March 9, 2010

Worth a Look or Listen: Louis Menand, Philosophers and Fiction, and the Dangers of Theism

I haven't been keeping up my "Weekend Miscellany" posts for a while, so here's a bit of a miscellany for a Tuesday evening instead:

At Open Letters Monthly, Laura Tanenbaum reviews Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas:
The basic facts will likely be familiar to current or recent graduate students: graduate school takes longer to complete than ever before, especially in the humanities, nearly half in some fields like English drop out before completion, and many of those who do finish will not find tenure-track positions. To his immense credit, and unlike many critics, Menand recognizes that making graduate school more demanding or raising barriers of entry will only exacerbate the problem. Instead he suggests a shorter time to degree, with the completion of an academic article taking the place of the dissertation. He argues this on humanitarian grounds, but then notes the institutional pressures that demand a large pool of graduate students and underemployed PhDs as cheap labor.
At A Commonplace Blog, D. G. Myers writes about philosophers and fiction:
Philosophers want to show that a possibility is valid; novelists try to make it plausible. The distance between validity and plausibility is the distance between philosophy and fiction, but it does not follow that the one is sharp while the other is fuzzy. They are, instead, as Putnam suggests, merely different approaches to knowledge.
Further to his comments, I'll add that I've done some work myself at the intersection of philosophy and literary studies, and I've found that many philosophers cannot, or at least do not, understand the textuality of literature. Even Martha Nussbaum, whose Love's Knowledge is a kind of manifesto for making philosophy literary, or reading literature philosophically, sometimes lapses into readings that extract dicta about how to live rather than finding literary form itself, and the experience of that form, meaningful. Interdisciplinarity, in other words, is harder than it sounds. There are, unsurprisingly, a number of essays on or around this topic in the excellent journal Philosophy and Literature.

And at Common Sense Atheism, another Professor Maitzen is interviewed on, among other things,
  • how many theistic defenses don't make sense given the demographics of theism
  • how Christian theism leads to twisted morality
  • the problems with free will theodicies
  • the incoherence of 'Ultimate Purpose'
In my wholly unbiased opinion, the interview is well worth a listen, not least for its articulate explanation of why, "though it's an extremely popular view that atheism is bad for morality, ... it seems pretty clear that theism is what's bad for morality," for its crushing judgment of a recent Christian best-seller ("it's the most intellectually shallow, childish, morally frivolous novel I've ever read"), and for its Utopian vision that "maybe the blogosphere can help us where the schools evidently have failed us."

You all keep busy with these while I go put together my lectures for tomorrow! I hope to be able to do some book blogging myself again soon; I just finished Hilary Mantel's Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, for instance, and am about half-way through Rebecca Goldstein's 36 Arguments for the Existence of God.

1 comment:

Hannah Stoneham said...

Incredibly interesting especially the Maitzen interview. I am looking forward to reading what you make of Rebecca Golstein's book...

Thanks for sharing - your posts are clear and thought provoking