Friday, March 12, 2010

Menand on philosophy and the decline of the humanities

Discuss!: Below the fold is a snippet from a TNR review of Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas:Reform and Resistance in the American University, discussing how various academic disciplines responded to the attacks on disciplinary boundaries in the mid-20th century. Note how philosophy (allegedly) reacted to this crisis of disciplinarity:

Wracking intellectual crises followed these social and institutional changes. Critics--Kuhn, Geertz, Rorty, White--reared in the old disciplines taught generations of younger scholars that the boundaries of their fields were arbitrary. By doing so, they helped to create Theory--even if a number of them felt, when they saw what became of their ideas, like Milton’s Sin after she gave birth to Death. Meanwhile, younger scholars and students insisted on exploring and settling new territories: social history; literature by women, by people of color; the collaboration of social scientists with government. By a familiar paradox that Menand nicely brings out, the harder anyone tried to defend the old boundaries of the disciplines, the more arbitrary they now appeared. Innovation took root outside the disciplines--in programs and centers, rather than departments--places where scholars from varied disciplines could meet, teach, and debate, and that were vested with glamour and drama, but usually did not become power bases with jobs to fill. And after the anti-disciplinary revolution came the settlement: a mixed one, with interdisciplinarity reigning in English, an eclectic postdisciplinarity in anthropology, and many flowers blooming in history--and traditional rigor in philosophy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Michael, I haven't read the original article, so I don't know what comes before/after the section you've excerpted here, but: I didn't realize that "eclectic"/"interdisciplinary" and "rigorous" were contraries!


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