I'll preface by saying that I'm trying my darnedest to sympathize with, learn from, and interact with philosophers. I don't approach this article or those like it with any sense that philosophy is irrelevant for or in some sort of basic contradiction with theological work. It's also worth noting that many philosophers do not share the views of Stanley and feel quite at home in the current state of the conversation with their disciplinary neighbors in the humanities. No sweeping statements about "philosophers" are intended, then. What I'm taking issue with is one philosopher's characterization of the situation concerning philosophy amongst the disciplines.
Stanley starts off by retelling a story that was cycled through Leiter last year, about the fact that a recent ACLS fellowship program included no recipients trained in philosophy. Later on in the article he notes that only six philosophers have won the MacArthur Fellowship compared to 17 in American history... and he describes these philosopher winners as "an odd group". If Stanley wants to write off Rorty, Churchland, Cavell, and others in this way in order to make his point, then I don't know exactly where to begin. This seems to be simply a petty complaint against certain schools of thought within his discipline. In contrast, there are no theologians on the list of MacArthur fellows, and while I don't know where a list of the ACLS fellows can be found, I'd wager that there aren't any theologians on that list, either. I don't bring this up to announce my own "crisis of theology" (although we theologians do often give in to the temptation of touting our marginalization). The point is that it hardly seems objective to bring up two prestigious fellowships where there happens to be few or no winners from a certain discipline, and mock that up as if it's a sign of the times.
Stanley goes on,
Most American humanists are unclear about how the debates of philosophers are supposed to fit into the overall project of the humanities. We are ignored at dinner parties, and considered arrogant and perhaps uncouth. To add insult to injury, the name of our profession is liberally bestowed on those teaching in completely different departments.I'm not sure whether he's here referring to "philosophers of X" strewn throughout different humanities departments, or the actual "PhD" degree itself... either way, though, this strikes me as an unfortunate lack of clarity about what philosophy actually is. Peruse any number of philosophy department websites that attempt to offer a description:
"In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other. As an academic discipline philosophy is much the same. Those who study philosophy are perpetually engaged in asking, answering, and arguing for their answers to life’s most basic questions." (Florida State)
"Philosophy, like all other fields, is unique. But the uniqueness of philosophy seems more impressive. Whereas historians, physicists, etc., generally agree about what constitutes their proper field of study, philosophers do not. Some philosophers have even maintained that there is no proper field of study for philosophers. This extreme position fortunately is not held by too many philosophers, but it illustrates perhaps the most distinctive feature of philosophy, namely that it leaves nothing unquestioned."(Bernard Gert, Dartmouth)
"For me, philosophy is defined by a goal and a method. Philosophy's goal is nothing less than a systematic world view. Other fields study particular kinds of things. Philosophy asks how it all fits together. [...] The method of conceptual analysis might sometimes seem picky, but unclarity or imprecision in our concepts is often what leads us into paradoxes and incoherence in our world views. That is why the philosophical goal of a coherent overall world view makes philosophers adopt the method of conceptual analysis." (Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Dartmouth)
Most of these attempts at description boil down to a general sense that philosophy questions everything. A lot. Very rigorously. But this is simply a standard of scholarly excellence, not a definition of a field of study. Given this sort of definition, it's no wonder-- and not a problem!-- that professors in other disciplines are awarded doctorates "of philosophy" and teach in the "philosophy of" various inquiries. Yet Stanley sees this as adding "insult to injury" rather than as a natural outworking of common conceptions of philosophy articulated by philosophers themselves. In light of some of these definitional options, I'm pleased that the University of Chicago philosophy department opts for a situating of themselves against various institutional frictions. This seems much more helpful, and avoids the grandiosity that inevitably leads to disappointment in others:
"There are three characteristic sorts of disciplinary divisions that tend to leave a philosophy department in a condition in which its whole becomes less than the sum of its parts: (1) between those who are concerned with the systemic study of issues in contemporary philosophy and those who are concerned with the interpretation of classic historical figures and texts, (2) between specialists in theoretical philosophy and specialists in practical philosophy, and (3) between those who take their problems, methods, and overall orientation from the analytic tradition and those who take theirs from the Continental tradition. The Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago is distinctive in its freedom from all three such forms of division within its philosophical community."
Back to Stanley. There are some interesting sections of the piece that opine about philosophy's role in both establishing modernity and writing itself out of the narrative once modernity had arrived. There's also a response to typical maligning of logical positivism as what has ruined philosophy more recently. I'll pass over these for the historian of philosophy to consider. In the midst of all this he discusses the fact that philosophical work is foreign to many humanists because they are interested in other cultural productions:
"Like the fiction writer or the artist, and unlike her fellow humanists, the philosopher is focused on creating her own body of work, ideally a novel attempt at a solution to the on-going philosophical problems. But unlike the fiction writer or the artist, there is hardly an audience anymore for philosophy outside of the academy. Few bankers care to hear about the latest views on rational agency or vagueness. Humanists are used to studying cultural works created outside the academy for audiences outside the academy. Philosophical work is cultural creation formed inside the academy for an audience that is now largely inside the academy."
Stanley seems not to be able to make up his mind. If "fellow humanists" are apparently receiving prestigious ACLS and MacArthur fellowships left and right for work written in the academy for the academy (unlike the "fiction writer or the artist" about whom they write... although Stanley earlier seems to contradict this distinction: "many humanists are members of the communities they seek to understand"), then why is it a problem that the philosopher's only audience is the academy? Who cares whether bankers read philosophy? Is Stanley trying to imply that they do, in contrast, read anthropology or literary criticism? Or are we now engaged in a double-front war whereby the crisis of philosophy is both 1) not being respected as a humanities discipline and 2) not being read by anyone except professional scholars in humanities disciplines? But apparently philosophy is not being read by humanist scholars, as Stanley clearly says elsewhere, "The activity of philosophy is also foreign to many American humanists" ... "philosophy has become estranged from the humanities" ... "A typical humanist might be somewhat interested in the philosophical views of a certain group, but is probably more interested in the identity that results." For a discipline that prides itself on clarity and rigor, it's difficult to make heads or tails of all this.
And are we really to believe that humanists do not incorporate the work of philosophers on a large scale? Certainly other humanists aren't philosophers, and so Stanley shouldn't expect them to keep up with the philosophical literature to the extent that he does. But it's highly debatable whether he's correct about the fact that we aren't reading philosophy. On the other hand, Stanley readily volunteers, "The great philosophical works have always been difficult technical tomes, pursuing arcane arguments in the service of grand metaphysical and epistemological conclusions. None are easy reading for laypersons, and few base their arguments on anthropology or sociology." Why, then, should he expect sociologists or anthropologists to be impressed by his call for more incorporation of philosophy into the wider humanities disciplines? And while it is often true that theologians read philosophers through overly apologetic intentions, what's striking is that we actually read them, and quite a bit. Many philosophers also read theology, to be sure, but Stanley seems uninterested in incorporating these voices into his idea of what a philosophical discipline should be.
He also often shoots down all of those philosophers who are often read by other humanities scholars (e.g., Zizek, Nietzsche) as if they were philosophical aberrations. It's not my place to dispute with Stanley concerning the normativities of philosophical inquiry and who counts as an oddball... I'll leave that for philosophers to decide. But one would think that, in arguing for increased attention to the work of philosophers, he wouldn't so brazenly shoot himself in the foot by disowning every single example of non-philosophers reading philosophers that he sees fit to acknowledge. It's embarrassingly awkward how disputes between philosophers are projected onto an interdisciplinary question here, so that other humanities scholars are in effect exhorted not simply to show more respect to philosophy, but rather to show respect for the right kind of philosophy, which of course they need the right kind of philosophers to point out to them.
I mentioned in the first paragraph that Leiter will probably re-post this article and, lo and behold, he has. There are also some comments on the IHE site already. I'm unimpressed, and I hope I've made a good case for being unimpressed without appeal to presumptions about what the work of philosophers is about or should be. Speaking merely as someone involved in another humanities discipline and engaging in what I'd consider a healthy amount of interdisciplinary conversation, Jason Stanley's piece strikes me as wavering between disciplinary self-pity and an inability to put himself in the shoes of others- to apply an objective standard from various perspectives in order to hear how he sounds to others. I agree that engagement with philosophers is important for the humanities, and this is precisely why I think it's valuable to critique ill-conceived evaluations of the "crisis"... in philosophy, theology, or any other community of inquiry.
UPDATE: Jason Stanley has been replying to some comments on the article, both at IHE and on a number of philosophy blogs. Over at Feminist Philosophers he shares some more details about his thoughts and the longer version of the piece that was not published. He is also apparently considering writing a longer version of the article and publishing it in another venue.