O.P. Recommends: Like the Oscars, #PhilosophySoWhite

School of Athens by Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)Eric Schwitzgebel, who authors the The Splintered Mind blog (a favorite of mine), recently co-wrote this excellent opinion piece about philosophy’s lack of diversity.

Like Hollywood, Schwitzgebel and Myisha Cherry find that there’s a set of preconceptions which underlie the way work is chosen and promoted which, in turn, virtually guarantees philosophy will remain non-diverse. Hollywood has its own set; for academic philosophy, the glorification of obscurantism is a primary factor. Schwitzgebel and Cherry write: ‘We admire philosophers whose central arguments are nearly impossible to understand, or who speak in paradoxes, who accept seemingly bizarre views, or who display dazzling skill with formal logical structures of no practical significance. Kant and Hegel are better loved than understood.’ Seeming smart, the authors explain, has long been confused by too many academics with being smart.

The piece goes on to show how this obscurantism has become the traditional province of white male academics, and is integral to keeping the field of philosophy so exclusionary, and to most people, so irrelevant.

This, of course, would be sad news for Ordinary Philosophy, dedicated as it is to philosophy in the public square, if it were news. But it’s not news, and that’s one of the main reasons O.P. exists. Philosophy should be, like good government, of, by, and for the people. While specialization is key to the development and exploration of complex ideas, obscurantism and jargon, despite assumptions to the contrary, are not necessary to that project. In fact, they accomplish little except ensuring that philosophy is tedious and unpleasant to read, that philosophers end up talking to nearly no-one but each other, and that the field as a whole ends up remaining oh-so-white, oh-so-male, and to most, oh-so-irrelevant.

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