“Philosophy as a Blood Sport”

I thought I had read this paper by now emeritus Prof. Normal Swartz, and perhaps you actually have.  It does more than fill-in the details its descriptive title suggests.  It raises the hugely important question of whether the drawing of metaphorical blood is a turn-off for students, and perhaps particularly for women students.

Another section has readers’ comments that came in over about 7 years.  Mostly they confirm both the facts and the concern of the paper, though a well-known feminist philosopher reminds us that some women are relieved at not having to be nice.

On thinking about this, I’ve started wondering about what seem to me related questions:  Is academic philosophy as it has been known in Anglophone countries over the last 100 years a vital professional field? In being a blood sport, is philosophy just a sport?  Is a field which prizes devastating challenges to its own heroes – and the drawing of blood from acolytes – suffocatingly narcissitic?  Is the increasing engagement of young philosopher with empirical fields in fact a deeply motivated challenge to philosophy’s self-absorption?

What do you think?

9 thoughts on ““Philosophy as a Blood Sport”

  1. Do know, in case your computer is not making it clear, that there’s a link to Swartz’s article; click on the 6th or 7th word.

  2. I suspect most of academia has become sport these days. Over in science/engineering (where I am) the last set of really huge discoveries were pretty much a century ago. Yes, there have been plenty of advances since, but not of the same level of fundamental understanding and importance as what took place when Einstein et al were changing modern physics. Even huge, high-profile projects like the human genome mapping do not have the same sort of transformative quality about them. We make progress now in tiny increments and soundbites. And I think for that reason, you’ve hit the nail right on the head, that we exclude women who don’t want to play this aspect of the sport.

  3. Interesting, notfromaroundhere. There’s some evidence from a study of computer science at Carnegie Mellon that women prefer interdisciplinary work. My own area verges on the new sciences of the mind and the sense of excitement is pretty intense.

  4. DE: Do try writing the original author about this. You can contact him throught the first link above.

  5. I have always hated the blood sport aspect of philosophy. (As regular readers know, I greatly value niceness in debate.) In my limited experience, I’ve found that to be much stronger these days in the US than the UK, which is one of the reasons I like it over here. (Though of course there are exceptions in both countries.)

  6. […] Rats! II: So how should we do philosophy? April 23, 2008 Filed under: survival strategies, women in philosophy — jj @ 9:46 pm It’s probably the case that anyone’s purporting to have the answer to that question provides a good reason for not believing what they say.  What we can do, however, is to look at one answer and consider what makes it wrong or at least incomplete.  And of course the answer is going to reflect the picture of philosophy as a blood sport, the rude philosophy discussed here (the first “Rats!”) and here. […]

Comments are closed.