Reason or covetousness? On academic philosophy


I have a Google Alert calibrated for more-or-less relevant occurrences of my name in Internet traffic. The idea is to remain aware of what people may be saying about my work, so I can adjust my communication strategy accordingly. Every now and then, however, some pearls pop up in that alert; things that aren't really relevant in and of themselves, but which betray the ways in which I am impacting different segments of society and culture at large.

Yesterday I got an alert about a 5-month-old philosophy thread on Reddit, which probably came up again because of some recently-added comment; I don't know, I didn't see it 5 months ago, but it doesn't matter anyway. The point is that someone had originally posted there asking whether there were proper rebuttals to my arguments and positions. I didn't read through the thread, but the first words of the first response caught my eye. I quote:

There are no rebuttals of his work specifically not because he can't be refuted, but because he's not considered in academic circles, and not even amateurs care to do so.

Despite being blatantly false, this is very interesting: it betrays a telling kind of frustration. The original poster and some others didn't seem convinced by such a demonstrably wrong answer, and pointed to my many academic papers and thesis, as well as the attempts to rebut me—in print—in the academic literature. They then got the following answer:

You seem to be under a strange illusion that acquiring a PhD is itself something making one relevant to anyone, and that publishing articles in no name journals is considered of any relevance. Publishing books is also of no relevance. Nobody is engaging with him. He's not part of the currently popular topic spaces and their discussions.

Apparently nothing at all is of any relevance, except the opinion of this particular poster. The frustration this paragraph exudes betrays so clearly what the actual feeling and motivation here are. Indeed, if I were to point out that I've published in heavy-weight journals—such as the Journal of Consciousness Studies and SAGE Open—or remind the poster of the fact that well-known academic philosophers—such as David Chalmers—have cited my work in print, or that others—such as Philip Goff—have gone out of their way to engage me multiple times in public, or that yet other academics—such as Keith Frankish and Michael Graziano—have had heated exchanges with me also in print, or that I've been invited to debate well-known philosophers and public intellectuals—such as Suzan Blackmore, Michael Shermer, Leonard Mlodinow, Tim Crane, Nancy Cartwright, Peter Atkins, etc.—or that I am constantly on demand for interviews in all kinds of media, including television, etc., I am sure the poster would simply move to the next fallback 'argument': that none of these people are relevant in academic philosophy. Of course, for what is actually aggravating the poster is precisely the fact that I am a very visible and thus far undefeated philosopher, despite not being an academic. How dare I be influential without holding an academic job? What does this suggest about academic philosophy today? How dare I, doing philosophy as—until very recently—a hobby, accomplish so much while many 'real' philosophers labour in utter obscurity? Though human and understandable, these feelings are certainly counterproductive.

Indeed, that some seem to react to what I have accomplished with covetousness—as opposed to the objectivity that academics are expected to embody—is both a serious problem and a missed opportunity for desperately-needed change. As I discussed in the professional blog of the American Philosophical Association recently (so much for invisibility in academic circles), many academic philosophers have abandoned reality and now spend their time playing entirely abstract conceptual games of no relevance to you and me. But they still insist that what they do is 'real' philosophy. Again: this is a problem; it is regrettable, lamentable, and needs urgent correction. Academic philosophy is funded by public money paid out of our taxes. As such, it must be relevant to us. But is this really the case today?



History isn't encouraging either: most of the most influential philosophers weren't academics, and some were even overtly critical of academia, such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (I am tempted to mention Kierkegaard here too, but will refrain from it so to be conservative with my examples). Moreover, as discussed in my latest book, Decoding Schopenhauer's Metaphysics, when academic philosophers venture to interpret what their 'amateur' but influential counterparts were trying to say, the result is often a catastrophe of misrepresentation. When you've become disconnected from reality, it's hard to see what those struggling with reality are saying.

I can't change academia. What I can and am doing is starting and heading a foundation that will try to do some of what academic philosophy has been failing to do. And I bet we will be largely successful. Once that becomes clear, my hope is that the example will encourage academic philosophers to be more connected to life and reality, therefore becoming more relevant to you and me.

The risk, however, is that it may trigger the infantile mentality displayed by this Reddit poster, thereby leading academic philosophy to drift even farther away from social relevance, so as to defend whatever status it perceives itself as having. This is, in fact, my fear: that attempts to stimulate academic philosophy—from the outside—to return to the real and relevant may backfire, triggering academics to try and differentiate themselves even further from those that are actually doing relevant work. This will end up in further entrenchment, isolation and irrelevance.

I pray things won't unfold this way.

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14 comments:

  1. The most objective criteria for belonging to a certain field of science on a professional level is the citation index in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and you meet this criteria very well, Bernardo. Being employed in academia is irrelevant. In engineering and computer science a large fraction of authors in the scientific journals are employed in the industry, not in academia, but that does not exclude them from belonging to the field of scientific knowledge on the professional level.

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    1. The thing is, I am not trying to meet even that criteria. And I think this, ultimately, is part of why some seem frustrated with me. I am not trying to build an academic career; never tried and don't think I ever will, because this is not the game I am playing. I am trying to be culturally relevant, by whatever honest and legitimate path will take me there. And as things stand, the academic path would be outright counterproductive for me.

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  2. As a "non-philosopher" (thanks God!), I do not want to generalize but this is not an exaggeration: Almost all academic philosophers I personally know have been disappointing; they do not really care about "truth" and the public use of reason that Kant introduced as an hallmark for the enlightened man.

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  3. I've upon occasion joined certain philosophically focused discussion forums and mentioned your name out of curiosity, which generated many similar reactions as the one you mention on Reddit ~ one claiming that any serious philosopher wouldn't come up with such a silly book title as 'Why Materialism is Baloney', and they would not read the book for that reason alone. Apparently humour is not much appreciated by serious philosophers either. :)) And so now, when such locked-up minds chime in with critiques of your ideas, and then when asked which of your books they've read, and the answer is none whatsoever, seemingly having dismissed you solely on the basis that you're promoting the primacy of consciousness, which for them is a non-starter, an idea not even worth entertaining, I'm mostly inclined to end the conversation right there, and save wear and tear on the keyboard, for in my experience no amount of cogent argument alone is the key to unlocking such minds.

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  4. I read somewhere, that Philosophy need to be saved urgently from academy Philosophy professors!

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  5. A lot of people conflate being rational with being a materialist. I see this sentiment fairly often on reddit, where I've actually spent a lot of time defending your ideas. Although I am sometimes surprised at other peoples' willingness to entertain them. I've also learned that 99% of the criticisms people make against analytic idealism stem simply from not understanding the position or the arguments in favor of it.

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    1. "A lot of people conflate being rational with being a materialist."

      Yes! This!

      I've been a staunch atheist since I was twelve, was a big fan of the "Four Horsemen" of the new atheism (and still am, admittedly), and I assumed without investigation that materialism and atheism were simply a package deal. It just seemed obvious.

      I also honestly think that I was "qualia blind" until my early-to-mid thirties when I just kind of "got it" one day for no particular reason. But before that, whenever some Christian I was debating online would write something along the lines of "but you can't quantify love," I would immediately think of "love" in terms of brain states, chemicals, and behavior.
      So of course my response would be something like "Sure yoh can quantify love. Just give me a definition of "love." But naturally, I was thinking in third-person terms. Somehow it didn't even occur to me that they were talking about the *experience*, the *feeling* of love, so of course I thought it was a pathetic argument for something transcending the physical.

      But over the last few years -- this last year in particular -- I've pretty much given up on materialism once and for all, thanks in no small part to philosophers like David Chalmers, Philip Goff, and, yes, Bernardo Kastrup, who helped make it okay for me to be a non-materialist/physicalist while still remaining a critical thinker, a skeptic, and an atheist -- though I think there could very well be a kind of "Kastrupian" cosmic mind...

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  6. PERFEITO, Bernardo !!! Esse é o caminho !!! A inveja é uma...

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  7. The poster on Reddit sounds like a complete snob. Academia is full of them and I think there's real jealousy when an outsider decides to take part in 'their discipline'. It's worse if the outsider happens to be more interesting than they are. Many academic texts appear to be written by people trying to win a prize for obscurantism. I bought 'Why Materialism is baloney' and it was an excellent read. Very understandable for my lay person brain. 'Dreamed up reality' is on order and I can't wait! As for Reddit, I go there to pass time reading about Bridezillas and Wedding Fails.

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  8. I suppose that if you approach Essentia with a less combatant and more inviting spirit, you will create less emotional defence mechanisms in people. Maybe your battle is somewhat emotional as well. You should not get caught up in fighting against bad and stupid ideas. And surely you should not be less distinctive, explicit and pointed. Fight passionately for the good ideas and your impetus will be unstoppable. It will generate positive energy and animated motivation in the people you reach…

    Thanks for all the motivation and determination you give me!

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  9. I actually saw this post quite recently googling for something like "Bernardo Kastrup rebuttals". I was searching because having read a few of your books and agreeing with your arguments, I wanted to see if anyone had really tried to argue against them, to see if I was missing something, or at least to see some unwavering materialists do some hoop jumping and other mental gymnastics (for what other kind is there?) for entertainment. Sadly (though perhaps unsurprisingly) this reddit post was all I found, with literally no real debate. Honestly I wouldn't have raised the commenter's status by making this post; for if you, Bernardo, are irrelevant, that makes the commenter infinitesimally insignificant by comparison.

    There are lots of snobs all over reddit who act as if they know better than the experts (or have a diehard faith in one expert, and disparage all the others).

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    1. Yes. My point is not about that poster on Reddit (I couldn't care less), but the suggestion his/her reactions makes that trying to stimulate academic philosophy to become more relevant may backfire, which is concerning. I tried to make it clearer now in the penultimate paragraph of the essay.

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  10. This comment is some thoughts re other comments to this post. Not the post itself. Thinking of the Academy as a monolithic entity and then ascribing personality flaws or tendencies to IT is just as silly as doing the same with Business or Government or Religion. Sure there is snobbery but plenty of generosity. All communities have systems, rituals, games of legitimacy. And most people have to pay their journeyman dues within those systems. Standards are good things in general even if jerks can use them inappropriately. Im quite confident that Bernardo will have a large impact on the community of academic philosophers if for no other reason it will get to the point where it will be impossible to ignore him.

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  11. Humans always look to create a method of manufacturing their own self importance. It appears to be as natural and normal as breathing. So the fact that people continue to pursue their self importance regardless of where they land in life be it the garbage collector or a country's leader or a community of academic philosophers shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. In my mind the challenge is to avoid that self indulgent path that ultimately leads to nowhere. It's amazing what one can accomplish when one doesn't need or want the credit.

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