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Waste not, want not – the politics of why philosophy matters

And so now we officially know: philosophy is a waste. How can we be sure? Because Coalition spokesman for scrutiny of government waste Jamie Briggs has promised an Abbott government would get rid of “those…

What place for The Thinker will there be in an Australia under an Abbott government? Steven Fettig

And so now we officially know: philosophy is a waste.

How can we be sure? Because 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.

Briggs cited four projects: one in anthropology, one in public art, and not one, but two in philosophy.

Why pick on philosophy? That’s not hard: we’re an easy target. “Philosopher” has become a byword for “useless and unemployable” (except we’re not), for “abstract and impractical”.

Of course, most disciplines suffer from misconceptions about what they do. Tell someone you’re a scientist and they’ll picture you in a white coat and goggles surrounded by bubbling Erlenmeyer Flasks; tell them you’re an anthropologist and they’ll probably imagine you hacking through jungle with a machete on your way to study some remote tribe.

Tell them you’re a philosopher? They’ll laugh. Or, worse, start quoting Deepak Chopra at you.

Philosophy has a particular vulnerability here because it’s not directly linked to any obvious economic output, it’s hard, and if you aren’t curious about ideas you’ll struggle to see the point of it. If you don’t view knowledge as having intrinsic rather than merely economic value, philosophy will be your go-to example of academic wankery.

And if you have a visceral dislike or suspicion of intellectuals – or want to curry favour with people who do – what could be more satisfying than calling out people who use words like “supererogatory” and “noetic” as useless blowhards?

But it’s not just philosophers who should be worried here. Ordinary taxpayers should be too.

All four of the projects Briggs cited have already run the gamut of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) expert assessors and secured funding in a very difficult, competitive environment. In other words, people who know what they’re talking about looked at them and decided that they were world-class research.

But apparently Jamie Briggs – who seems to have no qualifications relevant to any of the research topics he attacked – knows better than the ARC’s College of Experts. And note that he wasn’t talking about cutting the overall research budget, just redistributing it so that humanities projects he and his colleagues can’t see the point of miss out. In other words, he’s saying that certain kinds of knowledge just aren’t worth producing, or at least not worth paying for.

We’ve been here before, back when Brendan Nelson was education minister and declared he had to look truck drivers and gasfitters in the eye and tell them he was allocating the ARC’s money properly.

The assumption here is that somehow ministers and truck drivers know better than the ARC’s own College of Experts what counts as a meritorious project. If it leaves you scratching your head then clearly it must be vacuous nonsense, right?

I’m hardly an impartial observer here. I had nothing to do with either of the projects Briggs attacked, but both of them focus on topics I also work on: selfhood and identity, and post-Kantian European philosophy of religion. In fact I’m currently writing a book that combines both these topics, so apparently I’m wasting both my time and your money to an absolutely stunning degree.

Except, no, I’m not. And neither were Paul Redding and Diego Bubbio, whose projects Briggs sneers at. Their work touches on questions that human beings cannot avoid asking: the nature of what we are, what exists, and of our place in the universe. They feed into active and productive literatures, and open up new avenues for exploration.

Projects like this matter. They matter because they advance fundamental avenues of inquiry that have been part of the human inheritance since, at least, the Axial Period. They enhance the scope, size and profile of Australian research and thereby help to attract talent. And having spent several years overseas on a series of postdoc grants, I know how crucial they can be as a mechanism for training researchers and for attracting and retaining people who can enhance Australia’s research profile and culture.

Perhaps most of all, funding a certain amount of basic, even speculative research shows that we are a society serious about knowledge itself, not simply about meeting our material needs. That is what the humanities do: they remind us we are human.

So yes, politicians need to stop attacking fundamental parts of human inquiry they don’t understand and don’t care about. But part of the responsibility here also falls to philosophers ourselves. We need to be much better at explaining what we do and why it matters. Scientists are at least talking about scientific literacy; “philosophical literacy” is hardly even discussed, except as a joke.

Over the last year I’ve done a bit of media work, here and elsewhere, and one thing it’s brought home to me is how philosophically naïve much of our public discourse has become. For instance, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have assured me that morality is obviously all just a matter of personal opinion – as if the last two and a half thousand years of moral philosophy never happened. We expect people to have views on right and wrong without equipping them with even the most basic tools to ask the relevant questions or assess the answers they’re offered.

As philosophers, we need to keep explaining why that’s a problem, why philosophy matters. We need to keep making the case, loudly and often, that our discipline is not simply a fun pastime for people who like to argue or quote Levinas in smoke-filled coffee houses. Rather, philosophy is the condition for all our knowing, all our enquiry. It is the only way we can answer those basic human questions we cannot help but ask: what is there, what do we know, how are we to live?

In making that case, we could do a lot worse than cite this quote from Bertrand Russell (which the Australasian Association of Philosophy recently posted on their Facebook page):

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected.

A nation that mocks philosophy is a nation content to remain “imprisoned in its prejudices”. Where is the minister who will look us in the eye and tell us that?

Join the conversation

178 Comments sorted by

  1. Thomas Fields

    "progressive" watcher

    Unfortunately, the postmodern deconstructionists destroyed any use philosophy may have had. Some traditional philosophy is great : Plato, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, but the Derrida and Marxist/feminist deconstructionist stuff ruined the topic. Deconstruction is predicated on destroying and ignoring all knowledge before the 1960s.

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    1. Michael Burns

      Editor

      In reply to Thomas Fields

      Generally agreed, Thomas, and a great deal of economic claptrap from Chicago, including the Washington Agreement and Iraq, arose under the aegis of Postmodernity thus avoiding proper scrutiny. Postmodernity's uses were limited and should have been kept in an academic vault and brought out for occasional use, e.g. much of E.P.Thompson's work. The irony is that Foucault was apparently amused that Anglo-American academe was still going with the idea, long after its progenitors left it behind. However, I think we owe it to present and future generations to try and retrieve or hang on to what was good, notwithstanding that the continuum has been fractured. As I write, the ANU is trying to get rid of tutorials in the Humanities, and replace them with workshops...I suppose the short-sighted have the running of the place. Chinese universities, anyone?

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    2. Antony Eagle

      Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Thomas Fields

      This underscores the significance of philosophy's PR problem. It's in fact quite rare to find anyone seriously studying 'postmodern deconstructionism' in a philosophy department anywhere in the English speaking world. The issues that most people in philosophy departments proper work on – as opposed to people doing 'theory' elsewhere in the humanities – are still recognisably the same issues about the fundamental nature of things and how we know that nature that Plato and Aristotle took to be their…

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    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Thomas Fields

      "Unfortunately, the postmodern deconstructionists destroyed any use philosophy may have had."
      Perhaps, but it gave all the academic Marxist-Leninists somewhere to hide out, once the whole Communism debacle made them look idiotic.

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Catherine Ayres

      "Postmodern deconstruction is predicated on questioning and revealing the power relations in how knowledge is produced - surely you would agree this is a valuable exercise?"
      Catherine, you're not still skulling that Kool Aid are you? All those French poseurs took you for a ride along the yellow brick road, that went nowhere near REAL power, whose exercise has become less and less challenged, as the university and school social studies types read more and more of Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Spivak, Said, and Butler.
      You know where these ponces how taken exposing power to? Mylie Cyrus twerking.

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    5. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Antony Eagle

      The real problem is that the vast majority of BA graduates learn all their Philosophy, without ever taking a class in the Philosophy department, let alone taught by an actual philosopher. Instead, they learn their all their Philosophy in the Media/Gender Studies, Education/Nursing departments; even Ethics!

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    6. Thomas Fields

      "progressive" watcher

      In reply to Catherine Ayres

      Reducing knowledge to power structures tells us nothing of knowledge itself. This is one reason why postmodern deconstructionism is useless. Moreover, the postmodernists only examine power because they feel "oppressed" and "offended". They have a political program whose intentions are to overthrow "power structures" in order to establish their utopian idealism of universal equality. This is not philosophy; this is politics.

      Deconstructionists have no respect for knowledge of the past. Instead of attempting to understand a philosophy, and the ideas contained within it, they will "deconstruct" it to find some kind of sexual perversion, psychological issue, "masculinity crisis" or other irrelevant phenomena at the heart of the philosopher's intent.

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    7. Thomas Fields

      "progressive" watcher

      In reply to Antony Eagle

      Well, if that is true then that is good. However, my experience differs. My academic colleagues love their deconstructionism and all the trendy equality stuff that goes with it.

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    8. Matthew Johnson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Catherine Ayres

      "Deconstruction is predicated on questioning and revealing the power reations in how knowledge is produced"" that is what they claim, of course. But I do not believe them. Neither do millions of others. Really, deconstruction is a bastardized form of the dialectic, with special appeal to Marxists and Nihilists. The rest of us find it appalling.

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  2. Alasdair McAndrew

    Discipline Leader, Mathematics & Physics, College of Engineering and Science at Victoria University

    Couldn't agree more. In fact, in an age when we're being bombarded by false nostrums on all sides, from dubious medical practices to get rich quick schemes and scams of all sorts, an ability to deconstruct an argument has become a vital life skill - and where better is this taught but in philosophy? And Jamie Briggs is wrong to look at a couple of ARC funded projects and deem them irrelevent - projects at this level can often seem irrelevent simply because of their degree of focus. Historically, knowledge has been sought for its own sake, and when a need for it has arisen, the expertise is already there. I would fight for philosophy, for the arts, simple because they enhance and enlarge our world, in a way that, for example, pseudo-medicine (already taught in universities) doesn't.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Alasdair McAndrew

      I think THE crucial argument for a massive defence of Philosophy is that it is the corporate memory of western civilization, thought, and science. If we start knocking Philosophers out, things will get dark very quickly. You don't think the Cultural Studies folks have been backing up the files, do you? ;)

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    2. Michael Croft

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to David Thompson

      I guess someone had to corporatise philosophy and civilisation at some point and render them a subset of economic and binary thinking... ;)

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  3. Greg Canning

    General Practitioner

    You seem conflate the inherent worth of the research with the supposed correctness of an elitist panels views of how public taxation funds should be allocated. These things are no more likely to be right logical or proper than the governments spending on whatever their latest hair brained scheme might be ( taxing the air as a remedy to the science is settled AGW for example). Besides government is not the only source of funding for research but certainly the easiest. Perhaps the the funds for Art and Climate Change could come from the Global Warming Cartel or for the theological research from the Vatican coffers , or Oil money for the reproductive technologies in Egypt!

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    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Greg Canning

      It is true that there is no necessary relation between the judgement of experts and 'inherent worth' or truth. But if we are not to rely on experts' judgements, how better might one judge 'inherent worth'? Shall we have a politicians' commission of audit deciding the accuracy of a diagnosis or the efficacy of a treatment?

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I really think this over-reliance on labeling every Tom, Dick, and Harry, an "expert" is very unhelpful. When I hear the word "expert", I see an antiquarian, or a car mechanic. What on earth would a "Philosophy expert" look like? Ironically, if we want to know, we need only turn to the first ever Philosopher, who had quite strong thoughts on the matter.

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Greg Canning

      So, Greg, I presume you have no elitist desire to prevent any quack who wants to hanging up his shingle and proclaiming himself a general practitioner?

      Or do you only apply your spleen to other people's professions or fields of knowledge?

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  4. Mat Hardy

    Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

    Given the enormous public thirst for philosophy demonstrated by the discussion Pat's articles always generate, it would seem a folly to dismiss philosophy as irrelevant and without merit. I must admit that in the past I fell for many of the cliches Pat describes about his discipline: that philosophy was just a backwater for depressive weirdos and people that wanted to drop obscure cant. But reading his work here has changed my mind. There is a certain irony in M. Briggs et al. dismissing philosophy without a thought.

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  5. Janeen Harris

    chef

    I would like to see philosophy taught in primary school. Tolerance of difference and diversity, and the inbred dignity of being human should be introduced to children as early as possible. I'm not surprised the liberals don't see the value in philosophy as they hold too much prejudice against sectors of humanity to believe in the dignity of simply being human.

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    1. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      First thing you should teach kids is;

      "Do not make claims to knowledge you either do not or could not possibly know"

      And

      "Beliefs should be apportioned to the Evidence"

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  6. Mat Hardy

    Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

    My suggestion to philosopher grant seekers is to put the name of a molecule in their research title. That way people like M. Briggs will quickly skim over them and deem them worthy. Replace "The fluid nature of self" with "The singularity of dihydrogen monoxide".

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Gotta watch that dihydrogen monoxide, Mat. It's like we're surrounded ('girt', if you will) by the stuff. I bet my bloodstream is full of it.

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    2. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Won't work, the Coalition has also complained about fundamental research to understand the origin of the Moon. Need to add Alzheimer's or Cancer in there somewhere.

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    3. Glenn McLaren

      Philosopher/Lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Nice work Patrick. I think you have expressed in the measured way us philosophers like to adopt, the rage we all felt after those announcements. Here is a quote from Michael Hobart and Zachary Schiffman's book, Information Ages, which I use for my Philosophy, Media, Culture class.

      "Wisdom, then, sits atop taxonomical science, giving closure to the process of abstraction. Indeed, it embodies the ultimate abstraction, so far removed from the things of the world that the pursuit of it, philosophy…

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    4. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Glenn McLaren

      Thanks Glenn. Yeah the article is much more measured and printable than what I was yelling at the car radio yesterday when I heard Jamie Briggs talking about this on the news...

      (Hope all's ok at Swinburne. I worked in the international office there while I was studying - lots of fond memories. Very disturbed by the recent campus closures.)

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    1. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to John Crest

      You did notice that this is a joint project, with the ARC providing only part of the money, and the rest coming from industry partners. Grocon is not exactly known as a tree-hugging organisation, perhaps the researchers used special hypnosis powers to persuade them to come on board? Or maybe, just maybe, it is a good and useful project.

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    2. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to Ian Musgrave

      Or maybe Grocon are using it as a warm and fuzzy marketing ploy as they have funds left in their "Corporate Responsibility" budget?

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  7. Vicki High

    company director

    this debate reminds me of the old joke:

    "What's the difference between ignorance and apathy?"

    "I don't know and I don't care."

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  8. Jim KABLE

    teacher

    This attack on philosophy is typical of the side of politics which detests thinkers and doesn't like Education/educators - unless it went to Oxford and parried a few rounds with leather covering the fists. Unimpressed I. I noticed Joe HOCKEY could throw the sums of billions around in a flash - not pausing for breath at all - but suddenly made $110,000 sound like the current total world debt. I wondered about the focus on such tiny amounts - then understand - the standard anti-study/anti-education grant stance - exactly as described above!

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Jim KABLE

      "This attack on philosophy is typical of the side of politics which detests thinkers" is coming from their Rhode Scholar leader who has an Oxford MA in (Philosophy and Politics). ;)

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to David Semmens

      David, Abbott might a lot of big poo-poo head things, but he is without question of one of the top handful of intellectuals in the House and Senate combined.

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    3. David Semmens

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Thompson

      One of the top few ideologues definitely, but he is no intellectual. This policy alone is evidence of anti-intellectualism.

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    4. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to David Semmens

      Tony Abbott's intellectual hero is B.A. Santamaria who in his younger days was an admirer of Mussolini.

      In an obiturary, Abbott called [Santamaria] “a philosophical star by which you could always steer” and “the greatest living Australian”.

      "Santamaria was a political activist from an early age, becoming a leading Catholic student activist and speaking in support of Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War. He also was a strong supporter and wrote about Mussolini's regime in Italy, but denied that he had ever been a supporter of fascism"
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._A._Santamaria#Early_and_family_life

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  9. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    At least our current society does not (yet) force philosophers who ask inconvenient questions to drink hemlock or throw those who espouse inconvenient philosophies bolstered by sound arguments into prison (Socrates, Russell, Bonhoffer). However, even educated people can be ignorant about the value of philosophy: all it takes is for them to close their minds. And the chipping about and out of hand dismissal of post-modernism, or whatever bit of contemporary thought they don't like, is simply a failure to engage with the thought and critique it as it demands - and before anyone carps on about the loss of "truth" from philosophy: 1 it isn't and 2 it was Alfred North Whitehead (an analytic philosopher, b1861-d1947) who probably undermined the popular misconception of "truth" best with "There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil. "

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  10. Maureen Chuck

    logged in via Facebook

    I have no doubt that if the Coalition wins the election then the Australian Research Council will be referred to as faceless bureaucrats. It will be a sad day when a politician with a degree in Business Management gets to decide what research is worthy of funding.

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  11. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    Brilliant article, thanks for posting.

    My favourite quote from Russel is "Most people would rather die than think, and most people do"

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Thanks Michael. Awesome quote.

      I only learned recently that one of Russell's sons gave the only speech to the UK parliament ever to have been expunged from Hansard: he was schizophrenic, and he gave a speech in the Lords where he was clearly not making any sense and they quietly deleted it (or just didn't take it down).

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    2. Jane Rawson

      Editor, Energy & Environment at The Conversation

      In reply to Michael Shand

      that is such a great quote.

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  12. Chris Thaler

    Intelligent person

    Just shows we can't trust politicians with running this country. What is the next best alternative though. I've spent the last sixty six years trying to come up with a better system and like the rest of us I don't have an answer. Doesn't stop me from trying.
    Unfortunately a lot of us in this country who, like me, left school at fifteen years of age (1962) and were not able to obtain further tertiary qualifications do tend to philosophise internally but are often not prepared to share our views publicly for fear of ridicule by our peers.
    We do need capable people to undertake this task for us and be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of society along with the plaudits.
    Such is the lot of a true philosopher.

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Chris Thaler

      Chris, it is neither axiomatic nor inevitable that politicians are ignorant bigots - it might, I'd grant you, be statistically more likely, but there is a difference!

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  13. John Barker
    John Barker is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University

    They're using the old trick of late policy announcements that can't be properly scrutinised, but can be claimed as"part of the policies that you voted for." They can then claim a mandate for the policy.

    Reminder a Sarah Palin's derisive comments about fruit -fly research. Except in her case it was early enough in the campaign for a considered response.

    The so- called "audit commission" will be more like the Counter-reformation's Council of Trent. Worth reading- but that's useless history isn't it?

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  14. Henk van Leeuwen

    author, philosopher, greenie

    A most timely article, thanks Patrick. The tedious public/political 'debate' over recent years, leading to a mindless crescendo as the election creeps up on us, surely demonstrates a desperate need for clearer thinking. Philosophy offers the means to break into the endless noise of vague opinion; to stop, stand back and think. Perhaps then our decision-making might be based on firmer ground than one constructed out of a short-sighted utilitarian mindset. To meet the challenges that a finite earth now imposes on us, and to paraphrase another thinker, I suggest that 'Only philosophy can save us'.

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  15. David Oakenfull

    food scientist

    Great article. Many thanks, Patrick.

    But it's not a new problem - there's this quotation, usually attributed to George III: "Another damned fat book, Mr. Gibbon? Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh Mr.Gibbon?"

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  16. Mark Amey

    logged in via Facebook

    Quite frankly, I've spent my life shying away from abstract things like philosophy, instead steering towards more concrete 'science'. That was until I started reading, and recommending to others, Patrick Stokes' articles on T.C. Now I'm evidently wasting my time by enrolling in a philosophy course on Coursera!

    Thanks Patrick.

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Mark Amey

      This is how it starts: TC articles on philosophy are a gateway drug. It all seems like a bit of fun but then it escalates, and before you know it you'll be reading huge slabs of Husserl just to stay level...

      Seriously that is an enormous compliment Mark, thank you so much. I hope the Coursera course goes well! (Is that the one with Duncan Pritchard from Edinburgh amongst others?)

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    2. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Thanks, Patrick, it's a short course on 'how to reason and argue', by Sinnot-Armstrong, at Duke University, I think the longer, and more formal courses will follow. The next Edinburgh course starts mid-October.

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  17. john tons

    retired redundant

    Nothing new here. In 1968 as a teaching scholar the state funded my BA in return I was to teach for three years. I had to fight hard to be allowed to do philosophy. Every year I was taken aside and told that I really should choose something more useful. I enjoyed History, I enjoyed English but the one course that has served me well throughout my life has been philosophy.
    It has been particularly useful when working as a ministerial adviser. It has equipped me to explain why not all opinions…

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  18. Citizen SG

    Citizen

    I absolutely see the value in philosophy and, in particular, logic and applied ethics.

    I am sympathetic to the author, but I think that the author conflates philosophy as a body of knowledge with philosophy as an modern academic endeavour. So whilst philosophy as a body of knowledge continues to be vital in rational thought, how is the modern humanities PhD factory tangibly improving modern life? That's not a question the author needs to answer to me, it is a question that needs to be answered to society - after all why should money go to the humanities department over the health sciences or the engineering department; or indeed to foreign aid?

    I fail to see that Jamie Briggs is unqualified. Well maybe unqualified to judge the quality of educational content; but, come monday, he will be the elected member and will certainly be responsible for the application of policy... and money.

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  19. Christopher Seymour

    Business owner

    There is actually a very important philosophical point to be made here and that is: who decides where tax payer money is spent? Clearly it should be our elected representatives - even if they have " no qualifications relevant to any of the research topics he attacked" . As a director of a technology company, I have fewer technical qualifications than many of our employees - that doesn't mean I don't have a duty to oversee the direction our technical development is taking.
    The ARC has a mission statement "to deliver policy and programs that advance Australian research and innovation globally and benefit the community." They should be prepared to justify to the community and its elected representatives how their grants are benefiting the community.

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Christopher Seymour

      That is an important point Christopher (and Citizen SG makes a similar one), and I agree, as I said in the article, that philosophers need to do a better job of explaining what we do and why it matters. We also need to keep articulating the non-monetary value of pure knowledge creation - no easy task, but an essential one.

      But - and here's one of the distinctive things about philosophy - as soon as you start trying to articulate what counts as 'benefiting the community' you very quickly wind up in a philosophical discussion of value. Everything ultimately comes back to the sorts of questions philosophy addresses.

      (Cute illustration of something like last point, though not of any great probative value: go to any Wikipedia page and click the first non-italicised link that appears in the body of the article. Repeat and eventually you'll end up at the page for 'Philosophy'. Might take five clicks, might take fifty, but it'll inevitably take you there).

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Christopher Seymour

      Yeah, Christopher, but I bet you listen to your technically qualified staff in their area/s of expertise...

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  20. Sean Manning

    Physicist

    I'm pretty sure the Libs just want to stop people from thinking and asking questions. It would make their job much easier.

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    1. Christopher Seymour

      Business owner

      In reply to Sean Manning

      Actually you have this wrong - George Brandis is on a bit of a mission to restore free speech. I certainly hope that includes reversing the disgraceful banning of the Sex Party ads.

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    2. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Sean Manning

      really? This is actually part of a long term strategy on the part of conservative politicians to remove philosophical content from secondary and tertiary curricula? Do you want to rethink that?

      To achieve the aim thta you suggest one would have to remove reference to the body of philosophical thought as it is now from existing curricula (as most philosophy is taught in other disciplines).

      Is there any move to remove philosophy from any curricula? I have seen no evidence of this. All I have seen evidence of is the (potential) reduction of grants to research in philosophy. So it is an attempt to prevent new philosophical knowledge not remove all philosophical knowledge. The argument needs to be: is this a bad thing;and, if so, how bad?

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    3. Chris O'Regan

      guy who had to create a login account to comment

      In reply to Citizen SG

      Reading your comments, SG, I want to ask you, when was the exact time and date when we finally got all the philosophy we will ever need and we don't need to pay for any more? And if you can't tell us that time and date, who can?

      Plato is great for a read but he didn't have much to say on new-fangled devices like steam trains or the electric telegraph. Nietzsche didn't write about the atomic bomb. You're treating philosophical enquiry as if it has an "end" or "goal" or some definitive point where…

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    4. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Chris O'Regan

      Patrick's point was that the coalition was going to end philosophy in australia, namely:
      "..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'

      Will these new grants substantially change 'the rules of logic, what constitutes a good argument or what makes an action right or wrong' or will they just add to the accretion of knowledge in this vast discipline with no substantiated influence on daily applied ethics or logic by other disciplines?

      My point being that it is philosophies job to argue why it should exist, not society's job to blindly support philosophical enquiry.

      Did Thomas Aquinas need a grant to think?

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    5. Chris O'Regan

      guy who had to create a login account to comment

      In reply to Citizen SG

      Thomas Aquinas never had anyone confronting him and demanding that he justify his usefulness. He got *paid* to think, without anyone scolding him and asking him to produce something "useful to society" and threatening to withhold money from him until he did. He never had to "argue why he should exist" as a philosopher.

      A lot of the philosophy we have is from men who were rich enough, based on their inheritance, to never have to worry about earning a crust. Is that the only philosophical insight…

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Citizen SG

      Citizen, I gotta say, I am extremely skeptical about the whole idea of proper "Humanities" academics needing gazillions of dollars for "research". The Humanities academic's job is to bring his/her students into a familiar relationship with the the best that humanity has ever thought, said, written down, painted, sculpted, or performed. The real innovation and genius are the academics subjects - whether they be Kant, Goethe, Milton, Picasso.
      The Humanities academic is a completely different beast to the academic scientist, whose job is to conduct experiments to expand our knowledge and understanding the physical world. So, it's understandable the experimental scientist's work is expensive. Helping your 20 year old students understand what Descarte's "head in a vat" was all about mustn't cost much more than the light-bulbs used in the lecture room.

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    7. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Chris O'Regan

      "Plato is great for a read but he didn't have much to say on new-fangled devices like steam trains or the electric telegraph."
      Actually, I know it's a cliche, but the history of western literature, politics, aesthetics and science, for the past 2,500 years has all been footnotes to Plato (I actually think Aristotle was more influential, but whatever). And even though we finally cut ourselves from from Aristotle with Newton, when it comes to politics, we have advanced not a jot on Plato. Reading Plato/Aristotle's social/political/jursist/aesthetic philosophy is still so familiar to anybody who picks them up in 2013, even if their physics, astronomy, and metaphysics are not.

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    8. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to David Thompson

      Humanities gets very little research grant funding. Humanities and creative arts were only 3.5% of the total Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council grants for research projects in 2013.

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    9. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Oh Gavin, sorry, I wasn't haven't a go, as I have no idea what the situation is. And if your 3.5% figure is right, then I'd say WOW, that's even lower than I would have thought. But I do hear an awful lot of Arts academics talking about "their research" and "THE literature", and I often wonder what could you possibly talking about, when they clearly think it is the same activity as the experimental biochemist, and so on.

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    10. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to David Thompson

      The biggest investment in research is in the time of academics and research higher degree students and this is mostly what humanities acas mean when they refer to their research. This concerns many vice chancellors, not because they are worried about synthetic a priori propositions or whatever, but because they suspect that much time spent on research is unproductive.

      This is being addressed differently by universities with different levels of funding and research intensity. In the lower funded and less research intensive universities teaching loads have increased so much over the last decade that I doubt if many acas have much time to do research during semester unless they get external research grants.

      Even so, there is still scope to increase the efficiency of allocating research investments, if that is what is sought, most obviously in about 6 weeks from the end of assessment boards in mid December to preparing for classes in mid February.

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    11. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Thanks Gavin, and that's another point I didn't get to make in the article: humanities research is cheap. I'm quite confident that on a crude metric of research output to cost we'd a bargain compared with the sciences. I don't need a synchrotron or an endless supply of white mice, I just need access to a library and journal subscriptions, the occasional conference support, a PC, a chair and a working heater. That humanities research is being targeted specifically for savings shows just how utterly ideological this move is.

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    12. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Chris O'Regan

      Hi Chris,
      You completely miss my point if you think that I am against the funding of research in whatever discipline.
      My point is that in any era constraints are made on how much support is given to industry of the human mind. The point of htis argument is not that the incoming conservative government is against knowledge (which seems to be the point made by the author) but that the incoming government is placing a value on new knowledge.
      In any era constraints are made on the acquisition…

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    13. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      But you need time, which for most translates into a manageable teaching load. This in turn depends on funding level per student and academics' pay rates. Even if funding per student remains stable teaching loads will likely increase and thus time for research decrease if academics' pay increases as strongly as it has done over the last 15 years.

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    14. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      "That humanities research is being targeted specifically for savings shows just how utterly ideological this move is."
      Wow! When was THIS announced?

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    15. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Sean Manning

      "I'm pretty sure the Libs just want to stop people from thinking and asking questions. It would make their job much easier."
      Sean, well given it was Gillard/Roxon Labor who wanted to criminalize a lot of thinking ans asking, then the Libs won't have much left to stop...But just an exercise, let's compare the educations and reading habits of the Abbott versus Ruddard front benches. I haven't done this myself. Bur after many years involved with the ALP, intellectuals they ain't.

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    16. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to David Thompson

      Never said they were. Don't worry, I've got just as much contempt for the ALP as I do the LNP.

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  21. Tiffany Meek

    Graphic designer, psychology student

    I'm not sure how it feels for those of you who are within an academic environment, or even an intellectual environment, but in the world I live in where I'm surrounded by working class citizens it seems catastrophic to me that there is no importance placed on the 'getting of wisdom'. The word 'wisdom' is simply never heard in use. To my mind, the practice of contemplative and/or philosophical thought is fundamental to the development of a well balanced human being, and much of the suffering of the world today is a direct result of this lack of expansive thought. If the Liberal party does not see the importance of philosophy to our culture it would say to me that they are unsophisticated and out of touch with those things that matter even more than the economy. Of course, in a culture that worships the Money God most would probably wonder what on earth could be more important than the economy. And that, in a nutshell, is exactly the problem.

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  22. Hugh Breakey

    Moral Philosopher, Griffith University at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance

    Thanks Patrick; terrific article as always—though I suppose I am not an impartial judge of the topic.

    I think it is worth emphasizing (as Christopher Seymour stresses above) that we do live in a democracy. When one is working inside philosophy it can seem self-evident that the enquiry is justifiable, if not vital. It can feel as if it is an affront that we should have to justify ourselves at all. But it is only proper that we should be able to explain to the wider community, truckers, gasfitters and all, the reasons why their tax dollars should be spent on our research, rather than on something else. That doesn’t mean we must give an economic or narrowly utilitarian rationale, but it does require a genuine attempt to give plausible and accessible reasons for the importance of what we do.

    And that hardly seems impossible (as your article demonstrates). After all, presenting plausible and persuasive arguments is the very business of philosophy!

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  23. Les Wilesmith

    horseman

    What is new about this? A politician taking a swipe at a marginalized group that generally the public do not understand the existence of, or what they do.
    I find it very interesting that the coalition raves about waste in government spending, or our other pollies, when we have a system of governance that is duplicating itself all over the place. And, in fact, the third tier of government (local) has been found to be economically unsustainable. No one is saying we need to change this!!

    I must say, that I am not surprised that philosophy would be a target of any political party. The last thing any democratic government would want, is people being taught HOW to think, and starting to do it.

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  24. Gary Goland
    Gary Goland is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Researcher

    Thank you for the extensive and well referenced discussion on philosophy Patrick. Waste not, want not – the politics of why philosophy matters, and a measure of how much, could be put into economic terms. Should it always? If it was there more often, then I suggest politicians, even Jamie Briggs, who has refused discussion of business and social ethics in his own electorate, might relate the level of importance of making the big picture decisions. Ignoring philosophy and morality in deciding priorities, will take our society to the bottom of the barrel and impose costs that are taking us back to the beginning of time, when we only had kings deciding what we should do.

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  25. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    Thanks for the article, Patrick.

    In this era of anti-intellectualism, I see the attack on the arts and philosophy in much the same light as the anti-science thinking expressed through anti-vaccination, the radical home birth-anti-obstetrics movement and the popularity of non-science based therapies like homeopathy.

    The thinking goes something like this: ''just because you have a degree and have been brainwashed by your education it doesn't make your opinion more valid than mine.'' So, the opinion…

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    1. Sally Fryar

      Adjunct Senior Lecturer - Biology

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      I completely agree with this. I blame the internet. Many people think that they can become an instant expert via a Google search.

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    2. Tiffany Meek

      Graphic designer, psychology student

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      I believe that anybody can engage in philosophical thought. Anybody can have a love of wisdom. Some people learn the art of philosophical thought by watching the world around them. Some people learn the art through a formal education process, or by being in the company of great teachers/masters. It's not how we become wise, but that we become wise that matters.

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    3. john tons

      retired redundant

      In reply to Sally Fryar

      Ah bugger - you mean I cannot rely on wikipaedia? Cannot cure my illnesses using google?

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    4. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Tiffany Meek

      Tiffany - you have illustrated by point beautifully.

      Of course, anyone can ''philosophise'' - just like anyone can be a pop psychologist. Wisdom is another matter altogether - it is not a discipline that can be taught in a course.

      What I understand academic philosophers to research and to teach (Patrick please correct me if I'm wrong) is the methodology of critical thought and the analysis of ideas, based on the writings of previous experts as well as their own discoveries.

      Of course many people can do parts of this - just like most people can bake a cake, but are not trained chefs, and most people can diagnose a cold without being clinicians. That should not detract from having both the breadth and depth of knowledge in a discipline that allows you to both practice it and teach it.

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    5. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue, yes sometimes I get the impression a lot of folks thinks "philosophizing" is like we should do at school, on a Saturday night, get drunk, and then have D&Ms (deep and meaningfuls) with our fellow 15 year old mate.

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    6. Tiffany Meek

      Graphic designer, psychology student

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Buddha said "I am the finger that points to the moon - I am not the moon." - which illustrates my point beautifully.

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  26. Joanne Faulkner

    ARC Research Fellow at UNSW Australia

    Very well put Patrick. Thank you.

    I'm having trouble getting the image out of my head, of Brendan Nelson running ARC applications past a truck driver and gasfitter, eyes fixed upon theirs... Perhaps the next step would be tradies reps on the College of Experts.

    Your point about communicating philosophy is well taken, however, and an attention to that might go some way to breaking down the intense antagonism towards our discipline here.

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  27. Mike Brisco

    Scientist at Flinders University of South Australia

    I look forward to hearing Mr James Briggs views on art.

    No doubt in his mind, art too is funded for a certain purpose, and he will have views on what that purpose is.

    Will he perhaps hold an exhibition of art that is "decadent" and does not promote the right values? the sorts of things the government sees as useful?

    It is a good few years since we had one of those. The last one, you had to travel to Europe to see it.

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Mike Brisco

      Mr James Briggs views on art?

      I suspect he doesn't know much about it, but he knows what he likes.

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  28. Sally Fryar

    Adjunct Senior Lecturer - Biology

    I couldn't agree with you more. It breaks my heart that our country can't see the value in intellectual pursuit.

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  29. Paul Burton

    Professor of Urban Management and Planning at Griffith University

    First they came for the philosophers, then the social scientists...
    When I started in my academic career in the UK, a newly installed Keith Joseph took umbrage at some of the research supported by the then Social Science Research Council and threatened to abolish it. Michael Posner's account of the defence of the SSRC [ http://histoire-cnrs.revues.org/547 ] may offer some comfort to Professor Byrne.

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    1. alexander j watt

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Paul Burton

      I really recommend this link to the SSRC report. The parallels are all there. c.f. para 37:

      "Two particular projects caught their attention: the first discussed « Caravan Routes in contemporary North Africa », and the second focused on « Kinship and Sex Roles in a Modern Polish Village ». Their question was inevitable: « Do you believe that these projects are a good use of the taxpayers’ money entrusted to your care ? "

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  30. ERIC KELLY

    retired

    Thank you for an elegant defence of the importance of philosophy. What a different society we would have if there were widespread knowledge of the principles of the simple syllogism and an avoidance, especially by politicians and journalists, of the fallacy 'post hoc, ergo propter hoc'.

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  31. Peter Mueller

    logged in via email @gmx.de

    So here comes the scapegoat.

    As a phd student on the fringe between economics and cultural studies, I have a perspective that might add to the discussion--even though likely not a popular one.

    First, I am not in a proper university position yet, thus, I have no potential personal conflict of interest in terms of defending the humanities for the sake of my personal situation. Second, I read a lot of papers in cultural studies (e.g. Bourdieu, Janet Wolff etc.) and economics (mainly copyright…

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    1. Tiffany Meek

      Graphic designer, psychology student

      In reply to Peter Mueller

      Peter, I think you make some points that deserve a great amount of thoughtful consideration. It would be a terrible shame if the discipline of philosophy became vane and self indulgent to the point where it became irrelevant to the broader community - the very people it should be directed toward.

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    2. Les Wilesmith

      horseman

      In reply to Peter Mueller

      This is an interesting point, and leads somewhat into my comment about the comments of Joanne Faulkner and Sally Fryar above. It is not that most people do not appreciate intellectual pursuit, in itself, but often that the intellectual seems so condescending toward the ordinary man, and especially those engaged in the practical disciplines. The comments of Joanne Faulkner being my case in point.
      I think any tradesman would be justified in seeing said comment as somewhat condescending towards tradesmen, truck drivers or gas fitters.
      Maybe, having tradies reps on the college of experts, might not be such a bad thing. I put it to you, that a stone mason would truly see the art in a carving in stone, no matter how abstract the art.

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    3. Joanne Faulkner

      ARC Research Fellow at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Les Wilesmith

      I actually wasn't specifically suggesting we shouldn't, although I did not express myself very carefully, and I appreciate that it would come off as condescending (feeling a little defensive at the moment!).

      Rather, what I find irritating about Nelson's remark is that he, as a politician, was deliberately positioning academic researchers against "people with real jobs" in order to construct academics as useless (because their vocation is not as clearly defined for the public as the gasfitter…

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Peter Mueller

      Peter, I also have degrees in Humanities and Economics, and what you say is spot on, especially:
      "According to my own experience, once I read many of those publications, I started thinking and writing like them"
      What I found ever more sinister was the not so subtle pressure to write like them. For a while, I took the hints, and started writing crap like 'reifies orthogonality'; 'his naive empiricism belies his crude orientalist recolonization, by its attendant simulacra of epistemological violence…

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    5. Peter Mueller

      logged in via email @gmx.de

      In reply to David Thompson

      David, glad I am not the only one with this view. However, I am relatively pessimistic that this will change. As said, a rather closed system will not change from within. Cultural studies have their own conferences and journals and the review process is done by people, which are part of the system. Why should it change if there is no disruptive force from outside.

      But it would be an interesting research project to measure language efficiency and readability or understandability from a layman's perspective between disciplines.

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Peter Mueller

      Peter, a VERY telling statistic (and of potential strategic firepower) is the very mediocre performance of Cultural Studies students/graduates in standard tests of verbal and analytical reasoning, such as the GRE. Not to mention their low ATARs to start with.

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    7. Antony Eagle

      Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Adelaide

      In reply to David Thompson

      This underscores the difference between philosophy proper and what passes for theory in the rest of the humanities. Intending graduate students in philosophy score highest of all disciplines in the GRE in the verbal reasoning section and the analytical writing section, and score higher than all other humanities majors in the quantitative reasoning section (equal with those intending to do graduate work in the biological sciences). Averaged across all sections, philosophers on average score higher…

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  32. John Barker
    John Barker is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University

    I have been re-reading Shigeru Nakayama's 'Academic and Scientific Traditions in China, Japan and the West'(Universtity of Tokyo Press, 1984). Beautifully written, it traces the cycles of philosophical enquiry, illustrating the fundamental differences between disputatious enquiry in the West and the "stamp collecting" activities of the East. Documentary and verbal (rhetorical) styles are compared, and so on.

    Riveting reading- for some. Sobering to read how philosophy and enquiry have had their ups and downs - periods of public influence and periods when they were degenerate. It enables one to place the current activities of both philosophers and their detractors in some perspective.

    But I doubt that Nakayama's book is likely to serialised in the MSM any time soon.

    Pretty useless stuff, I guess.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to John Barker

      John, I think nobody should be permitted to graduate, unless they have taken two courses (part of their major) in epistemology, and the history of their major discipline.

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  33. James Hulse

    health professional

    It is inappropriate for a soon-to-be Govt politician to be criticising a specific ARC grant - although you could say forewarned. Shades of the Third Reich. Yes I know, there's some aphorism against saying that but somebody has to.

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  34. Steve Phillips

    Nurse Practitioner

    Many years ago I stopped to give a lft to a bloke thumbing his way across the state. He was a philosophy lecturer on mid-semester break.
    I had to ask what relevence his dicipline had for a society that valued productivity and material gain and he over the next 2 hours told me.
    I was/am sold on the value of having philosophy taught as a discipline, it is misunderstood and undervalued.
    As a final note attending a philosophy lecture given by the Prof of Education Newcastle while I was studying in Perth, had a profound effect on me and I had to reassess and adjust my future plans as result.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      Steve, that guy was obviously a REAL teacher. Even reading Plato's socratic dialogues is accessible to the high school educated tradie, or whatever. But give the same tradie a second year Cultural Studies course outline and reading list, said tradie would use the lists for toilet paper within 30 minutes. Ask the second year Cultural Studies student to explain that course outline and reading list to the tradie. Bucklies. Never mind, the Cultural Studies course might be titled "Shopping and Fucking With Foucault".

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  35. Pat Moore

    gardener

    Where was the academy's Humanities' dialectical body of theoretical response to the last four decades of the project of the economic rationalist ideology? Its living, breathing philosophy answer in the zeitgeist, its response to this rabid ideology? It's a bit late to start complaining because the wolf who wants to have his way with you is at your door tomorrow, demanding your economic rationalisation. Think tanks, contained controlled units of saleable commodity, knowledge as profitable product is what the government by corporation demands of universities. Time for two legs good, four legs bad again.

    Murdoch and the global corporatocracy will take care of business whilst missionary zealists like patriarch Abbott will Primarily Minister to cultural corrections, shepherding the strayed sheep back to the fold of social conservatism's charter.

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    1. Thomas Fields

      "progressive" watcher

      In reply to Pat Moore

      Marxists and neo-Marxists never stopped responding to economic rationalism. It's just that everyone outside the academe doesn't take them seriously.

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  36. Michel Syna Rahme

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    "Unconcerned, mocking, violent - thus wisdom wants us: she is a woman and always loves only a warrior"...... Do you think Zarathustra was right Mr Stokes Sir?

    The spirit occupying and overflowing from the body of the philosopher is strongest, fittest - undefeatable : Starve that body, take away its funding, poison it, kill it if you will, but like water it may disappear into the clouds, but rain again it will to fill and become a new river..... A river to wash away the dust and carry nutrients…

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  37. Monica

    logged in via Twitter

    What is the most common question I am asked when I tell people I am a Philosophy graduate, and I want to get my PhD?

    "But what will you dooooooo with it?"

    I am a logician.

    (And yes, the most common response I get to that is, "But you're a woman! Women can't be logical!")

    I am a logician and I have completed philosophical logic studies to the highest level currently possible in Western Australia. I have to move to Sydney to progress beyond my honours degree. 4 "world class" universities…

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Monica

      Thanks Monica. That has to be the first time I've ever heard anyone say Australian philosophy departments are biased towards continental: my experience was always the exact opposite, and that . I did both my undergrad and PhD in a department that had one continental philosopher, two or three logicians at any one time and various analytic metaphysicians and ethicists. And that seems to be very much the reputation Australian philosophy has from abroad.

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    2. Monica

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Have you seen the list of research interests for the philosophy faculty at Deakin? I rest my case...

      If you can find me a university other that University of Sydney that has a faculty member qualified to supervise in logic then I would love to hear it. The shift from analytical to continental has been a growing trend over the last decade. The last logician in WA retired from UWA at the end of 2006. I don't think they even offer advanced logic anymore. At this point in time New Zealand has more logicians than Australia.

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    3. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Monica

      Wait, we have a list? :)

      One of the things I like about being at Deakin is precisely that we're cross-traditional (I'd say 'post-traditional' but that sounds a bit pretentious even to me). You could argue that Matt and Russell are basically continental (though Matt has interests in Ancient and Early Modern too), and Leesa is primarily Eastern, but I'm sort of half-and-half (I seem to spend as much time writing on Parfit, Williams and Galen Strawson as I do Kierkegaard these days) and I'd have a hard time labeling George (who's as comfortable with Husserl as Dummett) or Stan as either continental or analytic. I'd call that a feature rather than a bug.

      No doubt you're right there aren't a huge number of people working in logic around right now, at least as far as I know, but Greg Restall at Melbourne comes readily to mind. (I'd add Graham Priest but I believe he's off OS soon if not already).

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Monica

      Monica, the problem is with the Dawkins rebranding of "university". You are more likely to find a 'Professor' of Tourism, Podiatry, Nursing, Marketing, Indigenous Mathematics, Base 2 Ethics, Gender-Bending, Hospitality, than Logic. I think a minimum standard before an institution can call itself a university, must include separate departments (including at least one permanent professorial chair) in Philosophy (no, not Media Studies ethics), Pure Maths, Ancient Greek, Theoretical Physics, Economics (NOT Business/Management), Linguistics, Theology, Archaeology, Biochemistry, Modern/Medieval/Ancient History, and many more.
      Australia is currently stuffed with universities, which do not even have a History department!

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    5. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Monica

      Yes, Monica, I was going to ask, is it really worth studying Philosophy anywhere in Australia except USyd and ANU?

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick, my parents have many stories about the drama when the U.Syd Philosophy department split in two. One called Traditional and Modern; the other "General", which basically meant neomarxism and 20th century French males,mainly either disillusioned existential-marxists, or wife-killing schizophrenics, or secret Communists, whose writing in tongues was a lifeboat; all the Communist academics took, so they could continue their Communist/leftish sermons, but using language the "conservatives/fascists/liberals/empiricists/homophobes/ Tories" would not understand for the next 30 years. Fortunately, it seems those says are over, and students free to study Formal Logic, Philosophy of Mathematics, Early Modern Theories of Perception, Aesthetics, Ethics, Logic and Computation, Deleuze, Hannah Arendt, and so on.

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    7. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Ah, very quick, Gavin serves myself right for being a smartass! I know Caltech/MIT don't have ancient Greek (but they can take Harvard's classes. Just as Harvard's Classicists have to schlep over the MIT, if they want to take Accounting). But where does Princeton "fail"? )

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    8. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to David Thompson

      One could give several other examples of distinguished universities which do not have strong departments in a comprehensive range of traditional disciplines. But for Princeton it depends on whether one of these counts as a chair of theology, recalling that in the US 'professor' is a roughly similar to tenured senior lecturer in Australia:

      Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies
      William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies
      Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion
      D. T. Suzuki Professor in Buddhist Studies
      Robert H. Niehaus '77 Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Religion.

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    9. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I'd be pretty stunned if Princeton did not have some Theology (or similarly named, such as Religious Studies or Divinty)

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    10. Antony Eagle

      Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Adelaide

      In reply to David Thompson

      It has the Princeton Theological Seminary right next door, which is a distinct institution, but no, Princeton doesn't have a department of theology. Nor does it have a department of Linguistics, which seems a more problematic omission.

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    11. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Antony Eagle

      I suggest the problem is not Princeton's or any other university's departments but the idea that a university isn't proper unless it has a specified range of traditional disciplines traditionally headed by a full professor. The range of disciplines considered essential in these exercises is contingent historically, geographically and culturally.

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    12. Antony Eagle

      Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Monica

      Monica, you should look at the Philosophical Gourmet Report specialty rankings in philosophical logic: http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown5.asp

      You'll find Monash, Melbourne, and ANU highly ranked. All have reasonable placement records too. Nick Smith at Sydney is certainly a very good logician too. I'm surprised you've have such difficulty finding a place to do a PhD in logic in Australia. WA doesn't seem representative.

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    13. Monica

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Antony Eagle

      Hi Antony,
      Thanks for that link. It does seem like there have been some changes since I did my initial research into available programs.

      However, what I have found when looking deeper into the research interests of available supervisors is that many of them favour logic of language over pure logic (ie logic of counterfactuals). I know that's splitting hairs and perhaps being unnecessarily picky but USyd remains the only department that I know has a strong background in modal philosophy, and the Centre for Time Research offers a very unique opportunity to explore temporal-modal logic (Diodorus and determinism anyone? :P )

      I've a couple of years before I can move so perhaps there will be other options then.

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  38. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

    Boss

    Said Minister for Waste made an announcement that I listened to carefully on the TV yesterday. He did not say, nor infer, some the concepts being attributed to him above. (He might have said other things at other times, though, ones that I missed).
    Here is the situation. All research funding seems to be coming up for scrutiny, in an overall plan where there is a recognition of a need to curtail waste. If your research is valuable, you are safer than if it is not. The question is, who makes the judgement…

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      "If your research is valuable, you are safer than if it is not. The question is, who makes the judgement?" - The thing is though Geoffrey, you seem to be discussing research quality here, whereas the spokesman for waste (I assume there will not be a 'ministry of waste' after the election...) wasn't commenting on quality, but on intrinsic value. He wasn't saying this is badly done research, he was saying these are, in effect, worthless areas of study, and was putting this forward as if that was simply obviously true. So it's not about dealing with "underperformers in your specialties" - it's about a government that sees no merit in those specialties themselves.

      I believe Joe Hockey also commented on this yesterday, but I couldn't get hold of a copy of his remarks before the article deadline.

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    2. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      ''Rather than cry foul and have a whinge, could I suggest that you get busy making a case why your work is important. '' says Geoffrey.

      Isn't that exactly what this article is about?

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    3. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      From the horse's mouth:

      ABC PM transcript:
      ''JOE HOCKEY: Even from Opposition we've been able to identify projects, like $160,000 on the examination of sexuality and Islamic interpretations of reproductive health technologies in Egypt. I don't see that as a good spend of Australian taxpayer money.''

      The Australian:
      "The "ridiculous" grants statement came from the Coalition's chairman of the scrutiny of government waste committee, Jamie Briggs.

      "The Coalition would look to targeting those…

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    4. Neil McKinnon

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Which is why some of the responses coming out, which observe that ARC grants are peer reviewed, etc. etc. kind of miss the point.

      Suppose the Coalition were to run a consistent policy here. What would it look like?

      If these subject matters are too trivial to merit public funding via the ARC, are they also too trival to merit any funding at all? Should the portion of an academic's salary that goes towards research also be conditional upon the research being into "non-trivial" matters?

      And then, surely if some subjects are too trivial to fund research into, then why are we funding teaching of them, because that's expensive too... etc. etc...

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    5. Peter Horan

      Retired

      In reply to Neil McKinnon

      What is the case for declaring a subject trivial (or, otherwise, worthy)?

      To make such judgements about the value of a research topic is going around the brief that governments have given the ARC. While they have no right to interfere, they do have a right to alter the brief, provided alteration is justified.

      On our side, it is our task to require the policy maker to properly justify the his actions. We should not be silent, but rather we should help him create sound, effective and consistent policy.

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    6. Thomas Fields

      "progressive" watcher

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      There's good reason these where singled out: They are essentially useless.

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    7. Neil McKinnon

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Peter Horan

      I'm not really a fan myself, but probably Hockey and Briggs think no justification at all is required in some of these cases, since they have described some of the grant funding as "ridiculous".

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  39. Janet Georgouras

    logged in via Facebook

    Both art and philosophy are put into the same category by such "concrete" thinkers as Briggs, yet both these disciplines are fundamental to human thinking.

    It is most needed in such obvious ways as the moral debate on Syria, or action on climate change. Philosophy and critical thinking are needed to decipher and deconstruct the rhetoric put out by all sides, particularly when arguments are maintained through a national or corporate self-interest. The consequences of capable thinkers allowing political leaders to unleash their incredibly destructive powers through not analyzing their claims is to allow injustice and suffering to perpetuate.

    We need thinkers and actors, but most of all we need actors who think and then act. Human survival depends upon it.

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  40. MItchell Lennard

    Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

    Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for the article.

    I have spent the last 20 years mentoring graduate engineers and in almost every case I have attempted to get them to go back to university and study philosophy, especially the ones who want to waste oxygen doing MBAs. The reason is simple, you can have all the 'knowledge' in the world but if you cannot think, reason and justify in a structured manner than your a useless engineer. Even if you never fully understand what many philosophers are actually on about…

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  41. Peter Horan

    Retired

    Politicians have every right to make policy. However, they have no right to justify policy on false grounds. Judging grants based on appearance and not worth is bad policy. It is why we have the ARC.

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  42. Felix MacNeill

    Environmental Manager

    Thanks Patrick - another great article - I think your final paragraph pretty much sums up contemporary mainstream politics: 'imprisoned in its prejudices'.

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  43. Thom Brooks

    Reader in Law at Durham Law School at Durham University

    The Coalition targets a project on Hegel's philosophy as an example of waste. Of course, Hegel defends a theory of rights based upon the mutual recognition of persons as free and equal. Hegel defends education for all through school and work. Hegel also defends a state responsive to the convictions of its citizens. Perhaps the Coalition opposes rights and equality for all, mass education and the non-partisan state. Or did I miss something?

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  44. Peter Hannigan

    Consultant at Education, Training and international development

    I studied philosophy as a sub-major in a science degree during the 1970s. Nearly everything else I studied is out of date - sometimes in just 5 years let alone 40. Of all the things I studied philosophy has been the most valuable and most enduring (so thanks ANU Philosophy Dept).

    Writing policy or doing project development/review requires analysis of the arguments and evidence, and putting together a coherent position supported by facts. Of course, those receiving the advice may prefer their own facts to those found in the real world - but perhaps that is just post-modernism in action.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Peter Hannigan

      I don't agree with minister's naming and shaming on national television, though if I were the Minister I would not want this limited pool of money spent on just another rereading of Hegel. As a Minister, I'd be unlikely to prioritize "History of Individual Dead Philosophers" in funding decisions, unless the research was based a long hidden treatise, found gathering dust at the bottom of the Vatican, or similar..

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  45. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    A nation that mocks philosophy is a nation content to remain “imprisoned in its prejudices”.

    Doesn't this describe Australia, precisely?

    (Well it looks as if it will after Saturday!)

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    1. Thomas Fields

      "progressive" watcher

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Once of the central problems of many "philosophers" is why do they pass off their own truths as free of prejudice, when in actual fact their conclusions are riddled with them. Take postmodern deconstructionists. Their departure point is a resentment against capitalism, white men in power, general authoritativeness. What is this but a prejudice?

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      "A nation that mocks philosophy is a nation content to remain “imprisoned in its prejudices”."
      Maybe Peter, but a nation that doesn't mock philosophers, will end up a nation forced to live in grass huts. ;)

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  46. Rohan James Gaiswinkler

    logged in via Facebook

    The announcement this week smacks of vulgar populist anti-intellectualism that long term observers of Tony Abbott might find familiar:

    "Particularly in the Arts and Economics faculties there's an awful lot of courses here which can only be described as 'so much nonsense'. For instance the General Philosophy course Aesthetics course is devoted entirely to a study of punk rock... You have extensive courses on things like feminism and the political exploitation of women and what-have-you and quite…

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Rohan James Gaiswinkler

      Rohan, have a you a link the whole speil> Could be fun.

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  47. Rory McGuire

    Science commentator

    Jamie Briggs is onto something here; he can definitely save the government a lot of money. First, there are areas where philosophy, mathematics and physics become almost indistinguishable, so why not knock them off too. How often do we use calculus or trigonometry? A waste of time and effort. And as for physics - what possible use is astronomy? It's all too far away to concern us and it's all out of date by the time it gets to us anyway. Scrap it. Then there's atomic physics, particle physics. What's…

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Rory McGuire

      Rory, I would employ a theoretical physicist in a flash, so long as they could string a sentence together.

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    2. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to David Thompson

      Well David,
      You can't string a sentence together, yourself. Singular "a theoretical physicist" is not to be confused with plural "they could string".
      Pots & black kettles?

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    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Er, Geoffrey, "they" has several uses, one of which is a gender-neutral singular.

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      But I am always on the look out for good typists. Do you take dictation as well? Shorthand?

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  48. Steven R Clark

    PhD Candidate and Sessional Academic at University of South Australia

    Perhaps this article could be improved, for those who can't see the point of philosophy, by explicitly linking philosophical 'musings' about the meaning of life, and the whole 'thing' about what life is anyway, to the very real issues of euthanasia, abortion, birth control, life support technologies, emergency surgery, resuscitation, the whole 'saving lives' nanna chat ...

    Philosophy looks elitist and pointless to very many people because they don't understand what philosophy *is*, what it is…

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Steven R Clark

      "So much of political 'debate' is chock full of philosophy"
      Perhaps not quite as much as philosophical 'debate' is chock full of politics.

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  49. Steven R Clark

    PhD Candidate and Sessional Academic at University of South Australia

    "For instance, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have assured me that morality is obviously all just a matter of personal opinion – as if the last two and a half thousand years of moral philosophy never happened. We expect people to have views on right and wrong without equipping them with even the most basic tools to ask the relevant questions or assess the answers they’re offered."

    It's worse than that. Most people assume their beliefs are right *because they believe them*. Relativist…

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  50. Bart Louwers

    logged in via Twitter

    While reading these article I was surprised in a negative way by so many things, some of which I try to formulate in this comment.

    "people who know what they’re talking about looked at them and decided that they were world-class research" -> This is an ad verecundiam, you assume these people know what they are talking about and on that basis you say they are right.

    "In other words, he’s saying that certain kinds of knowledge just aren’t worth producing, or at least not worth paying for." Which…

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Bart Louwers

      >>"people who know what they’re talking about looked at them and decided that they were world-class research" - This is an ad verecundiam, you assume these people know what they are talking about and on that basis you say they are right.

      - I’m not entirely sure how else you would like to gauge whether something is world-class research other than by asking established figures in the field. Who else do you propose to ask about the academic value of a project, the contribution it stands to make…

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    2. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick,
      Are you trying to say "The philosophic study is not settled"? In the way that some say of the climate "The science is settled"?

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    3. Michel Syna Rahme

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      I agree - Well said! And yes funding is important.

      You need to stand up with your colleagues and argue/be heard/fight to have the funding you require and deserve protected. I believe you will achieve this!

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    4. Michel Syna Rahme

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      I agree - Well said! And yes funding is important.

      You need to stand up with your colleagues and argue/be heard/fight to have the funding you require and deserve protected. I believe you will achieve this!

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    5. Michel Syna Rahme

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      I'm not in the mood for pleasantries. Do you really believe you are not being foolish, nor moronic, publicly going on record that anthropogenic climate change has no basis and is not occurring? The reason why I take it personally, and have the right to take it personally, is because you are threatening the future of my offspring, whereas I am not threatening yours. Ha are you a big man? a big boss? Ha, wait and see if your Abbott manages to stop carbon pricing..... Do you think the younger generations…

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    6. Jeff Payne

      PhD in Political Science and Masters in Public Policy

      In reply to Bart Louwers

      I can see by the quality of your arguments that you too find it hard to be brief but, as your comment confirms, this forum does not allow for more than crude assertions. I’m going to focus on just two elements of what have written; philosophy does not progress and philosophy can be done without money.

      I agree with Weber that the arts in general do not progress. You cannot say that Banksy is better than the cave pictures that were done tens of thousands of years ago. The same is true of philosophy…

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    7. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Michel Syna Rahme

      Michael S R,
      You can have your delusions if you choose to.
      The case for anthropogenic global warming has not been made to any acceptable standard.
      There are no implications for future generations. I, too, have successors but I have no sense at all of impending doom. Those who chose to create it have to live with their misjudgement of the science.

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  51. James Walker

    logged in via Facebook

    Surely if a subject that contains Rhetoric cannot persuade people that it is of value - then it has failed?
    I enjoyed studying philosophy, but learning to identify logical errors is of little use unless you also have the tools to counter those errors. Deliberately creating memes/slogans/stock answers to withstand sloppy thinking - and releasing those tools into the world - would once more make philosophy feared and respected.

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to James Walker

      Not much rhetoric (if any) in a philosophy education these days. And I'd settle for philosophy being respected rather than respected and feared, despite Machiavelli's insistence that it's better to be feared than loved :)

      One thing I have noticed that's heartening is that you see people online calling out others on logical fallacies more often these days; they don't always get it right but it's still encouraging. Tools like this are helpful: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/

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