The state of philosophy

Over here, As a profession, is philosophy in a better or worse state than it was in 1997?’ Among the responses is Alasdair MacIntyre’s:

If the philosophy published between 1907 and 1967 were to vanish without a trace, it would be an intellectual catastrophe.  If the philosophy published between 1967 and 1997 were to vanish without trace, it would be a very serious loss.  If the philosophy published between 1997 and 2007 were to vanish similarly, it would matter a little, but not that much.

Because I think Forsyth hit a nail on the head when he urged that we ‘think in centuries’, wouldn’t a better question be, ‘As a profession, is philosophy in a better or worse state than it was in 1897?’, or for us now, ‘in 1908’?

I don’t read a lot of contemporary philosophy so I can’t really offer much by way of opinion (though I do have my hunches) but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

On a related track, Bertrand Russell reckons that ‘The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it’. … mmm seems too simple to be true …


  1. I think that all thought needs to be tested with time to see its effects and impact. So much scholarship that is groundbreaking today might be revealed as faddish later on. I think that is the legacy of most of postmodern thought. It went from something revolutionary to something of interest to a few scholars who enjoy the abstract and dense language of deconstruction. Despite the much overused term “postmodern” in the emergent Christian world, I still think that it has lost much of its currency over the past decade. In every epoch there are only a few revolutionary ideas and we simply cannot see what those are while we are alive.


  2. To a certain extent – McIntyre is a bit naughty because the first period is 60 years long, the second period is 30 and the final one 10. Maybe that is a lot towards the answering of the question. I mean that in a serious way – philosophy constantly develops (as I read it) and thus, shouldn’t be defined in terms of periods but probably in terms of nodal points – the points where philsophy hits a point of formal contradiction where it has to begin again from its starting point. In this sense, what McIntyre is saying is that between the first period there were more nodal points then the second and both had more than the third. Contemporary philosophy is working out the implications of the last nodal point – but it could be that we are coming against a new one in the not-so-distant future.


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