Bieberians at the Gate? Page: 3
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worthy of philosophic reflection. But perhaps the most pressing is the question of whether we
should extend the notion of peer beyond disciplinary bounds.
This could occur in a number of different ways. Not only could we draw nonphilosophers or
nonacademics into the peer review process. We could also consider a variety of other criteria,
such as the number of publications in popular magazines or newspaper articles; number of hits
on philosophic blogs; number of quotes in the media; or the number of grants awarded by
public agencies to conduct dedisciplined philosophic work.
Now, some will claim that extending the idea of our philosophical peers to include
nonphilosophers will expose philosophy to the corruptions of the demos. Is philosophizing to
become a sheer popularity contest, where philosophers are promoted based on their Klout
score, or the number of Facebook likes their blog posts games? Aren't we proposing that the
Quineans be replaced by the Bieberians?
Such objections stem, in part at least, from what we could call a Cartesian ethos - the idea that
philosophers should strive above all to avoid error. We should withhold our assent to any claim
that we do not clearly and distinctly perceive to be true. This Cartesian ethos dominates
philosophy today, and nowhere is this clearer than in regard to peer review. Our peers are our
fellow philosophers, experts whose rigor stands in for Descartes' clear and distinct ideas.
For a counterethos we could call upon William James's "The Will to Believe." James argues that
the pursuit of truth, even under conditions where we cannot be certain of our conclusions, is
more important than the strict avoidance of error. Those who object that this will open
philosophy up to all sorts of errors that would otherwise have been caught by expert peer
review are exhibiting excessive Cartesianism. In fact, those who insist on the value of expertise
in philosophy are reversing the Socratic approach. Whereas Socrates always asked others to
contribute their opinions in pursuit of truth, Descartes trusted no one not to lead him into
error. A Jamesian approach to peer review, on the other hand, would be generous in its
definition of who ought to count as a peer, since avoiding error at all costs is not the main goal
of philosophy. On a Jamesian approach, we would make use of peers in much the way that
Socrates did - in an effort to pursue wisdom.
It is true that when philosophers broaden their peer group, they lose some control over the
measures used to define philosophic excellence. This raises another risk - that philosophy will
be merely an instrument for an exterior set of ends. The fear here is not that abandoning
disciplinary peer review will lead us into error. Instead, it is that the only alternative to value as
judged by disciplinary peers as a crass utilitarianism, where philosophic value is judged by how
well it advances a paymaster's outcome. One philosopher may be labeled a success for helping
a racist political candidate hone his message, while another may be labeled a failure for not
sufficiently fattening a corporation's bottom line. Isn't a dedisciplined philosophy actually a
return to sophistry rather than to Socrates? Won't is sell its services to whoever is buying,
adjusting its message to satisfy another's agenda and criteria for success? In order to survive
Here’s what’s next.
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Frodeman, Robert; Holbrook, J. Britt & Briggle, Adam. Bieberians at the Gate?, article, December 10, 2012; [Washington, D.C.]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc130189/m1/3/: accessed February 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Arts and Sciences.