Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"A mildly discreditable day job"

Cambridge philosopher Raymond Geuss on the profession of teaching philosophy:

I have what I have always held to be a mildly discreditable day job, that of teaching philosophy at a university. I take it to be discreditable because about 85 percent of my time and energy is devoted to training aspiring young members of the commercial, administrative or governmental elite in the glib manipulation of words, theories and arguments. I thereby help to turn out the pliable, efficient, self-satisfied cadres that our economic and political system uses to produce the ideological carapace which protects it against criticism and change. I take my job to be only mildly discreditable, partly because I don’t think, finally, that this realm of words is in most cases much more than an epiphenomenon secreted by power relations which would otherwise express themselves with even greater and more dramatic directness. Partly, too, because 10 percent of the job is an open area within which it is possible that some of these young people might become minimally reflective about the world they live in and their place in it; in the best of cases they might come to be able and willing to work for some minimal mitigation of the cruder excesses of the pervading system of oppression under which we live. The remaining 5 percent of my job, by the way, what I would call the actual “philosophical” part, is almost invisible from the outside, totally unclassifiable in any schema known to me—and quantitatively, in any case, so insignificant that it can more or less be ignored.

So the experience I have of my everyday work environment is of a conformist, claustrophobic and repressive verbal universe, a penitential domain of reason-mongering in which hyperactivity in detail—the endlessly repeated shouts of “why,” the rebuttals, calls for “evidence,” qualifications and quibbles—stands in stark contrast to the immobility and self-referentiality of the structure as a whole.

Read, react, discuss?


  1. He needs to find another job! Why do something you find so discreditable

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Hi, I'm a current high school student in Upstate Nwe York, and I'm writing a thesis paper on the teaching of philosophy to students in high school. This would be great for a counter-point, as I am spending most of my effort arguing FOR it.
    Thankfully, my research caused me to stumble on this site, and I have been reading through the archives. The first postI read (on teaching the subject pre-college) was great, but as much as I would LOVE to cite this, it is not considered a credible source, as it was published on a blog. If anyone would be kind enough to point me in the direction of other items, or even give me an interview (phone, or even email/instant messenger) on the topic, I would be very grateful! Please send me an email to: cory.soble@yahoo.com
    Thank you for your time!

  4. This guy is a really poor writer. I do not know what his complaint is.

  5. I'm a college teacher and once one of my colleagues said, "Well, it's time to put on the clown suit and get to class." I wrote him a sincere email about how it may feel as though we're just going through the motions and not much is learned, but in fact our students to slowly mature and must be picking up something. Later, on a more cynical day, I thought, "He's right."


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