Shrinking Audience?

Bruce Kuklick comes very close to our assessment of the crisis in philosophy by framing it as a problem of a “shrinking audience.” He points out in his History of Philosophy in America (2001) how “ensconced in the university system, a discipline can exist for a long time with a minimal audience, although even the leadership of the institutions of higher education may catch on after a time” (285).

Why should administrators and state legislatures provide financial support for a small group of eggheads to blather incomprehensibly to one another? That was just the thinking behind a proposed piece of legislation in North Carolina in 2015. We have not seen the end of that thinking.

Yet such comments and such political realities have not led to sustained theoretical attention. One sign of this is the lack of a grey literature of professional society studies and reports on the future of philosophy. The American Philosophical Association website shows no reports on how the profession is responding to changing economic, political, and cultural trends. One only finds statements about parochial issues, e.g., on the importance of noting that ‘history of philosophy’ classes usually consist of only the history of Western philosophy. The Modern Language Association has done better, publishing a number of reports on the status of the English profession that seek to understand how English can respond to changing social dynamics, even if their analyses stay at the level of economic concerns rather than probing the heart of the research enterprise.