Clark Glymour's recent anti-philosophy manifesto, discussed by Eric here is indeed an incongruous congeries. One half is a defense of "formal philosophy" along with an account of its importance and relation to science, some discussion of its history, and a bit of whining about how it is not given sufficient respect in the rest of the philosophical world. I have little to say about this half of the manifesto, because I agree in broad terms, and am not inclined to get into the matters of detail. I have always expressed great admiration for the sort of philosophy Glymour endorses, and for his work in particular, and I even have sympathy for the suggestion that formal philosophy of the sort done so well at CMU is under-valued in the profession at large.
If this were the focus of the entire manifesto, it would be a respectable and interesting contribution to the ongoing debate about what philosophy is and can be, but the other half of Glymour's manifesto is something else altogether.
Eric suggests that this part of the manifesto should be ignored, and in one sense he is surely right. This conclusion is so vulgarly self-serving, so professionally irresponsible, and so breath-takingly ignorant (for example of what areas of philosophy are paying their way in the university, or of which philosophers are most cited outside philosophy - hint, Rawls and Kuhn are a bit ahead of Glymour), that argumentative engagement is pointless. If one attempts to reconstruct "arguments" for this conclusion from the manifesto, they are ludicrous on their face. Glymour - on such a reconstruction - does not merely make the silly claim of one commentator on Eric's post that it is reasonable to ignore the political philosophy of a person who him/herself had bad politics in their personal life, but that it is reasonable to dismiss whole approaches to philosophy - whether political or not - because some adherents of that approach had bad politics. (Or in the case of feminism because some unnamed members of English departments fail to engage in enough activist work to protect women's rights, it is reasonable to ignore what they have to say about gender.)
But of course this is not presented as an argument for Glymour's "conclusions." This historically sloppy, politically shallow, anecdotal sociology is, rather, stated as a "reason to be embarrassed" by "the continent." Indeed, I have far too much respect for Glymour as a philosopher to even consider the possibility that he thinks for one moment that this collage of insults amounts to a convincing reason to reject Heidegger's ontology, Butler's views about gender, or Foucault's political philosophy, much less to purge everyone who teaches such material. But I do feel unable to resist one question: if we are to be embarrassed by (all? most? all that lacks proofs?) philosophy on the continent because Sartre collaborated with Vichy France, what are we to feel in response to the fact that Glymour's department, the leading department of formal philosophy in the world, is at a university which receives a large part of its research budget from the military industrial complex of the largest imperial power on Earth? Should the collaboration of CMU computer scientists and philosophers with the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Iraq war, for example, lead us to dismiss Glymour's philosophical work?
Of course not. Indeed, I find it frankly indecent - an insult to the very practice of rational discussion - to so much as address such nonsense. But the fact that one should not engage with Glymour's denunciation in an argumentative fashion does not mean that his comments should be ignored. They should be given attention for the simple political reason that Glymour is a famous and influential academic, that there are powerful forces within universities and governments who would like to eliminate vast swaths of the humanities, and that his remarks give cover to these vicious political tendencies. But beyond this, these comments are interesting from a diagnostic point of view. Why do such denunciations persist? Why does anyone think that academic forces can be rallied through such diatribes? Why do otherwise serious academics take things like this seriously?
As I've said before on this blog, this kind of irrational turf-warfare is not confined to a particular approach to philosophy. Indeed, much of the interest I find in the phenomenon lies in the fact that similar dogmatism can be found at cultural studies or "continental philosophy" gatherings, among collections of analytic metaphysicians and epistemologists, etc. The first question is: what leads to such flights of ill-will, unprofessional abuse, and irrationality? Is it psychological conditioning, distributed social structures of privilege , unconscious bias, in-group identification, simple personal greed, more subtle economic factors, etc.? And the second question is: how do we successfully struggle against it?
Our discipline is facing concerted attacks from government cut-backs, from administrative bloat and corporatization, and from anti-intellectual political movements. At a time like this, with a horrible job situation and a desperate need for solidarity, we should think hard about what makes it seem socially acceptable to call for a purge of everything from metaphysics, to meta-ethics, to "continental philosophy."
One can have many defensible views about the level of optimal specialization in philosophy. But if specialization leads to an inclination to engage in nasty polemics vis- à-vis those who specialize in other ways, we have a serious problem. We need to think about what sorts of social structures encourage such dogmatic nonsense. We need to think about what it is in our pedagogy and later reinforcement structures that leads people to say such things, or to take them seriously when they hear them. And we need to consider what is needed to make it stop.
I sincerely hope the discussion to follow can focus on those questions.