Sunday, October 5, 2014

Analytic Philosophy, the Distribution of Philosophical Labour, and the Myth of Philosophical Genius

When I read a good philosophy paper (and I hope I will read many more now thanks to The Philosophy Spotlight!), I often feel a strange sense of gratitude. I'm thankful to the author(s) for having thought long and hard about some issue and having spared me some time and effort---thinking is fun but it's also hard and time-consuming! No one can think through all the issues they find philosophically interesting all by themselves.

Thinking about it, one of the things that I like the best about analytic philosophy is that it is very much a collective/collaborative enterprise.  Of course, the cult of philosophical genius is alive and well among analytic philosophers (think of Saint Gottlob!) and underpins the contemporary philosophical superstar scene (and its underlying Leiterism), but it is, to my mind, at odds with the spirit of analytic philosophy. The idea that underlie analytic philosophy, I think, is that philosophical labour can be distributed and that philosophical progress does not occur by giant leaps forward performed by a few philosophical geniuses (who leave only exegetical questions for the rest of us to answer) but it is slow and gradual and takes a lot of painstaking work performed by many people chipping away at small problems a bit at a time. Of course, occasionally, a single philosopher finds a philosophical diamond while working in the philosophical coal mine, but these events are rare (and that they are more a matter of sheer luck than philosophical genius) and extracting cartloads of coal from the philosophical mine is as important as finding the occasional diamond. So, let's keep digging together, fellow miners in the philosophy coal mine! 

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