, as the rest really are just harmless neurotics, nerds, and assorted weirdos. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely not my kind of peeps.

Dispatches from my quirky, genius wunderkinder

This is the person who likes to recount the amazing, hilarious, brilliant, “crazy” (usually all at once) exchanges they have had with their (usually very young) children. The precocious progeny of these people apparently have endless, devilishly clever things to say about Cartesian geometry, free will, metaphysical antirealism, non-bivalent logic, the mind/body problem, Plotinus, the is/ought gap, Donald Trump, global warming, and any number of other things, starting as early as breakfast and carrying on strong through lunch, dinner, and up until bedtime.

That this is intended as a kind of showing off is obvious and fair enough (I mean, who doesn’t brag about their kids?), but the trouble is that what this kind of bragging mainly does is broadcast to everyone on the planet that you and your kid are likely insufferable and best avoided. (Or that you’re a terrible fabulist.) If I’m in the mood, I might observe that when my daughter was that young, she used to tie a stuffed lion around her neck and shout the entire Lion King soundtrack while marching around the house and that while cute the first time, by the thirty-seventh, I’d had enough of it. If I’m not in the mood, I just mute these people, so I never need to see the stuff again.

A variation on this type is the person who offers us dispatches from my own, wacky, crazy, genius, life. While this may involve the sorts of anecdotes that raise suspicions and concerns of the kind we’ve just seen with the wunderkinder, more often than not they instead seem to involve displays of the person’s catastrophically bad sense of style (“I’m such a wacky, crazy genius that I even make myself ugly on purpose!”), bizarre public performances (I recall a very excitable sort giving an intense, ten bullet point lecture on how people should drink coffee), selfies in which the subject makes imbecile faces like a 4-year-old, and the like. I’m pretty much never in the mood for this sort of thing, so muting is the only option.

Check out my latest lunatic take!

I’ve bemoaned how philosophy seems to have lurched in the direction of crazier and crazier positions: everything is conscious (panpsychism); nothing is conscious (illusionism); some women have penises, and men can menstruate (gender self-ID); a plate of linguine con vongole is a moral catastrophe (ethical veganism); everyone is an automaton (hard determinism). The list goes on and on.

I know, philosophers have always held crazy positions. But back in the day, beyond what you might have had to read for a class here or there, you could avoid them for the most part. You didn’t have to be crazy yourself, and you could keep clear of the areas in which crazy tended to cluster and thrive. And as most of your crazy contemporaries would likely be outside of your personal orbit anyway, you’d never even know who they were, let alone what they thought about anything. Today, alas, you know exactly who every crazy person in your profession is, as well as every crazy thought he or she has and has had, thanks to online communications.

Now, there are some in this group of whom I am very fond and who otherwise seem excellent philosophers and fine people, so I endeavor mightily to avoid talking about the crazy stuff in our interactions. (I do the same with smart, interesting, excellent people with whom I have very serious political disagreements.) The rest – you guessed it – get muted.

The Romantics

Lastly, there are the people who wax poetically and impassionedly about philosophy – and usually Classics too – with a combination of earnestness, romanticism, and hyperbole that manages to be simultaneously naïve, elitist, clueless, and grating. These are the people who insist that Great Works should never be read in translation or that philosophy and humanities lie at the heart of all civilized and benevolent life and are as essential as food and water or that students must only read original sources and faculty should eschew textbooks and all manner of learning aids. They’re the ones dropping the Great Quotations, without comment (as their meaning and significance should just be obvious to anyone … or at least, anyone who isn’t a philistine or prole). Some are Christian – High Church, of course – while others are not.

If you make the mistake of engaging with these types, you’ll inevitably discover that they are almost always at tony institutions, with self-selecting, well educated, highly motivated students and luxurious teaching loads. If you point out the challenges of teaching large numbers of non-elite, non-self-selecting, poorly educated, poorly motivated (and poor) students in this manner (pre-Covid, it was not unusual for me to have 200+ students in a semester, with no graduate student or other teaching support), don’t expect to receive any sort of serious, well-considered recommendations as to how one might try. Instead, you’ll be treated to even more romanticizing, as well as the discursive equivalent of knowing looks and lofty expressions. If you question whether it really is as essential that every accountant and pharmacist and restaurant manager receive a philosophy and Classics education as The Romantic says it is, you’ll likely get incredulous, “gasp!” style responses. For myself, if I haven’t dropped out of the conversation and muted by this point, I’m contemplating shoving my head through the drywall in my office or, if at home, jumping off the roof.

The upshot of all of this is that I’m thinking it’s time for me to go. The profession really is no longer for someone like me, and maybe it never was. Perhaps I was just extraordinarily lucky in the people with whom I surrounded myself in graduate school in the 1990’s and in my early career, who were a lot cooler, smarter (in the grounded rather than savantish sense lionized today), savvier, and well-adjusted than the characters I run into nowadays. Maybe it’s partly the times. Certainly, it’s partly me. The older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve had to swim through sickness and disintegration and misery and death, the less I find myself inclined to do or even to tolerate things that I don’t want or like. But that, of course, is on me, not others.

I suspect some in the discipline will be more than glad to bid me adieu, and that’s just fine. (Most, I’m sure, have no idea who I am.) Those whose academic lives still lie mostly in the future should get the profession they want. Just leave me out of it, and please, don’t tell me how it goes. I’ll be living on an undisclosed beach in Miami or San Diego, puttering away with The Electric Agora, listening to Van Halen, and perfecting my linguine con vongole.

Notes

[1] I wish I could take credit for “Mannesplain,” but it’s taken from the title of a piece by Oliver Traldi.

https://medium.com/arc-digital/mannesplaining-87d1cbf3f7ab

[2]

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/05/08/of-white-papers-and-jumping-the-shark/

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/06/09/peak-woke-philosophy/

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/08/10/philosophys-woke-triangle/

https://theelectricagora.com/2020/06/09/philosophys-woke-follies/

40 comments

  1. I’m glad to hear you intend to keep publishing the Electric Agora Dan. You are doing a great service.

  2. Sorry to hear it. Wish you wouldn’t go; the business will be even worse off. Things have declined, to be sure, so your career has had a higher percentage of fecal matter than mine. But even in what now seem like the good old days, in the end the only lasting satisfactions were a small number of colleagues somewhere in the world you can really talk to, a small number of students each year who really want to learn from you, and writing something you are pleased with yourself. To hope for any more was, I realize in my twilight, a mistake.

  3. Great to see that you’re back on the street complaining about everything and everybody!!!

    I’m not woke nor romantic nor are my kids especially wonderful (one just ripped me off for a sizeable sum of money, I fear), but I’m certainly not well-adjusted either, a quality you praise in your penultimate paragraph.

    However, I don’t see you as a well-adjusted person either. A well-adjusted person would have adapted long ago to the prevailing woke climate in philosophy. I realize that you seemed well-adjusted and to fit in back in your days of graduate school, but even someone as weird as myself has been “in” or “cool” during several short periods of my life,
    at the end of my teenage years and once again during my early 40’s. As I see it, a well-adjusted person adapts to anything, even to wokeism if that’s where the money and the action is.

    1. Can’t agree. It’s not well-adjusted to adjust to madness, lunacy, and ridiculousness.

      Also, you may have noticed, the entire piece lays this on me. It’s not like I’m suggesting anyone else leave.

      1. “Well-adjusted” means you adjust well. It’s a descriptive term. It does not necessarily mean “sane”, which is more normative. A sane person is not necessarily well-adjusted.

        You must remember the poem, which I at least had to memorize in high school or maybe it was junior high.

        “If you can keep your head
        When all about you
        Are losing theirs and
        Blaming it on you.”

        That’s a sane person, not necessarily a well-adjusted one.

          1. I was using the term as Erich Fromm does here:

            “The person who is normal in terms of being well adapted is often less healthy than the neurotic person in terms of human values. Often he is well adapted only at the expense of having given up his self in order to become more or less the person he believes he is expected to be.”

            I don’t think that’s true of you.

          2. I understand how you are using the word. I tried to communicate that there are thinkers, for example, Fromm, who distinguish between adjustment and sanity. Fromm, if you haven’t read him, bases his model of sanity on
            that he finds in his readings of philosophers such as Aristotle and Spinoza as well as on Freud to a certain extent. Fromm studied with Karl Jaspers before becoming a psychoanalyst.

          3. The OED (3rd ed. 2014) has, in addition to the above senses : “fully adapted psychologically and behaviourally to one’s (social) environment”.

            There’s probably a difference here between American and British uses. The British psychiatrist J.A.C. Brown wrote, in the 1960s (In ‘Freud and the Post-Freudians’) that the ‘moral’* senses of the concepts of adjustment or integration are American in origin and don’t carry the same connotations in the UK, where, ‘To the British psychologist these words mean just what the dictionary says they mean, without any moral connotation whatever. Clearly one can be integrated around a very silly belief or adjusted towards a very wicked society.’

            He must have been using a dictionary different to the three listed.

            * By ‘moral’, Brown meant carrying a positive value judgement about personality

  4. Don’t be defensive. I think your are dead serious and have every right to be. You’ve disconcertingly written in the past about the sorry state of the once vaunted and honored discipline of philosophy and the current lot of incurious and apathetic students that shuffle in and out of your lectures.
    [ Casting pearls before swine. (No offense kids).]

    I interpret your dismay as a recognition of the cheapening of the discipline you so loved. A serious calling and study watered down by too many practitioners without enough serious intent beyond the flavor of the day and personal bias. And perhaps an intuitive knowledge that they can never improve or add upon the towering philosophers of yore.

    You have in no uncertain terms brought into focus the seriousness of life. Death, suffering, raising children, functioning in society and actualizing one’s life. I think you are intimating that much too often, philosophy now dabbles in the unserious or gives due regard to the real life implications in order to sound clever, hip, or to make a quick buck. In other words, does not take itself serious.

    I’m not saying philosophy cannot be light or even trivial in the big scheme of things, but personally I’ve always considered it to be a guiding light and reflection of the more important aspects of the human condition and not a run of the mill commodity. A serious calling.

  5. Two things seem to me to be true of the discipline, and yet they also seem to me to be in some tension:

    (1) There are way too many philosophers for the amount of jobs available to them.
    (2) There are lots of philosophers who think the profession is no longer for them, and they need to get out.

    That (1) is true needs no support. That (2) is true is just my anecdotal experience; the basic idea is that crazy ideas are not only becoming increasingly more popular, but that challenging them is increasingly seen as unacceptable. [I’m guessing this happens in philosophy from time to time.]

    Let’s say that (2) is true, though. If more and more people don’t want to do philosophy because of its intellectual climate, then I should think that we’ll start to see more and more people leave philosophy, thereby intensifying its climate even more. The good thing about this is that (1) will stop being true, or at least it won’t be true to the same degree. The bad thing about it is that professional philosophy will become completely hopeless.

    Now, part of me thinks that it can’t become hopeless; at some point, people will tire of the orthodoxy, and then some new, strange thing will happen, and the fever will break. But then I look at the humanities in general, and I think: oh, it can indeed become hopeless. Should philosophy go the way of English, history, anthropology, communications, sociology, etc., then I wonder what will happen.

    Personally, I think Georgia will happen. They’ve just radically weakened tenure there, allowing “student support” or some such to count as something that you must meet in order to keep tenure. A lot of academics decry this now, but it’s really an opportunity for administrators to enforce even more ideological orthodoxy. It won’t be hard to say that tenure reinforces racism, and then how will people fight back? No doubt by claiming that stripping the university of tenure reinforces racism, but these internecine struggles end quickly, with the victor becoming obvious soon enough.

    But maybe getting lots of smart people out of the university atmosphere into more ideologically hygienic ones will be a good thing?

    1. Robert, I agree with all of this. In my view, philosophy is a sinking ship. When I said at the end, “Those whose academic lives still lie mostly in the future should get the profession they want,” what I didn’t say is that it would very likely be underwater.

      1. > “Those whose academic lives still lie mostly in the future should get the profession they want,”

        In the best tradition of Yiddish curses.

        Zei gezunt 🙂

      2. I read an interview with Myisha Cherry today, and it included a relevant pair of paragraphs at the end:

        “I think I can say that philosophy has become more welcoming, but there’s no doubt that it’s always been in some way an élitist profession. There’s not even a hundred Black women in philosophy with Ph.D.s [in the United States]; we didn’t see a strong rise of any women in the field until the seventies and eighties. It’s always been the domain of old white guys. Slowly but surely, people from diverse backgrounds are entering the field. We don’t all come from élite backgrounds. We want to approach philosophy because we have questions that we’re trying to answer, and they’re not just theoretical questions for the sake of theoretical questions. These are questions that can affect people’s lives, that can affect the way in which people are able to eat, or able to get rights. With that kind of diversification, we bring in a different methodology, and also a desire to reach a different kind of audience.

        “I think people are slowly beginning to see that we’re not going to survive, as a discipline, if we’re only talking to ourselves. You see philosophers like Jason Stanley, Kate Manne, Martha Nussbaum, Amia Srinivasan—these are great thinkers who are creating work that is accessible. And it’s getting uptake! These books are selling!”

        I find this interesting that I see creeping ideological conformity as a threat to the survival of the discipline, and Cherry sees it as the discipline’s salvation.

        One thing that has to be said for Stanley, Manne, Cherry, and Srinivasan (I’m excluding Nussbaum, for obvious reasons) is that their books *are* selling. Clearly, members of the public are interested in at least *buying* their books; maybe even reading them, too! In addition, podcasts like to have them on (especially, it seems, Stanley). So, they’re definitely connecting to worlds beyond philosophy.

        Moreover, the more woke philosophy gets, the more it will be of a piece with the other humanities and social sciences (and, increasingly, the natural sciences). Thus, the ever-expanding sphere of power of the woke may, indeed, keep philosophy flourishing in the new university climate. If you’re concerned with philosophy’s literal survival, then, woke is the way to go, I think.

        But if you’re concerned with the survival of a set of norms–free and open discourse–then this is just the death knell for philosophy, and also the remaining non-woke social sciences. Academia is turning into a seminary: there is a body of received wisdom, the wisdom is correct, and our job is merely to provide commentary on the wisdom and to apply it to more and more things (e.g., is the fact that English is a country’s native language itself oppressive against those who don’t speak English natively)? This looks a lot like the STEM-ification of the humanities and social sciences; just not in the way I would have expected!

        But if you’re a red state, why on earth would you continue funding the university? How on earth do universities think they can answer that question in a way that would satisfy their conservative governments and taxpayers?

        1. Important stuff here, Robert. A few thoughts.

          1. Cherry is either lying or just flat out ignorant, in her claims about women in philosophy. Someone needs to remind her of: Anscombe; Foot; Murdoch; Midgely; Diamond; and others. It also is worth pointing out that for the most part, they are wildly better and more influential philosophers than the current crop, with the exception, perhaps, of Nussbaum.

          2. There’s no doubt that the people you describe are popular with the Woke. The problem is that wokism is not popular. It belongs to elite and metropolitan tastes. In a democracy with an electoral system, this is not nearly enough. The result will simply be more Trump and Trump+.

          3. The university that you imagine them flourishing in will not be around much longer. Economic forces were already destroying it. Manne, Stanley and Co. will be kings and queens of nothing.

  6. The “woke” group seems like the worst trend. My wife and I were discussing the Kathleen Stock piece in the Guardian, and this led to a discussion of the episode at the Evergreen State College a few years ago in which teachers were harassed for not participating in a walk-out over racism or colonialism. I do worry the day is coming when you will risk being attacked for having “bad thoughts”. It’s like something out of the Cultural Revolution.

  7. Bizarrely enough, I find this inspirational and am working on a reply. For now, I just urge you not to take all of these undeniably disturbing trends so seriously that you don’t continue teaching, which I know you do quite well. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of reinventing yourself and letting the awful course of history take its path without particular investment in it – ie, tend one’s garden, as Voltaire would have it, concentrate on what does give you pleasure in the study and its teaching. (I hope that doesn’t sound too saccharin….)

    1. This is so kind, EJ. Retirement was around the corner anyway. My parents are dying, and my wife turned 60 this year (she is 7 years older than me). She is tired, and so am I. And we want a long, enjoyable retirement, while we are still able enough to enjoy it.

  8. If a philosopher is literally a lover of wisdom, and an amateur is literally someone who does something for the love of it, then perhaps philosophy never truly belonged to the professionals or the academics but always with the amateurs out in the wilds of the world beyond the sheltering walls of academia.

    It takes no study or degree to wonder. Wondering begins all wisdom. Plato’s Socrates declared this at the dawn of Western philosophy,

    “… this feeling – a sense of wonder – is perfectly proper to a philosopher: philosophy has no other foundation …”1

    And is this not then the great Socratic paradox – that the only truly wise person is the one who admits to being unwise.

    Thus a professional philosopher is an oxymoron, and an amateur philosopher is redundant. All true philosopher’s are amateurs. Study is necessary and good. It refines our knowledge and puts us on the edge of collective human knowing so that we can be of service. But at some point study is not enough.

    All true philosophers are lovers. To live the passion and love of wisdom that wells up within one’s heart, at some point one must free oneself, let go, and venture out in to the wilds of the mind and the wilds of the world beyond the academic.

    Such a venture is not an ending but a beginning.

    1. Plato, and Robin A. H. Waterfield. Theatetus, 155d. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1987. Print.

  9. Dan, I feel for you. You have described very well the formidable challenges and frustrations that beset you. I don’t know if any of us can say anything useful that may inform, enlighten, guide or ease the process that you are undergoing.

    But even so, what you describe I have recognized in so many friends and colleagues. It seems to be an inevitable process that we must all confront. I have seen friends crash and burn under the strain of this process. I have seen friends bend to the breaking point and then emerge invigorated by new roles, new purpose and new delights in life.

    This is what I wish for you, that you discover new roles, are invigorated by renewed purpose and sustained by new delights in life. Some of my friends have achieved this and I sincerely hope you do so as well. Naturally I hope that the EA will continue to be a part of this renewed life so that we may all benefit. I hope you can take some comfort from the warn esteem that we feel for you.

  10. Well, Dan, I have massive sympathy for your rigorously presented philosophic case against Woke philosophers – although I did think they had a kind of point when they demanded the removal of the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz because it offended too many people without brains.

  11. I could while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain…
    And my head I’d be scratchin, while my thoughts were busy hatching, if I only had a brain.
    I’d unravel every riddle for any individdle,
    in trouble or in pain.
    With the thoughts I’d be thinkin I could be another Lincoln,
    if I only had a brain.
    Oh I could tell you why
    the ocean’s near the shore.
    I could think of things I’d never thunk before,
    and then I’d sit,
    and think some more…..

  12. I always enjoy your jeremiads, Dan, and often find my own concerns mirrored in your complaints and contestations. I persist in thinking it not only possible, but necessary both to light a candle and curse the darkness.

    Long-term family illness and infirmity are a caregiver burden unimaginable to those who have not had the responsibility. I cared for my mother as she succumbed to emphysema, and my son has a form of autoimmune encephalopathy which manifests through neuropsychiatric symptom flares. It has been a near-decade long ordeal, now exacerbated by Covid and the cultural (w)reckoning. You have all my sympathy; may things go as well as they can for you and yours.

    The Kathleen Stock affair is asinine and shameful; another relay in the race to the bottom of the brainstem. Though not lettered in the discipline, I am “philosophy-adjacent” academically, initially slipping into my own sideways explorations through deep readings of Danto as an undergraduate. I resigned recently as an arts and humanities adjunct after 20 years of teaching studio, and various learning community courses in English and the philosophy of art. My former school is small, but strong with the farce of wokeness. Having broadly shared my objections to the compulsory compliance with CRT and the struggle sessions and student coddling they entail, I chose to quit before my inevitable dismissal. This is a hardship for my family and a foreclosing of my future in academia—if there any longer is such a thing—but was undoubtedly the right thing to do. Your imminent retirement holds much relief, and many rewards, I’m sure—some of which I hope will be shared through continued dialogue in the Electric Agora.

    Regarding the woke brigade, I think they exemplify the worst kind of zealotry. They are inquisitors who have arrogated to themselves the moral authority to dictate values, yet they are tellingly unamenable to debate, and viciously dismissive of any heterodoxy, branding those who question their narrative as intolerant bigots operating through false consciousness. I see them as nothing more than a parade of ragged flagellants and ecstatic saviors signing out an unpronounceable semaphore of political kitsch. A passage from Isaiah Berlin in “Two Concepts of Liberty” comes to mind:

    “One belief, more than any other, is responsible for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the greater historical ideals—justice or progress or the happiness of future generations, or the sacred mission or emancipation of a nation or race or class, or even liberty itself, which demands the sacrifice of individuals for the freedom of society. This is the belief that somewhere, in the past or in the future, in divine revelation or in the mind of an individual thinker, in the pronouncements of history or science, or in the simple heart of an uncorrupted good man, there is a final solution.”

    If you close your eyes and get real quiet inside, you can just hear those hegemony crickets chirring away in the twilight of the idols. How to philosophize with a hammer, indeed.

    George Carlin covered the child obsession rather well:

    “…your children are overrated and overvalued. You’ve turned them into little cult objects, you have a child fetish, and it’s not healthy! Don’t give me that weak shit “well, I love my children!” Fuck you! Everybody loves their children, doesn’t make you special. John Wayne Gacy loved his children… kept them all right out in the yard near the garage. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is this constant mindless yammering in the media, this neurotic fixation that somehow, everything, EVERYTHING has to be revolved around children. It’s completely out of balance.”

    I freely admit my own parental crowing, which I’ve always justified—to myself, if no one else—by the facts of my son’s illness and my never having met my own father. As an artist and an educator, I am confident saying that he is bright and talented, but know full well that these may be necessary, but are by no means sufficient conditions for achieving anything. I also know that he can be an insufferable pain-in-the-ass, and not just to my wife and me. Hopefully, with time, his peers will help sort that out. Or ruin him completely, the little shits. Just as long as he’s not hornswoggled into an identity cult or any other form of religious or ideological fundamentalism.

    “Dispatches from my own, wacky, crazy, genius, life”: Thanks to social media, the whole culture has become a narcissist’s reflecting pool. And people are either in love with their own simulated perfection, or, like Echo, haplessly doomed to repeat the self-praise of cathected others who are so ensnared in their self-satisfaction they don’t deign to acknowledge them.

    Crazy positions are proliferating, and not just within the academic practice of philosophy. Bad ideas and magical thinking have always been with us, but they are more contagious than ever, and worse, highly operationalizable. They seem to fill a religion-sized hole in the cultural ontology. The blatant code-switching of descriptive and normative accounts of reality, along with strategic essentializing, and cherry-picking from history and current events give away the game. Radical subjectivity and standpoint epistemology may be the worst of it—as if one can have one’s own truth along with one’s own curated parts of speech. The telos of this madness is every human being standing in place reciting their autobiographies in onomatopoeia. This is not going to end well.

    Having attended 12 schools in 4 states by the time I reached 9th grade (which I never completed), college academics were my vehicle out of mental and material poverty—or so I thought; 20 years as an adjunct earning less than half of my tenured colleagues’ salaries while teaching above their course-loads indicates I didn’t drive very far, and I’m still towing my student loan debt behind the rental car. This being the case, I probably resemble the romantics you describe more than either of us would like. But I recall one of your conversations with Massimo in which you extolled the virtues and capacities of working-class folk above the empyrean achievements of the academic elite, and I may know something of that as well. I think it would be hard to argue against the benefits and portable skills of cultivation, even narrowly defined as an elite, WASP-ish classical education, but equally fatuous to deny the real pleasure and profundity of a practical engagement with the world. I love reading Emerson, but I also love mowing the lawn. (Actually, those seem well-fitted, but you get my point.) In your contribution to “How to Live a Good Life,” you observe in your discussion of Aristotelianism that philosophy can provide a general orientation, but eudaimonia requires practical experience beyond a formal education in propositions and first principles. Life is to be lived, and that is up to us, renewing experience moment-to-moment by listening closely to a world that often resists our predictions and our intentions. Good music helps, and good food. Bon Appetit.

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