The Nature and Future of Philosophy

App From the introduction of Michael Dummett's new book:

Practically every university throughout the world deems it as essential to have a philosophy department as to have a history department or a chemistry department. This is certainly a very lucky thing for philosophers. Historians can teach in schools and advise on television programs and films; the minority gifted with the ability to write popular books can subsist on their incomes as authors. Chemists can work for industry; if they are lucky, they may even be paid by their companies to do research. By contrast, only in a few countries is philosophy taught as a subject in the schools; philosophy books will never become best-sellers; no commercial enterprise will pay for original work in this field. Until recently, professional philosophers would have been unemployable had it not been for the universities. Some who specialize in ethics have obtained positions advising on bioethics, that is, on moral problems arising out of or within the practice of medicine; but of course this is an application of only one specialized branch of the subject. In the modern world, scarcely anyone can live without being employed or profitably self-employed. Philosophers not engaged in applied ethics must count themselves extremely fortunate that the state, which funds many of the universities, is willing to pay that they may devote themselves to the pursuit of their subject.

It is by no means obvious that universities, and thus ultimately the state, should support philosophy but for historical precedent. If universities had been an invention of the second half of the twentieth century, would anyone have thought to include philosophy among the subjects that they taught and studied? It seems very doubtful. But the history of Western universities goes back 900 years—that of Islamic universities even further—and philosophy has always been one of the subjects taught and studied in them. It just does not occur to anyone not to include a philosophy department among those composing a university.

It would be easy to conclude that this is an anachronism.