Did Notre Dame give me a skewed view of philosophy?

On my re-post of my review of Plantinga’s book Where The Conflict Really Lies, Landon wrote:

I find it very strange that you have to “hope” that “EVEN [emphasis mine] fans of academic philosophy will agree that it is possible for a philosopher to screw up badly when writing about topics outside of his expertise…” as if this were somehow unlikely. Not only are most analytic philosophers not also fans of Plantinga, most academic philosophers think that Plantinga made a fool of himself with his work on evolution. There was quite a bit of coverage of it on the “industry” blogs, such as Leiter’s. Several leading analytic philosophers were sharply critical of Plantinga.

The more you talk about analytic philosophy, the more it seems that your time at Notre Dame gave you a very skewed view of the profession.

You know what? This is absolutely right, at least partially. I think many, though not all, professors at Notre Dame are guilty of not taking science seriously enough, but it was wrong of me to imply that this lack of respect for science is a problem with “fans of academic philosophy” generally.

Not that that’s the sole source of my skepticism about philosophy; see this post originally written my junior year of undergrad. But I do need to do some thinking about to what extent my experiences at Notre Dame tainted my view of the profession.

  • http://physicalism.wordpress.com Physicalist

    I’d say the question is whom did you take classes from and talk to? ND’s philosophy department is very large, and you weren’t there for very long. Their emphasis doesn’t fit in completely with the standard language-epistemology-metaphysics-mind emphasis of other top departments; they have more emphasis on history of philosophy and philosophy of religion (and with that, a kind of old-school metaphysics).

    But if you took any classes from the philosophers of science there, I doubt you’d suggest that any of them are lacking in understanding and appreciation of science. (They have a very strong history and philosophy of science program there.)

    I think most philosophers would agree that Plantinga doesn’t take science seriously enough. I’d say that might (unsurprisingly?) be true of philosophers of religion in general. Nonetheless, I know for a fact that several of the metaphysicians at ND try to make sure that their accounts are consistent with contemporary science. (Whether they succeed is another matter.)

    I’d say a more interesting question is the extent to which philosophical metaphysics more generally needs to be better informed by science. My own position is that when one takes science (physics especially) seriously, many standard metaphysical accounts are going to have to be reworked. I think the structural realists (Ladyman, French, et al.) are moving in the right direction on this project. (And there are philosophers at ND — e.g., Brading — who are contributing to it.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      You’re correct that Notre Dame is a big department. I was pleasantly surprised by the philosophy of science people there, and yes, many of them do know their science very well. But they weren’t the people who ruled the department. I’m not sure if I should be saying this, but one of the phil science people told me at one point, “Alvin Plantinga’s a nice guy, but he always screws up the science… now don’t tell anyone I said that.” It was disturbing to me that they were afraid of saying so openly.

      • okstop

        I’ve never so much as visited ND, but I know it by reputation, and that response doesn’t surprise me one bit. Notre Dame is, by most accounts, the #1 phil religion school in the English speaking world. While they are also well-regarded in logic and phil science, it seemed obvious that phil religion was their flagship specialty and that Plantinga was the “big guy” in that (locally) all-important field. Without any other information, I would have assumed that the department would try very hard to keep him happy and wouldn’t do anything to step on his toes.

        Needless to say, it’s a weird situation.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    most academic philosophers think that Plantinga made a fool of himself with his work on evolution.

    Well that’s encouraging to read, because most biologists who have heard of Plantinga are of the same opinion.

  • Francisco Bacopa

    Your experiences at ND seem pretty atypical. I studied graduate level Philosophy at the University of Houston for two years. I only ever heard three people ever mention Plantinga. One was a fellow student who’s father was a professor at the third rate Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, and he wasn’t into it. Another person was a postgrad seminar student who was an earnest intellectual Christian. I lived near Rice University at the time and we used to get drunk as shit at Valhalla on the Rice campus.

    The only professor who ever mentioned Plantinga was Bredo Johnsen, who went to grad school with Plantinga, and he did this only when prompted by the drunk Christian dude in the above paragraph.

    All professors pretty much stuck to the syllabus, and when we got stuck on the transporter thing we were instructed to read the relevant passages in Parfit’s Reasons and Persons and Dennett’s Where Am I?. We spent just one afternoon on this.

    I also had the opportunity to be a research assistant for Justin Leiber, son of sci-fi and fantasy author Fritz Leiber. Justin is one weird dude. Totally into monkey sex and incest avoidance. I gave him an analysis of the Wason Selection Task that made it into one of his papers.

  • wanderfound

    During my undergrad philosophy days (University of Sydney), there was plenty of exposure to “philosophers with no respect for or understanding of science”. But it wasn’t Christian apologists; it was postmodernists…

    (Feyerabend, Latour, Barnes & Bloor, etc.; folks working on the boundaries of epistemology and sociology, mostly)

  • okstop

    I’m just glad that you’re at least open to this idea (this is Landon, by the way). I think there’s a lot of good work being done in analytic philosophy, and I’d hate for you to miss out on it because Plantinga and the phil religion crowd generally (who are not exactly in the mainstream) have given you a negative impression of what we do.

  • daniellavine

    (Feyerabend, Latour, Barnes & Bloor, etc.; folks working on the boundaries of epistemology and sociology, mostly)

    Hehe, I have papers from a phil sci conference in the 70′s on the topic of Thomas Kuhn’s work. Feyerabend presented a paper defending Kuhn’s theses, and then Kuhn’s response to the conference included a repudiation of Feyerabend’s defense. Incidentally, that was the paper that made me realize Kuhn was a brilliant and principled proponent of science rather than another pomo relativist blowhard.


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