Will philosophy continue to progress in the future or could it die out? If how society values academic philosophy has any indication, then we might be in serious trouble. First, philosophy and logic were once taught in high schools (and perhaps they still are for the few elite rich people who wouldn’t stand for anything else). However, a college education without philosophy is an outrage. Additionally, a university without philosophy is beyond an outrage. And yet – this is the world we live in, and it is becoming increasingly normal. People who care nothing for philosophy get to decide the fate of academic philosophy, and often decide that philosophy is unprofitable. In a world where independent thought is becoming increasingly unimportant to people academic philosophy could someday either be reserved for the very few elites or it could die out entirely “because it’s so darn useless!”1
Yes, college education no longer “requires” philosophy to be taught for a degree. No surprise there.
Yes, many universities are cutting funding to philosophy departments because they aren’t profitable. The departments that get the most students to take their classes (and people majoring in the subject) are generally the departments that get money. That is an extraordinarily difficult task for philosophy departments considering that not only do people not know what philosophy is, but they will probably not want to major in philosophy even after they find out. You want want to take a look at “Corrupting the youth at freshman orientation” for a discussion of this issue.
Yes, many universities have deemed philosophy as entirely unnecessary. For example, the National University center in San Jose refuses to teach any philosophy classes and I see no evidence that National University teaches any philosophy classes anywhere else. I inquired about working there and was told “[W]e don’t seem to be able to offer philosophy or logic at our campus in San Jose. We’re just too small to [attract] enough students in those classes. It has been several years since either of those was offered in San Jose.” Ethics and rational thinking are deemed unimportant because it’s not going to make enough money.
You might think that National University is probably some strange college with questionable standards, but the fact is that philosophy is threatened where it is most at home. Philosophy departments are threatened at many universities, such as the University of Liverpool, King’s College London, and Howard University. Some of these philosophy departments are quite noteworthy. Perhaps the most disturbing news is that the University of Middlesex plans on closing its philosophy department despite being one of the most prominent philosophy departments in Britain – and the highest RAE-Rated program at the university:
Philosophy is the highest research-rated subject in the University. Building on its grade 5 rating in RAE2001, it was awarded a score of 2.8 on the new RAE scale in 2008, with 65% of its research activity judged ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. It is now widely recognised as one of the most important centres for the study of modern European philosophy anywhere in the English-speaking world. (sic.)2
Why would it be closed? I can only think that the department wasn’t making enough money. “In a meeting with Philosophy staff, the Dean acknowledged the excellent research reputation of Philosophy at Middlesex, but said that it made no ‘measurable’ contribution to the University” (ibid.). That is obviously a lie. Not only is philosophy the best form of reasoning, but it is essential for morality. Moral behavior doesn’t merely come from our conscience, but also from our ability to decide when our conscience is gravely in error due to prejudice or poor reasoning. Not to mention that the actual numbers above do show a clear measurable effect.
Should universities teach philosophy?
Yes, and it should be a requirement. One, it helps us achieve the highest levels of reasonableness. Two, it helps us make moral decisions.
Part of being a human being is to use our higher capacities of thought. You might think you are “logical” and are already perfectly reasonable, but you must admit that other people aren’t. Other people need some help with their rationality. The fact is that we have a tendency to be a bit arrogant about our personal ability to be reasonable, and everyone should take some classes in philosophy—which are designed to help people become as reasonable as possible. Classes in “critical thinking” usually don’t make the cut—they don’t tell you what “logic” and “good reasoning” really are.
Additionally, we all have moral decisions to make and ethics helps us make moral decisions. We tend to be overconfident about our personal ability to make moral decision and we tend to want other people to spend more time learning how to be moral. We should all learn a little about ethics to see what it has to offer and make sure we are personally morally rational.
Oh yeah, and philosophy is awesome.
1 Justifying the existence of “philosophy departments” is becoming increasingly important because they are unprofitable. See “What’s the Point of Having a Philosophy Department in an American University?” for this sort of discussion.
2 Jacob. “Middlesex University Shamefully Cuts Philosophy Department.” The Third State. 25 October 2010. <http://thethirdestate.net/2010/04/middlesex-university-shamefully-cuts-philosophy-department/>. Originally published April 28, 2010.