My View

Contemporary philosophy in America is in the midst of a sea change. In simplest terms, it is going from being mainly about a canon of white males to becoming more pluralistic. But this is not a binary issue: traditional or pluralistic. There is much scope for genuine, productive philosophical disagreement on what pluralism can look like, and what form it can take.

To see this, consider the following three questions:

1) Is Pluralism, as opposed to Eurocentrism, correct?

2) Is there merit to Wittgensteinian criticisms of philosophy? (One might ask similarly of Heidegerrian or Pragmatist criticisms, and so on.)

3) Is it possible to do cutting-edge philosophy outside academia?

Each of these questions can be answered yes or no. That means there are eight possible views in conceptual space.

View 1: Eurocentric, Non-Wittgensteinian, Academic philosophy. This is the most traditional view in contemporary academic philosophy. Standard boiler-plate, philosophical canon of white males. This characterization doesn’t mean this view is wrong, or trivial. Nor does it mean that philosophers with this view are racists or are against pluralism. It means they themselves didn’t, or don’t, actively contribute to pluralism. Examples: Russell, Quine, Rawls, Lewis, Scanlon, Korsgaard and so on.

View 2: Eurocentric, Wittgensteinian, Academic philosophy: This is the second most traditional view in contemporary academic philosophy. The canon is still white males, but, on this view, that canon is read with a certain suspicion, with the sense that perhaps philosophy tends to fall into illusions – to get onto friction-less ground, of spinning one’s wheels. Examples: Anscombe, Cavell, Hacker, McDowell, Diamond, MacIntyre and so on.

View 3: Pluralistic, non-Wittgensteinian, Academic philosophy: This is the pluralistic version of View 1, and it is the view of a main uprising in contemporary analytic philosophy. On this view, traditional analytic philosophy can be expanded to incorporate pluralism, so that analytic metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy mind, etc. can merge with feminism, critical race theory, comparative philosophy and so on. Examples: Sen, Nussbaum, Stanley, Langton, Haslanger, Gendler, Shelby, Patil, and so on.

View 4: Pluralistic, Wittgenstienian, Academic philosophy: This is the pluralistic version of View 2, and it is a foil for View 3. On this view, traditional analytic philosophy is a kind of confusion, and so it cannot be the basis for a flourishing pluralistic philosophy. For that a positive philosophy is needed which is able to recognize and move beyond the confusions of traditional analytic philosophy: Wittgensteinian therapy, purged of some of Wittgenstein’s errors, as the foundation for pluralism. Examples: Bauer, Crary, Noe.

View 5: Eurocentric, non-Wittgensteinian, non-Academic philosophy: the non-academic version of View 1. Taking the white, male canon onto the streets. Example: Alain de Botton, David Edmonds, Nigel Warburton.

View 6: Eurocentric, Wittgensteinian, non-Academic philosophy: the non-academic version of View 2. Taking the Wittgensteinain critique of traditional philosophy onto the streets. Example: Rorty.

View 7: Pluralistic, non-Wittgensteinian, non-Academic philosophy: the non-academic version of View 3. On this view, traditional analytic philosophy not only has to be made pluralistic, but it also has to be brought out of the academy. Examples: Richard Marshall,  Philosophy Bites, Philosophy Talk, Partially Examined Life sometimes.

View 8: Pluralistic, Wittgensteinian, non-Academic philosophy: the non-academic version of View 4. On this view, traditional analytic philosophy has to be made pluralistic, seen with a critical Wittgensteinian eye, and brought out of academia – in a way where all three of these changes are inter-connected. Examples: Me, Partially Examined Life sometimes. Surely there are many more examples, and I would love to learn about them.

This blog is an attempt to think through, clarify and defend View 8.

8 thoughts on “My View

  1. terenceblake

    Reblogged this on AGENT SWARM and commented:
    Examples of pluralistic, Wittgensteinian, non-Academic philosophy include: Paul Feyerabend, Bruno Latour, and myself. My blog is an attempt to articulate, explore, and defend View 8.

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    1. Bharath Vallabha Post author

      Great! I thought our blogs are similar in this way, but I didn’t want to presume. Thanks for the comment and for making it clear. It’s nice to be part of a shared project.

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      1. terenceblake

        I read your blog with great interest. As in the case of a private language, I think “private pluralist” is rather incoherent intellectually, and a shame existentially. So, yes it is good to be part of a shared project.

        I think your typology of positions intersects with Bruno Latour’s typology, discussed in “What is the recommended dose of ontological pluralism?” That I link to and discuss here: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/feyerabends-democratic-pluralism-going-one-step-further-than-latours-diplomatic-pluralism/.

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        1. Bharath Vallabha Post author

          Democratic pluralism is a nice way to think of what I have in mind. The limitations of Eurocentrism, non-Wittgensteinian philosophy (i.e. the kind which takes traditional philosophy at face value) and academic philosophy are that each is committed to a kind of institutional hierarchy which cuts against democracy. One has to be critical of all three in order to be truly democratic, where people can engage just as fellow citizens having a dialogue. Of course, how that is possible has to be figured out.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. p

    You need to read more philosophy that’s out there before making these various classifications – even in terms of contemporary European philosophy – this is a very limited range of philosophers and philosophical styles/movements. I see no Spanish, Italian, French, Russian, Polish, Turkish or German philosophers (and so on – and tha’ts just sticking to Europe). I do not understand your notion of Eurocentrism either – it seems to be shaped by somewhat limited exposure to philosophy at large. It’s true that some American philosophers are fairly constrained in their ability to read foreign languages, but since you are advocating pluralism, you should make some effort in that direction. In what way are you pluralistic?

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  3. Bharath Vallabha Post author

    Good question. I agree in one way, but not in another way. The part I agree: Obviously, there is lots of philosophy I don’t know, including within European philosophy. I am open about the fact that what I know about academic philosophy is roughly what someone with my trajectory in academia would know.

    The question of pluralism isn’t just about reading Asian or African authors, etc. It applies, as you highlight, within European philosophy as well. I accept that my use of “European” can be misleading, and ignores a great deal of diversity. So what does a pluralistic European philosophy look like? I am as interested in this question as anything to do with Asian philosophers, etc. The issue of pluralism is conceptually distinct from issues of race, skin color, etc.

    I don’t think the solution is to read everything, or to think that one can. The pluralism issue arises starkly because in our current epistemological situation one cannot read everything, and yet – as I did in my post above, and one has to in classes or conferences – talking and thinking requires making generalizations. How to reconcile these two? The issue is a Kripkenstein-like worry applied to “philosophy” or “European” or “Asian”, where this is not only an interesting puzzle, but has practical import.

    The part I don’t agree: one cannot wait to make the kind of classifications I make above until one has read everything. That is not a possible goal. The classifications in the post aren’t meant as capturing an objective reality once and for all. I am making explicit the classifications that are in the back of my mind as I read philosophy or engage with the world. Certainly this could be wrong, both the categories and who belongs in what category. I am open for discussion about that. But I don’t see the benefit of leaving implicit the classifications in my mind; that will either reenforce them, or make me question myself so much that I can’t think productively. Better to make it explicit, and if its wrong, airing it in the sun will bring that out.

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  4. Dandre

    Sounds like it could be interesting, and I wish you good luck. I also would like to make a stand for a pluralistic (with the reservation of that it’s a vague term!) and non-academic philosophy and I think Wittgenstein is a great source of inspiration. I don’t think “non-academic” is a merit in itself, but often the academic philosophy is rigid in its demands, and then it may be more useful to find platforms outside the academia, or within other fields/subjects of the academia.

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    1. Bharath Vallabha Post author

      Thanks. I agree non-academic is not a merit in itself. There has to be both academic and non-academic, as well as Wittgensteinian and non-Wittgenseteinian philosophy. The aim isn’t to come up with the one right view, where all competing views are wrong. The aim is to foster and contribute to reflection and debate in society, and that is aided by people pursuing opposing views engaging in conversation.

      As I see it, philosophy is moved forward not by people interested in philosophy all gathering in one institutional setting. Rather, it is by people going into as diverse institutional contexts and life situations as possible, and still continuing to engage in conversation with each other across, and in light of, those differences. Academic philosophy tends, as any institution, towards bringing everything into itself. It is important to resist this, and to do philosophy also in other academic settings and outside academia. Ironically, the limitations of the academic philosophy job market is helping with this; and that is a silver lining of a situation that is painful for people going through it.

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