First shots in the philosophy wars

Following the history wars and a preliminary skirmish in the culture wars we move on to the queen of the sciences, which used to be theology. A Liberal Party waste-watcher has identified some dodgy research projects funded by the Australian Research Council and the Truth Seekers have struck back. Hila Schachar: [that link did not work in preview http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/11/australia-coalition-politicans-research-grant]

We seem to pride ourselves on our anti-intellectualism in Australia. This is why it came as no surprise to those in the business of thinking and researching when the Coalition insulted the work done through Australian Research Council (ARC) funding, calling the grants funded by the ARC “ridiculous” and a “waste” – a “waste” which it plans to “re-prioritise”. While this attitude is no surprise, it does need to be counteracted with some facts.

Patrick Stokes in The Conversation:

Coalition spokesman for scrutiny of government waste Jamie Briggs has promised an Abbott government would get rid of “those ridiculous research grants that leave taxpayers scratching their heads wondering just what the government was thinking”.

Seriously, don’t bother with philosophy. Don’t bother trying to understand the rules of logic, or what constitutes a good argument, or what makes an action right or wrong. Don’t bother trying to follow humanity’s “great conversation” let alone trying to contribute to it. Waste of time and money.

Daniel Stacey explains how we can be transformed by immersion in Hegel or Heidegger.

When a philosopher, like Martin Heiddeger for instance, rolls up his sleeves to argue the toss over the definition of words, what occurs is utterly different. Heidegger, the subject of another ridiculed ARC grant run by Dr Diego Bubbio at the University of Western Sydney, was a brilliant classicist able to describe the mutation of language from Ancient Greek philosophy to the present day.

He showed how words are very old tools that have been broken up and reassembled and reused, and how our confused and messy language is often not robust enough to talk through deep issues. Heidegger is insurance against the trickery of even the greatest rhetorician, against dogma in economics and science, against traps in language and traps in life.

Thinkers like Heidegger are capable of radically altering how you engage with the world – not just for a few weeks, but for the rest of your life. You don’t have to subscribe to a deity or follow a plan or give someone money – you just have to read a difficult book.

That’s interesting, you just have to read a difficult book. How come grants of tens and hundreds of thousands are allocated for people to read books?

On the other side, a rejoinder to Hila Schacharfrom David Thompson:

Dr Shachar is, however, careful not to explain the contribution to society made by her own work, or by the humanities research projects that were highlighted as examples of non-essential spending, including a $164,000 grant for studying “how urban media art can best respond to global climate change.” Or by the boldly titled research project Queering Disasters in the Antipodes, which hopes to probe the “experiences of LGBTI people in natural disasters” and ultimately provide “improved disaster response” to gay people, whose needs in such circumstances are apparently quite different from those of everyone else. The princely sum of $325,183 has been spent on this endeavour. “No such work has been done in this field before,” says the project outline. Instead, we learn that “people who have received an ARC grant… are the last people in Australia you could accuse of frivolity and waste,” and that taxpayer subsidy of such things should be left to “people who are actually qualified to decide the importance of specific projects.”

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24 Responses to First shots in the philosophy wars

  1. PEB

    Yep, we really need have a greater understanding of how words have been used over the ages, or how do disaster response for gays.
    Forget putting this money into imperatives like finding a cure for say Parkinson’s disease, or developing practical fusion reactors, or increasing crop production. Or even using that money to provide better health for our pensioners – you know the people who paid for much of what we see around us.
    Yep, words and gay disasters must be very important.

  2. Leo G

    If Patrick Stokes wants us to take him seriously he should finish his line of argument:

    Seriously, don’t bother with philosophy;
    Don’t bother trying to understand the rules of logic, or what constitutes a good argument, or what makes an action right or wrong;
    Don’t bother trying to follow humanity’s “great conversation” let alone trying to contribute to it;
    Waste of time and money.

    ………..Unless you have Australian Research Council funding.

  3. Listen to the trough-snufflers screaming as the troughs are packed away and the feed diverted to more useful functions. It gives me a thrill to hear them scream.

    This reminds me of the people who will spend many hours and thousands of words ripping assorted works of modern fiction to bits for their failure to sufficiently address the concerns and presence in society of queers, coloured people, etc. etc. etc., rather than actually sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and remedying the defect. And when they do, they often demand a government handout for the privilege. No, you worthless shitstains – get a job, however menial, use your spare time to write something that sells, and pay your own fucking way in the literary world.

  4. cuckoo

    Does immersion in Hegel and Heidegger teach us to recognize a straw man argument? Apparently not, if Stokes or Stacey are any indication. The ARC grants are for highly abstruse (and quite arguably useless) research, not the kind of groundbreaking primary work that, in the case of philosophy, was done ages ago. Yet when the ARC is criticized, Stokes and Stacey pretend that Tony Abbott wants to make a bonfire of the Philosopy 101 syllabus. What was that ARC grant of nearly half a million dollars to study some aspect of Kant? One suspects Kant wrote his entire opus on a budget of considerably less.

  5. james

    I know it is a dream, but can you imagine the screaming of the self regarding, snobbish parasites IR the trough was ACTUALLY removed instead of just being trimmed a touch?

  6. nic

    They can discuss the relationship between child rearing in bonobo chimp troops for all I care, just not on our dime.

  7. H B Bear

    I like the idea of refunding academic research costs.

    Pay them a teaching salary but let academics spend their own money or convince non-government bodies to fund their research projects. Those people who want to fund philosophy can do so via voluntary research trusts or something. On completion present the findings to the ARC who will assess it and reimburse those projects assessed in the national interest.

    In less than two years Hila Schachar is looking for a real job.

  8. H B Bear

    I lost a pair of backless chaps in the Brisbane flood last year.

    No-one asked me how I felt about that.

  9. Hugh

    I’ve recently started tackling Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. All by myself in my free time. Not as coursework or formal study. I haven’t applied for a grant. Is that wrong?

  10. incitatus

    I’m going to try for a grant for my study of the effect of climate change on gay marriage. And if that fails I’ll apply for one on the effect of gay marriage on climate change. About 200K should be enough. Extra if I have to read Hegel.

  11. Bons

    “Wierdie beardie” Phillipa Martyr. Well done to you, I love it. Perfect logic, adequate cynicism and alliteration as well.
    Hollywood’s loss…….

  12. Ellen of Tasmania

    The more they squeal, the more research titles (and grant monies won) should be circulated in the media.

  13. Heidegger was elected rector of the University of Freiburg a few months after his political idol was made German chancellor. Heidegger’s predecessor had been forced to resign as a result of refusing to display an anti-Jewish poster. No such qualms for Martin, who joined the Nazi Party a few days after gaining his appointment.

    Daniel Stacey, you were saying something about how reading Heidegger might change the way I engage with the world? And it seems “Heidegger is insurance against the trickery of even the greatest rhetorician”?

  14. blind freddy

    Rafe
    Totally agree—-BUT how do we hold the new government to account ? How much influence will Jamie Briggs ‘ list hold ?

  15. Leo G

    Does immersion in Hegel and Heidegger teach us to recognize a straw man argument? Apparently not, if Stokes or Stacey are any indication

    Actually, Stokes argument, if taken as literally as he urged, is remarkably truthful.
    He concedes that for him “bothering with philosophy”, trying to understand logic or argument etc is a waste unless it brings in a welfare payment.

  16. Oliver of Perth

    I like to speak without ambiguity.
    And even Ms Hila Schaschar won’t have to excercise to much intellectualism when I say…Crap!

  17. cuckoo

    If the Coalition wanted to consider a model exporting nation, he said they could look to Germany where industry, such as the Volkswagen Foundation, sponsored philosophy.

    Er, so Malpas’ argument is that the Coalition should use taxpayers’ money to fund academic navel-gazing because in Germany, a private corporation uses its own money to do so. Whatever Malpas has learned from philosophy, it isn’t logical rigour.

  18. The standard statist argument: “If you are against the government doing it, you must be against it being done at all.”

  19. Rafe

    As Robert noted, Heidegger in his support for the Nazi regime was one of the most disgraced intellectuals of the 20th century, although the story is complicated because Hannah Arendt had an ongoing love affair with him.

    A few more comments on his career: from essences to Being in the world.

    Heidegger (1889-1976) reaped the whirlwind of phenomenology that was sown by Husserl. Randall Collins has an interesting account of the way this happened in his book The Sociology of Philosophies. This is a historical and ecological account of the major schools and influences in philosophy from Ancient China, India, Japan and the West. The historical account indicates the sweep of ideas over time, the ecological part traces the particular groupings, masters, apprentices, and crucial local influences that determine which ideas find carriers and which are overlooked, and who out of a generation of students ends up becoming a Master while others just make up the numbers and are forgotten.

    Heidegger had a Catholic peasant background and he was educated on Church scholarships to the point of starting in a Jesuit seminary as a novice. In 1909 he left the seminary and entered the Catholic theological faculty at Frieburg university where he enlisted on the conservaive side of the conflict with the reformist movement in Germany. The reformists including none other than Brentano who left the priesthood in protest at the conservative reaction against science and secular culture. Heidegger’s neo-Kantian teachers introduced him to the crisis in the foundation of mathematics and he started a thesis on the logical essence of number until his career plan to acquire a chair in Catholic theology prompted him to change track to study the 14th century scholastics.

    In 1916 he had a “bad luck, good luck” experience when he was passed over for a Catholic chair and he met Husserl, who took him on as an assistant when Heidegger transferred from the Catholics to sign up with the new Protestant team which was starting to show some form with the likes of Bultman (who became a close friend), Paul Tillich (Christian-socialist), and Karl Bath (who launched the neo-orthodox reaction of 1919 against the liberal tendencies in Protestant theology. This was the central topic in Bill Bartley’s book Retreat to Commitment which launched his development of critical rationalism).

    Collins explained how Heidegger’s 1927 book Being and Time (Sein und Zeit) made his reputation by synthesising in abstract and general form the key ideas from several networks of thought that were active at the time and so he was catapulted into the leadership (the striker if you liked) in the team that dominated much of the philosophical and theological world at least up to his death in 1976. It is essentially about “being in the world” which is something that ordinary dull people like scientists and secular humanists tend to take for granted but it assumes massive and problematic proportions for certain kinds of intellectuals. Being and Time was supposed to be the first part of a project that was to be completed by a second book that never got written. So Heidegger’s project was a failure, an arch with one pillar. He was a striker who only kicked one goal, but since nobody else in the team kicked any, that was enough.

  20. Maybe the Australian Research Centre should consider a serious project on David Allen’s

    “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.

  21. Armadillo

    The more they squeal, the more research titles (and grant monies won) should be circulated in the media.

    Perhaps they should be required to advertise in the media their INTENT to apply for a Government grant BEFORE it’s even lodged (at their own expense of course). I mean, you have to lodge a publicly available plan on developments and that’s when your investing your own money (not wanting to spend taxpayers).

    Taxpayer outrage would soon ensure that some of these “projects” would never see the light of day. You would be too embarrassed to publically put your name to that “flood study” in a National Newspaper – surely?

  22. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Rafe, I am astounded that you have produced the above minor opus on the Interpretive Biography of Heidegger without a substantial research grant, and without at least two years of dedicated research to get to where you show us you are today. 🙂

  23. Giacomo

    Rafe and Elizabeth: sure, Rafe came up with a (superficial and highly questionable) account of Heidegger’s philosophy, so who need to pay professional philosophers? After all, I run half an hour yesterday, so why should we pay our professional athletes to train to go to the Olympics? And they are paid with taxpayers’ money too, you know.
    The point is that you don’t dare judge projects in biology or physics, because you (and I) don’t understand a word of their titles, and you realise that you cannot judge those projects from the title. But hey, you haven’t read these projects in philosophy, but given that you recognise the words “God” or “Hegel” in the title, you think you are able to judge them.
    I’m not a philosopher, btw – just a reader of philosophy books. And I understand that it’s not the same thing. Apparently you don’t. And you feel you can judge something from the title. Oh well, let me say this – I haven’t read these philosophy projects, so I cannot comment on their content. But I understand enough to say that Jamie Briggs’s press release sounds ‘ridiculous’ to me – your comments sound ‘ridiculous’ to me.

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