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08/17/2015

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Kathryn Pogin

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Is philosophy's status economy zero-sum? Or, more precisely, is it zero-sum in the relevant sense? At any given moment, given the incentive-structures of contemporary higher-education, it may be that there are so many places in the top ranks of the academic hierarchy -- but that can't be quite what you mean since that's not all there is to philosophical status (in part because the more philosophy is publicly valued, the more students there are interested in learning it an so on, the more that hierarchy may expand, or otherwise, contract; in part because philosophical status can be associated with thriving groups rather than merely particularly successful individuals, e.g., the Vienna Circle; and in part because social status within a group need not necessarily coincide with professional status as measured by one's title, university affiliation, etc.).

I'm not sure I believe in miracles, but I am quite motivated to now!

Greg Frost-Arnold

Very interesting! I wanted to ask about one thing you wrote: "It would be a miracle if professional philosophy were a moral community. Because the incentives that govern professional philosophers ... do not facilitate it acting as a moral community."

By this standard, it seems there will be very few (non-miraculous) moral communities at all. For in many different social circumstances, there are often incentives for selfish behavior. So the a-morality is not really the result of something about the philosophical community, or even the academic community, but the average human community.

That said, I wonder if the picture you paint here is a little one-sided? I think there are also incentives for mutual aid in the philosophy community. (Though I would not be surprised if they are dwarfed by your list of self-serving incentives.)

(Also, terminological remark: for me, I think of 'moral community' as primarily referring to a group of people who have moral obligations to each other in virtue of membership in that community -- it doesn't mean a group of people who are usually morally good (e.g. a club of saints who do saintly things for each other). And professional philosophy could be a moral community in my sense, even if we are all mostly terrible to each other most of the time.)

Eric Schliesser

I agree with your inference on the sentence you quote, G-FA! (The key word is 'govern.') I am inclined to think that given human nature, we need more incentives for mutual aid and other virtues. (I agree with you that such incentives also exist.)

In using 'moral community' I was exploiting polysemy (with apologies to my analytical friends), and I intended it also to include the sense you are thinking of (as some of the echoes to Seneca in my post suggest).

Eric Schliesser

Kathryn, thank you for your kind words. I agree that there are multiple (not always overlapping) status economies within the profession and I agree that I failed to make that clear; and I also with you that there is no reason for despair about the state of philosophy in the wider culture. So, yes, this is no time for despair!

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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