published on November 24, 2022
PWL for the Twenty-First Century Academic Philosopher
In this essay, I sketch a third possibility between teaching PWL solely as history of philosophy (which seems to inescapably pull against its own conception of philosophizing), and the fascinating recent attempts by scholars to experiment with introducing modes of teaching and assessment which would reactivate ancient spiritual exercises within the modern university. This third way takes for granted that, for the foreseeable future (and if academic philosophy widely survives the twenty-first century’s recalibration of the university), it will do so as a primarily theoretical discipline. Nevertheless, it proposes that insights from PWL’s re-conception of philosophy as a situated, social as well as ethical activity can and ideally should be integrated into such modern syllabi. This can be done by introducing and teaching (a) capstone unit(s) for advanced students which would reflect critically on what it is to be an academic philosopher today and the ways that the fact that philosophy is institutionalized as a professional discipline in neoliberal universities creates pressures towards particular forms of intellectual and ethical vice and sophistry. Based on a course taught at the author’s home university, it examines how Plato’s Republic, Bacon’s Novum Organum, and Kivisto’s Vices of Learning prompt students, respectively, to consider the place of the philosopher in the “city,” their own (and everyone’s) propensities towards forms of epistemic bias and partiality, and the ways that institutionalized competition for status can promote forms of pride, vanity, and misanthropy in scholars. Encountering and discussing these texts, it is argued, can prepare students for the realities of philosophizing in the professional universities of the twenty-first century, helping them to identify ways philosophers can go wrong, and helping them to identify chastened, more Socratically self-aware ways of thinking, reading, arguing, and understanding what philosophers do.