The Problems of Philosophers



I have been a professional philosopher for forty years, teaching on both sides of the Atlantic, at University College London, Oxford, Rutgers, UCLA, USC, and elsewhere. People have been talking about the problems of “the profession” (as if that wasn’t about individual philosophers) and I thought it might be useful for me to give my take on the question. Before I became a philosopher I was a psychologist, and I have observed certain differences between these groups. I will simply give a list of the problems I have observed, in no particular order. Warning: there is much that I have not liked. Some of these problems have been more prevalent on one side of the Atlantic than the other. I have not noticed (with a couple of exceptions) much variation among the various groups that make up professional philosophers.


  1. Conformity


  1. Resistance to new ideas


  1. Clubbiness


  1. Fatuous self-importance


  1. Snobbery (especially institutional)


  1. Narrow mindedness


  1. Dishonesty, intellectual and moral


  1. Cowardice, intellectual and moral


  1. Prejudice


  1. Male insecurity


  1. Competitiveness


  1. Professionalism


  1. Complacency


  1. Moral obtuseness


  1. Herd mentality


  1. Malicious gossip


  1. Immaturity


  1. Boringness


  1. Fear of the alien


  1. Envy


  1. Petty ambition


  1. Insincerity


  1. Bullying (real and attempted)


  1. Social snubbing


  1. Lack of humanity


  1. Rule worship


  1. Snideness


  1. Hero worship


  1. Bad writing


  1. Rude questioning


  1. Status obsession


  1. Schadenfreude


  1. Favoritism


  1. Bad clothes and hair


  1. Literal-mindedness


  1. Sycophancy


  1. Factionalism


  1. Nastiness


  1. Absurdity


  1. Lack of judgment


I could go on. I have not seen any improvement in these faults over the years: if anything, they have worsened. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but it seems to me that these faults are fairly pervasive. Overall there is a culture of enmity and backstabbing.