philosophy’s task

This sense that philosophers should occupy a special and uniquely privileged position in our national conversation is absent from Britain today. The last philosopher who lived as successfully in the public as well as the academic sphere was Isaiah Berlin. While Britain has tipped into philosophical decline, so America has risen triumphantly. John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, Charles Taylor, Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, Paul Boghossian, Martha Nussbaum. Their reach extends significantly beyond the academy.

These Americans now embody Kant’s hope for independent-minded thinking about society in its various states. It seems there is little prospect that such ambition will prosper in modern British faculties of philosophy. Boghossian prefaces his recent study of how we think and whether “we have fundamentally misconceived the principles by which society ought to be organised” (Fear of Knowledge, 2006), by noting that his book is intended not only for philosophers but also for “anyone who values serious argument”.

But in our contemporary escape from serious ideas – from the very notion of seriousness itself – our flight into the arms of irony and satire, while wonderfully bracing, leaves us all the poorer. Short-term and ephemeral gratification, perhaps. But longer-term moral stagnation and depravity.

more from The Guardian here.