A History of Philosophy in America, 1720-2000

By Bruce Kuklick | Go to book overview

14 The Tribulations of Professional Philosophy, 1962-1999

Higher education expanded after World War II, in part to meet the needs of tens of thousands of returning servicemen, in part to respond to the federal government, which began to fund education deemed essential to the nation's defense in the period of Cold War with the old Soviet Union. But despite this growth the structure of prestige in the academic world in general, and in philosophy in particular, remained intact. As one historian has pointed out, the 'Harvard model' became standard: even schools that served regional needs or catered to specialized groups of students downgraded service and teaching and hired and promoted faculty on the basis of credentials beginning with the doctoral degree and eventuating in productivity evidenced by writing. In philosophy Harvard maintained its distinctive rank, and leadership flowed to its fellow Ivy League universities; to other fortunate private institutions on the East Coast, such as Johns Hopkins; to the great public institutions of the Midwest and the University of Chicago; to select liberal arts colleges; and to a few large schools on the West Coast.

A continued expansion in the 1960s, accompanied by more private and public money that eventually found its way into the pockets of academics (including philosophers) altered this system irrevocably. First of all, the number of institutions multiplied. Especially dramatic were the increases in schools funded by individual states. For example, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and California enlarged the number of public universities under their purview. Many states—Michigan and California being two outstanding examples—also added another tier of institutions, state colleges.

When these establishments created philosophy departments, older schools trained more philosophers, and the new ones themselves opened graduate programs. In 1920 the membership of the American Philosophical Association was about 260; in 1960 it was 1,500; in the 1990s it was well over 8,000. One observer noted that in the first half of the twentieth

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