Philosophizing about Philosophy

The Rutgers Philosophy Dept. — the university’s best department by a wide margin — scored big in this New York Times write-up about how it is rapidly growing in popularity with students. The number of majors has doubled in the past six years and the article explores the “why” of this thirst for knowledge.

To the reasons cited by the Times reporter we suggest adding a few. Such as:

o An escape from bozo. Classes in many departments are littered with disruptive, loud bozos (the “students” attracted by football that AD Mulcahy and McCormick like to brag about?). More professors in other departments are complaining about how too many of their students are just taking up space — devoid of curiosity and intellect alike. Philosophy classes remain an intellectual sanctuary even on a campus increasingly overrun by obstreperous Philistines. Good students at Rutgers have fewer places to escape to, and Philosophy just may be the brainiest place on campus.

o Quality attracts quality. Rutgers may have acted on the cheap with most departments but it has not scrimped with Philosophy, which has a faculty composed of world-class scholars such as Tim Maudlin, recently announced winner of a 2008 Guggenheim. It is a pity that so many other departments have to pass the beggar’s cup. Imagine if the many millions that had been poured into a football program that is charitably called mediocre had been spent on scholarship. Just imagine.

The pity is that of course Rutgers could — should — have many more top-tier departments but under Dick McCormick really only four (Philosophy, English, History, and Criminology in Newark) rank among the nation’s best. And all had that prestige long before McCormick arrived on the Banks as president.

Exactly what has Dick McCormick done during his six years? Ah…perhaps Rutgers’ philosophers ought to debate that. Does doing nothing count as doing? Can McCormick be busy doing nothing?

3 Responses to Philosophizing about Philosophy

  1. Donald says:

    Great article. Philosophy has always been one of the best majors at Rutgers. In the 60s and 70s, there also were all too many undergraduate Philistines in many classes in other departments. I doubt that it is now worse than it was in the past.

    RC 1969

  2. John.G says:

    Wonderful to see Rutgers in the NYT for academic reasons. When I was a student, both maths and physics were ranked highly. Sad to see them slip out of the national framework.

  3. ashok says:

    That article in the NYT felt like a puff-piece – a most welcome puff piece, granted – but a puff piece nonetheless.

    I wish it had addressed whether or not there is an underlying seriousness to those, students and teachers, engaged in the professional academic practice of philosophy nowadays. The article didn’t talk about whether other fields, like physics, have meta-questions that philosophy might aid one in answering. Without that backdrop, it is hard to know how serious the newfound popularity of philosophy is.

    The article did mention in passing that the field has attracted some students with little interest in reading the more ancient texts. That hints to me that there is an underlying unseriousness about philosophy: one would think respect for another’s opinion, no matter how old it was, would be absolutely crucial to the enterprise.

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