A short memoir of Christine M. Korsgaard

Here is her take on what is wrong with philosophy today:

Young people are expected to produce an absurdly large number of papers, preferably published in refereed journals, in order to get tenure, or even in order to get jobs. Some people even try to publish papers in order to get into graduate school. The papers are supposed to be blind reviewed, and these days many referees for journals require that papers should respond to the extant literature on the topic, whether responding to the extant literature enhances the author’s argument in some way or not. Because the sheer mass of the literature is growing exponentially, people draw the boundaries of their specializations more and more narrowly, both in terms of subject matter and in terms of time. The extant literature necessarily becomes the recent literature, which is a philosophically arbitrary category. Big, systematic philosophy of the sort we find in Kant and Aristotle, philosophy that is responsible to the ways in which one’s views in one area fit in with one’s views about everything else, has become nearly impossible, because someone trying to do that kind of work would supposedly have to know the literature in too many different areas

Most of the piece covers her earlier career and other issues, interesting throughout.  This part I found excellent:

I first began to think about this when I began to go around giving colloquium talks in other departments. Often I would meet philosophers whom I had only known in print before. And I was constantly surprised to find that in their questions to me, many of these philosophers seemed more imaginative, more speculative, more playful in their thinking, than they appeared to be in print. Was this just because they were more willing to go out on a limb when they were talking about someone else’s ideas? Or does the very act of committing your ideas to paper somehow clip your wings? I believe that much of the trouble with philosophical writing springs from the author’s failure to strike up the right kind of relationship with his reader, his audience. Above all, much philosophical writing is defensive.

For the pointer I thank Siddharth Muthukrishnan.


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