Down With the Philosophy Factory ( )

Marx said the point of philosophy is to change the world. The neoliberal university thinks the point is to sell books. At the Portland State University library. Alan / Flickr

You are at a conference, wandering around the book exhibit. A former colleague greets you. A few minutes into the conversation, she asks the inevitable question: “So, what are you working on?”

“Nothing,” you say. You are met with visibly suppressed shock, which fails to obscure your companion’s dark thoughts: You are living “deadwood,” and worse, someone who has the gall to admit it. You quickly add, “But I am actively engaged in research in new areas of interest, which I fully expect will result in a series of articles or books.” Not really deadwood, you see. Just taking a working hiatus. Never let it be said, or even thought, that one is not productive.

I have three articles sitting on my computer desktop, in various stages of completion. I haven’t touched them in months, nor have I moved forward on a book project. I’ve written blog posts, some relating to my field, philosophy, as well as miscellaneous unpublished writings. But I’ve stopped writing scholarly philosophy.

The decision wasn’t premeditated. I have been trying to understand what happened. No doubt this motivational desert was created in part by personal and family challenges, as well as by the extraordinarily disturbing current political climate. But I’ve become convinced that the proximate cause is my deepening disappointment with professional philosophy, and what it reflects about the contemporary practice of the liberal arts.

Academic disciplines in our time have been subjected to the principle that more productivity is better, and a lot