To catch you up to speed. As Stanley identifies it, the so-called crisis of philosophy has to do with how the discipline is perceived by the rest of the humanities, or more precisely, humanists:
Its questions – which concern the nature and scope of concepts like knowledge, representation, free will, rational agency, goodness, justice, laws, evidence and truth – seem antiquated and baroque. Its central debates seem disconnected from the issues of identity that plague and inspire the contemporary world. Its pedantic methodology seems designed to alienate rather than absorb. Whereas humanists have transformed into actors, using their teaching and research as political tools, philosophers have withdrawn ever more to positions as removed spectators, and not of life, but of some abstracted and disconnected realm of Grand Concepts.Stanley's response to this problem is, more or less: "So what?" More charitably, in the comments on his article, Stanley remarks that he was out to give a two-pronged response to the crisis:
First[...]to show that philosophy as practiced today is continuous with philosophy as practiced in the past. Secondly, and more importantly[...]to show that philosophy as practiced today and in the past has both had historical importance[...]and contemporary relevance[...]This is a remarkable non-response to the problem as he has framed it. First, the first point.
Stanley begins with the grand philosophical tradition of the modern period (read: Descartes through Kant), skips over the 19th century, picks up again with Logical Positivism, and then culminates with those philosophers who, presumably, it wouldn't be "odd" to call the geniuses of our field. His decision to ignore the whole 19th century is telling (as is the sin of omission he commits in not including Nancy Cartwright and Peter Galison as philosophers who have received MacArthur grants; it might be innocent, but for polemical purposes I'm going to say it's because they don't work on abstract topics like part/whole relations or modal realism, but on the history and philosophy of science [and maybe even a teensy, tiny bit of sociology [GASP! UNCLEAN!]). As historians of philosophy have focused more and more and more on this era it has become obvious that the 19th century (and not just Frege!) was at least as important as the early modern period (ending with Kant), if not more so, for shaping what we now consider to be both analytic and continental philosophy and our own self-understanding of its subject matter, methodology, and relationship to other disciplines.
This is all just to say that if we are going to use history to try to address the very real perception problem philosophy has, it best not be the type of whig history Stanley engages in. His first point seems to be nothing more than a history designed to let him declare David Lewis and Saul Kripke (read: analytic metaphysicians) to be the real philosophers these days and those other people who get cited a whole lot in the humanities to be the outliers (read: fake philosophers). But, the neglected history shows that, in very important ways, those who get called philosophers these days and those who aren't called philosophers may share the very same roots (or at least very similar ones), and the types of distinctions we take for granted these days within philosophy and between philosophy and other disciplines are often traceable back to very real philosophical disagreements. We shouldn't simply cite the sociological fact that we, as philosophers, identify with Kripke as part of the tradition more so than we do Nietzsche, or Zizek, insofar as Kripke asks the types of questions Descartes asks, since this simply serves to retrench the perception problem philosophy faces: a group who only allows certain people working on certain topics, those deemed sufficiently eternal, abstract, and important (read: currently hot) by philosophers and philosophers alone, to be admitted in the club. Instead, we should try to understand more clearly our own history and how it has shaped our discipline and others, while refraining from the temptation to shape that history to justify what we currently think of as proper philosophy.
Now, Stanley's second response is to show the historical importance and contemporary relevance that philosophy has. In part, this point relies on the fact that philosophers have helped shape our conceptions of modernity (granted) and the usual platitudes about philosophers being good at instilling critical thinking skills in students. I think everyone in the humanities who engages with philosophers knows that we think that about ourselves, but simply stating it again does nothing to address their worries that the type of skills we are teaching students are hopelessly out of touch. So, for example, Stanley states about the value of philosophy:
Instead of teaching the middle-class American person about the actual poverty and oppression in her society, the philosopher forces her to reflect on abstract problem cases in which that person’s intuitions lead her to condemn the behavior of someone who is in fact behaving in all relevant respects similar to her. These are different methods of confronting complacency, but they are no less effective.But, what is at issue here is why we should, as philosophers, "reflect on abstract problem cases" and not apply our awesome powers of critical thinking to real cases. Why trolley car problems and not "the actual poverty and oppression in society"? Philosophy, as I think Stanley has identified, faces a very real question that should be addressed about how our skills as philosophers are being applied, how they ought to be applied, to what problems they ought to be applied, and how effective they are at "confronting complacency".
Admitting this has nothing to do with giving into post-modern attacks on the conception of eternal truth or accepting the virulent anti-philosophy that supposedly pervades the humanities that are concerned with anthropological issues alone. Bringing up these issues simply shift the burden of proof, throw others off our scent, and provide us with an easy target to attack. But, we have been told over and over again that even considering that there might be a perception problem for philosophy, if there is anything we can do about it, if there is something particularly odd about the identity politics that dominate the field, if we might widen the scope of philosophy to include more problems, if we are perceived oddly because of our aggressive behavior in talks outside the philosophical sphere, or if we have a problem with communicating the importance of our projects to grant/fellowship boards, is somehow giving up the game.
It isn't. And if we want to try to rectify some of the perceived insults and slights that we experience, perhaps we should look at the philosopher in the mirror. After all, as one commenter remarks:
Comments like Stanley's remind me that we philosophers need to take responsibility for how we are perceived elsewhere in the academy. It's not enough to complain about marginalization and insult and injury, when we bring it on ourselves and do it to each other.--Jaded Dissertator