In sum, cogita

December 17, 2015

The “what are you going to do with that?” question aimed at those wishing to read for subjects such as philosophy (“Can philosophy survive in an academy driven by impact and employability?”, Features, 10 December) must always be countered with: “what happens if we don’t do it at all?”

One answer to that question was provided in 2010 when companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Merck and Sanofi all abandoned their search for new drug treatments for psychiatric disorders because after more than 60 years of intense research effort there had been no significant breakthroughs and none was on the horizon. There had been a catastrophic systems failure, caused by a simple but terminal logical flaw – a tautology – that was incorporated into the antidepressant drug process from the outset. The result for society has been a lack of adequate drug treatments for psychiatric disorders and front-line mental health services that are at the point of collapse. All for the want of a nail – and a few hours’ tuition in philosophy of science, and the insight to recognise that such training was required.

Colin Hendrie
Department of psychology
University of Leeds

Perhaps students understand the value of philosophy better than politicians, university administrators and even some of us who teach philosophy. The example in the feature of a student asking her professor whether “marketing” philosophy for today’s professional world is a good idea reminded me of a recent teaching experience at a public college in Brooklyn, New York.

We were commenting on US Senator Marco Rubio’s quip that “we need more welders and less philosophers”. The students agreed that Rubio was not defending the value of blue-collar work, which would have been fine for my working-class students. They saw instead that behind his views was the idea that philosophy is a fine pastime for the economic elite, but “useless” for the people who are supposed to serve them skilfully and without questioning the status quo. My students were incensed. They valued philosophical enquiry without needing to be told why. It is senators, governors, and many rectors, chancellors and university presidents who need to get it.


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