Tag Archives: public philosophy

Thomas Nagel

A crucial determinant of the character of analytic philosophy—and a piece of luck as far as I am concerned—is the unimportance, in the English-speaking world, of the intellectual as a public figure. Fame doesn’t matter, and offering an opinion about practically everything is not part of the job. It is unnecessary for writers of philosophy to be more “of their time” than they want to be; they don’t have to write for the world but can pursue questions inside the subject, at whatever level of difficulty the questions demand. If the work is of high quality, they will receive the support of a large and dedicated academy that is generally independent of popular opinion. This is an enviably luxurious position to be in, by comparison to writers who depend for their status and income on the reaction of a broader public. Of course, there are plenty of silly fashions and blind spots inside the academic community, but in philosophy, at least, their effect has not been as bad as the need to compete for wider literary fame would be. I think arid technicalities are preferable to the blend of oversimplification and fake profundity that is too often the form taken by popular philosophy. A strong academy provides priceless shelter for the difficult and often very specialized work that must be done to advance the subject.

Thomas Nagel, Other Minds: Critical Essays, 1969-1994, New York, 1995, pp. 8-9