by means of introduction, i wish to introduce a philosophical question about philosophy itself: why?
if it is the case that we are claiming a place in a discipline which has shown no particular love for us or the work we do, a discipline which in the best case tolerates our work so long as it isn’t too inconvenient or embarrassing, or so long as it doesn’t make us look bad in front of the bosses (i kid! i kid. you guys are great.), and in the worst case doesn’t consider our work at all, or if it does, certainly doesn’t consider it to be philosophy, we have to ask ourselves, why philosophy? why don’t we just follow our mutant forebears (such as judith butler or iris marion young) and get a job in some other department (insofar as we *can* get a job, at all)? if what we do is not really philosophy anyway, why not just accept that and move on? why, y’all? why still philosophy?
i ask this question as an invitation, because the answer(s) isn’t/aren’t immediately apparent.
as it was with adorno, who posed this question in a radio address in 1962, my response is ambivalent. on the one hand, there is no reason to continue to commit ourselves to a discipline that won’t commit to us. there are other venues for our work, other places where our training and talents will be taken seriously, places where we will be less exposed to bullying, microagressions, gaslighting, outright harassment, and de-legitimization of various kinds. under such conditions, leaving is not giving up. it is not a second best. it nevertheless takes real work to counter an ideology that requires that we sacrifice everything to this job. that ideology is itself the product of privilege, since it assumes a straight, white masculine position, or it at least assumes that philosophers, no matter what particular identity positions they may occupy, are able to find the necessary resources for survival in whatever position, wherever they might land. i am thinking here in particular of donna-dale marcano’s “the color of change in continental feminist philosophy”, and of alexis pauline gumb’s “the shape of my impact,” her moving reflection on the meaning of survival within and without the academy.
on the other hand, i refuse to accept the narrow-minded, self-strangulating, boring, rabidly policed and provincial view of philosophy. i refuse to accept the endless circular firing squads, where we have to denounce this and belittle that in order to jockey for legitimacy. and then claim that everyone *else* is engaging in identity politics.
philosophy is already more than that. it just isn’t entirely aware of it.
my own experience of philosophy is unusual, in that i was trained in a department in which women outnumbered men, and in which all kinds of questions – questions of race, gender, sexuality, and ability, alongside and in conversation with questions about the status of reason, the workings of logic, the claims to knowledge, the meaning of history, of sovereignty, of style – were taken seriously as philosophical questions. this searching took place through a constellation of texts, both “traditional” and “non-traditional.” my training did not emphasize competition or one-upsmanship: while we had to make claims and arguments and defend them, this effort was not (for the most part) treated as a zero-sum game or a “blood” “sport.” it was instead an atmosphere of collaboration, of a common struggle to understand and to critique and to problematize and to complicate and to sharpen and deepen our questions. in it, i learned as much from the questions and concerns of my peers as i did from my faculty. this atmosphere was, as i later learned, exceptional; even more so as this atmosphere did not persist, not even in my own graduate department. nonetheless, this experience left me with an ideal of what philosophy might be, what philosophy could yet be – an ideal to which i am committed.
in the end, my answer is a protest against a too-delimited understanding of what counts as philosophy, an understanding that dictated that many of those philosophers i most admired and in many cases from whom i learned the most had to find an academic home outside philosophy in order to continue their *immensely philosophical* work.
why still philosophy?
because what is is not what ought be. and what has been is not what must be.
and because philosophy is already more, and other, than what it is.
it just isn’t entirely aware of it yet.