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Cora Diamond, "Reflections of a Dinosaur," Dewey Lectures
"Philosophers who teach at colleges and universities, and who don’t have a Ph.D., are a kind of dinosaur. We were widespread, but there are only a few of us left.... Soon we will all have died out. So here are a few reflections, in the light of our upcoming extinction."
"I will need to be able to speak of the philosophers who are not dinosaurs, the ones who do have Ph.D.s ...I thought of calling you octopuses, after William James’s famous essay, in which he attempted to block the takeover of American academia by the Ph.D. Octopus—
...but the Octopus he was talking about was the system, not the individuals who get doctorates. So I will simply speak of the philosophers who do have a Ph.D. as “the doctors”. Doctors who are my age I will speak of as doctor-codgers."
"While there are great differences among dinosaurs, we do have some general resemblances among ourselves. When we were young dinosaurs, just beginning to teach philosophy, we were not under pressure to publish things and we are on the whole less specialized than are the doctors"
"Here then is a brief account of the varieties of dinosaur. Some American dinosaurs were hatched in the Harvard Society of Fellows, surviving examples being Marshall Cohen and Saul Kripke."
"William James himself counts as an odd sort of dinosaur, in that he had a doctoral degree, but it was in medicine; and Peirce was another odd sort of dinosaur."
"There are dinosaurs who started teaching philosophy after taking an undergraduate degree. Some of them had spent some time doing something other than philosophy before beginning to teach, but had not taken any other degree...
...This kind of dinosaur used to be extremely common, and a good surviving example is David Wiggins."
"Another species of dinosaur starts out with an undergraduate degree in philosophy... and then takes a second undergraduate degree. Most commonly this was Greats, at Oxford; and a surviving example of this sort of dinosaur is John McDowell."
"Ryle, who took his BA only once but who was awarded a first in Greats and then another in PPE, can be counted as a two-undergraduate-degree dinosaur. Another is Wilfrid Sellars."
"The most common sort of dinosaur in the mid years of the twentieth century were B.Phil. dinosaurs, dinosaurs who had taken the degree invented by Gilbert Ryle and John Mabbott."
"Mabbott and Ryle thought that research degrees like the D.Phil. and the B.Litt. were not well designed for people who had an undergraduate degree and wanted to do more philosophy, and who might go on to university teaching in philosophy."
"So the B.Phil. was meant to work well for people who went on to have philosophy as their job, but neither Ryle nor Mabbott thought of philosophy as a profession in quite the way many people now do."
"Ryle frequently talked to B.Phil. students about the stupidity, as he saw it, of doctoral degrees, and in particular the ill-suitedness for graduate philosophy students of the kind of research projects which doctoral degrees involved."
"I will simply list B.Phil. dinosaurs whom I can readily identify: Besides myself, there are Annette Baier, Jenny Teichman, Ruby Meager, Jack Smart, Peter Singer, Elizabeth Telfer, Peter Winch, Jerry Cohen, Jonathan Bennett, Richard Sorabji, Alan Donagan, Hans Sluga...
...Dorothy Edgington, Gabriele Taylor, André Gallois, Richard Swinburne, Eric Matthews, Andrew Harrison, Patricia Churchland, Paul Snowdon, William Abraham, Jonathan Dancy and A. Phillips Griffiths."
"The fourth and least common species of UK dinosaurs took some graduate degree in philosophy, but neither a doctorate nor the B.Phil. Mabbott was this kind of dinosaur, having taken a B.Litt., and Alasdair MacIntyre is another one."
"The main resistance to the Octopus in the UK had been Ryle’s and Mabbott’s invention of the B.Phil. degree. It was meant to be a much better degree for anyone wanting to teach philosophy than either the B.Litt. or the D.Phil.
"At that time in the UK, the D.Phil. had not even begun to be regarded as a basic qualification for university teaching: it was a degree largely for Americans. But things have changed, and the B.Phil. has turned into a predoctoral program."
"And the tentacles of the Octopus have reached even more deeply into British academic life. The B.Phil. has ceased to be a qualification for an academic position in philosophy in Britain."
"In relation to the B.Phil., the Octopus has won in two ways: it has turned an unPh.D.program into a pre-Ph.D. program, and it has also wiped out the status that the B.Phil. had had as a qualification for teaching in a university."
"In summary of the situation in America and in Britain and the Commonwealth. The basic thing that happened was that there were no longer any university teaching jobs available to anyone except people with Ph.D.s"
"In those first three years of teaching, I taught a great variety of different classes, Rousseau and Logic, the English moralists and Social Philosophy and lots else...
"...Although I also had a couple of research projects, I was under no pressure to publish. If I had been, I probably could have turned out something ...but it was good that I didn’t have to try, and philosophy has lost nothing by the non-existence of those papers."
"Some philosophers can relatively quickly find their way into what they want and need to say; others take longer. In her Dewey Lecture, Ruth Millikan argued strongly against “forcing early and continuous publication in philosophy”.
"Millikan’s own account came out of her certainty that she 'could never have become a philosopher in the current environment.' Whether or not I could have done so, I certainly could not have become the philosopher I did become."
"I was quite a slow-developing Wittgensteinian dinosaur. It took a long time before I began to write about the Tractatus or about Frege. What made me start was thinking about Elizabeth Anscombe’s essay, 'The Reality of the Past'....
"She was concerned with the idea we may have that changing the past is something that we can’t do. Drawing on remarks of Wittgenstein’s, she lays out a response to that idea, and brings out the difference between 'The past cannot change' and statements of physical impossibility.
"Her argument emphasizes what we don’t have: we don’t have ways of talking about when or how thus-and-such change in the past occurred, or what brought about the change, or how the change played out, and so on. We don’t have a use for such ways of speaking."
"Talk of a “change in the past” has, in our circumstances, no sense. It doesn’t mean something that can’t be done; it means nothing."
"I’m still defending one of the arguments I put forward in 'Eating Meat and Eating People,' that in ethics we shouldn’t be taken in by a spurious conception of what genuine impartiality would be, of what such impartiality demands of us."
"I don’t think that there is anything wrong with Ph.D.’s as such. ....But that leaves open the question whether it should be a requirement for becoming a teacher of philosophy.... It isn’t clear what can be said in favor of such a requirement."
"We can think about twentieth century Anglophone philosophy as providing a kind of experiment, in which many philosophers have a Ph.D. and many philosophers don’t, and we can compare them—but the experiment hardly shows that with is better than without, or the other way round."
"The withouts certainly include many of the most distinguished philosophers of the century, including Russell, Moore, Ramsey, Collingwood, Austin, Strawson, Grice, Anscombe, Hare, Foot, MacIntyre, Hart, Ryle, Ayer, Hampshire, Sellars, Williams, Kripke, Dummett, Mackie, Murdoch...
Wisdom, Wollheim, Wiggins, Ross, Prichard and McDowell. "
"I haven’t ever seen an argument against Ryle’s view that the doctorate doesn’t do much to prepare someone for being a philosopher and teacher of philosophy, compared with other possible ways for someone to get into being a philosopher."
"Ryle would have regarded as ridiculous the general idea that, for a teacher of philosophy, the B.Phil. should be followed by a doctorate."
"As a philosopher, I am puzzled that we now take for granted that people who want to teach philosophy must have a doctorate, although nobody seems to have a reply to Ryle’s sorts of argument on the other side, or to William James’s earlier arguments."
"there is no evidence that [the dissertation] is so valuable in general that it should be a required part of philosophical education, or that it is the only, or the best, way to determine whether someone is qualified to get a job in philosophy.
"The choice of subject for a Ph.D. dissertation is normally determined in part by what looks like a “dissertable” subject, but what counts as an acceptable sort of subject for a dissertation may not be anything that fits in with the interests of the student....
"This was one of Ryle’s main points against the D.Phil. A “dissertable” subject might well be a boring subject. It would be a subject that hadn’t been worked over..., and often would be quite narrow, narrow enough to be manageable in the allotted time for the project, ...
"...and capable of being spelled out in advance in what would count as an acceptable proposal, a proposal that wasn’t wildly unlike the general run of successful research proposals."
"... the Ph.D encourages a level of mere competence in research and scholarship. Nowadays, writing services can help the student pick out a “gap” in the existing literature; suitable for a dissertation topic; ...the Ph.D. requirements generate a particular kind of research."
"Most people who write a dissertation are under considerable pressure to get it done relatively quickly; and in response to such pressures, they may avoid risk...
"...they may be disinclined to explore avenues of thought that might turn into dead ends, however promising those avenues may appear; they may avoid approaches that might lead the supervisor to recommend rewriting a whole section or deleting it;...
"...they may be inclined to stick to current conventions of various sorts, including conventions about what belongs to the “field of specialization” or what needs to be cited to demonstrate mastery of the field, and so on.
"Once they have done a fair amount of work, they may feel that they cannot afford to re-examine any of the fundamental ideas of the dissertation."
"William James used the image of the Octopus for the Ph.D. system taking over American universities, but he also had the image of a tyrannical machine, a machine which (among other things) excludes talented people from academic life."
"The machine has gradually become even more tyrannical. Think back to 1946. In 1946, Wilfrid Sellars was 34, had no Ph.D. and no likelihood of getting one, and had published nothing. But Herbert Feigl was able to get him a job at Minnesota."
"The Ph.D. machine of today would also make problems for Thompson Clarke, since the machine now requires that young philosophers have finished the Ph.D. by the time they start on a tenure-track position.
"If we have Thompson Clarke’s contributions to our thinking about scepticism, we owe that in part to the relative lack of rigidity in the Ph.D. machine as it was back in the 1950s. It was less efficiently tyrannical."
"... with more or less efficiency, the machine works to exclude people who might contribute greatly to philosophy."
"The argument here generalizes: what you demand of young philosophers affects whom you get in the profession—whom you will get as your mature philosophers down the road, and whom you will have forced out of philosophy or discouraged at an early stage."
"It’s difficult to think that the kind of career I had, and many other dinosaurs too, is no longer possible. But this is only one of many recent changes in the whole business of philosophy. At the end now, I want to talk about one of the other changes...
"When we —dinosaurs and doctor-codgers— were students, we didn’t have to think of ourselves as on the way to being marketable young research-producers; we didn’t have to think about what would make us more or less marketable."
"We didn’t have to figure out how to fit that kind of thought together in our minds with thinking about philosophy and trying to get deeper into what we were reading and thinking about."
"We never had to wonder whether whatever it was was going to fit into an AOS or an AOC or whether it was the sort of thing we should keep quiet about having any interest in."
"And our teachers and advisers weren’t in the position that philosophy teachers and advisers are in these days, when they may have deep admiration and respect for this or that philosopher, and may nevertheless recognize that, if their students were like that philosopher...
"...and it showed in their CV, the students would be unmarketable."
"We, as teachers and advisers, are stuck, as our own teachers and advisers weren’t,—stuck trying on the one hand to encourage the kind of dedication and love of philosophy that it is wonderful to see among students....
"...and trying on the other hand to help the students remain on track to becoming certifiable research producers, who can actually get jobs without losing hold of what drew them to philosophy in the first place."
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