Over the past century and a half, our top universities have embraced a research-driven ideal that has squeezed the question of life's meaning from the college curriculum, limiting the range of questions teachers feel they have the right and authority to teach. And in the process it has badly weakened the humanities, the disciplines with the oldest and deepest connection to this question, leaving them directionless and vulnerable to being hijacked for political ends.
Hmmm. Really? Has philosophy given up the task of stimulating students to consider the meaning of life? I find much to admire in Kronman's article, but both the claim that we've given up the meaning of life as a pedagogical subject and his explanationsfor why this is so, namely, the research culture of the modern university, are open to doubt. Students may have to look a little harder to find the meaning of life investigated in philosophy than they might once have. It's probably not on the agenda in courses in philosophy of science or epistemology, say, but it's still on philosophy's agenda. A simple Google search yields dozens of course syllabi devoted exclusively to the meaning of life. Later he writes:
A tenure-minded junior professor studying Shakespeare or Freud or Spinoza might re-inspect every scrap of his subject's work with the hope of making some small but novel discovery - but would be either very brave or very foolish to write a book about Spinoza's suggestion that a free man thinks only of life, never of death; or about Freud's appealing, if enigmatic, statement that the meaning of life is to be found in work and love.
Granted, Kronman is not a philosopher, but this claim is false. Colin McGinn recently published a philosophical exploration of Shakespeare that investigates ethical aspects of the Bard's work. And don't tell Thomas Nagel, John Kekes, Thad Metz, John Cottingham, John Fischer, Robert Nozick, Charles Taylor, Susan Wolf, Martha Nussbaum, or Harry Frankfurt that contemporary philosophers aren't interested in the meaning of life. (And of course, there's people like me who find that 'the meaning of life' a slightly confused avenue of inquiry, but that's another issue altogether.) I won't speak for the other humanities disciplines, but it would just be nice if Kronman's criticisms were supported by some sense of the pedagogical and scholarly climate within philosophy.