On Philosophy: Notes from a Crisis

By John McCumber | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

A little over twenty years ago, according to a 1989 anthology edited by Avner Cohen and Marcelo Dascal, there may have been a crisis in philosophy. Such, they suggest, occurs when “dissidents question the accepted standards on all fronts” (IP, xiii), and at that time two main challenges appeared to be underway. Globally, the rise of postmodernism was throwing into doubt both the meaning and the usefulness of such accepted normative terms as “truth,” “reason,” “freedom,” and “progress.” Within philosophy itself, at least within American philosophy, the “pluralist revolt” at the American Philosophical Association (APA) was challenging the clubby practices by which leadership roles were distributed among professors in leading departments of philosophy.

I will say more about postmodernism in the course of this book. As to the pluralists, I will simply note that their revolt was consciously modeled on the larger revolt of people of color, nonheterosexuals, and women which, by that time, had already been underway for about twenty-five years. The pluralists claimed, as A. J. Mandt shows in his essay in the anthology (Mandt 1989), that they were being adversely judged not on the basis of their philosophical merits as individuals but on the basis of philosophical groupings to which they belonged (e.g., phenomenologists, pragmatists, Catholics). The response of the philosophical establishment to the pluralists, as Mandt conveys it, was very like establishment responses to those earlier demands: a denial that anyone in a position of power was personally prejudiced against such groups, coupled with a self-reassuring insistence that philosophical rewards were in fact distributed

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