by Kieran Healy on January 31, 2007

Via “Jason Stanley”:, a link to some “now classic photographs”: of philosophers taken by Steve Pyke, together with a “new batch”: by the same photographer. “Here”: is the much-missed David Lewis. “Here”: is a terrific shot of Elisabeth Anscombe and husband Peter Geach. Amongst the new batch, “here”: is Rae Langton. “Here”: is Anthony Appiah. And “here is Jason himself”:, looking more intense than usual, and also unusually quiet.

Throughout the first batch and for much of the second, Pyke got the philosophers to provide a little statement about themselves and their field. Some are jokey, some gnomic, others quite straightforward. (“H.L.A. Hart:”: “To be frank I think the idea of a 50-100 word summary is an absurd idea… I advise you to drop it.”) Amongst my favorites is that of “Geoffrey Warnock”:, which elegantly captures the virtues that the analytic tradition strives imperfectly to embody: “To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for.”

But if that’s all too much for you, “here are some recent photos”: of philosophers having a blast pretending to be cowboys while riding uncertainly around on horses in the Sonoran desert. That’s what they’re _really_ like, you know, moody black-and-white headshots notwithstanding.



John Emerson 01.31.07 at 11:39 pm

To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for.

What an odd statement. I think that I speak for most right-thinking people when I opt instead for confusion, obscurity, irrationality, and blind dogmatism.


Matt 01.31.07 at 11:48 pm

Many of the first set of photos appeared in the movie _Closer_, where they were suppoed to be the photos taken by Julia Roberts’s character. Phillipa Foot and several others (Anscombe and Geech, I think) all had bit parts in the movie in photo form.


Chris Bertram 02.01.07 at 2:01 am

The little statements are so wonderfully revealing. The better philosophers (imho) are often self-deprecating whereas some of the others are, shall we say, aggressively programmatic.


Paul 02.01.07 at 8:21 am

Echoing Chris’s remarks, Rawls’s statement must be the understatement of the century: “…Three years spent in the US army in World War II led me to be also concerned with political questions. Around 1950 I started to write a book on justice, which I eventually completed.”

And how funny that an HTML hiccup has inserted a little box into Kripke’s statement. I suppose it could not have been otherwise.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 02.01.07 at 8:33 am

I was glad to see two of my favorite philosophers included: Iris Murdoch and Martha Nussbaum. Their quotes, not surprisingly perhaps (given my bias), are among the best:

Murdoch: ‘Our philosophical tradition, which goes back to Plato, is menaced in this technological post-Nietzchean age by a determinism which undermines our ethics and our concept of truth. Philosophy must not be allowed to fragment away into sociology, anthropology, psychology, logic and various forms of science. The planet needs philosophy. Human beings are moral beings: we must preserve a philosophical discourse which takes this as its fundamental subject matter. The great metaphysicians were great moralists. The center must hold.’

Nussbaum: ‘Philosophy is an activity that uses reasoning and rigorous argument to promote human flourishing.’ Epicurus


shreeharsh 02.01.07 at 8:57 am

I didn’t see Thomas Nagel anywhere…


Matt 02.01.07 at 9:23 am

I must say, I’ve always liked the way that Micheal Dummett strongly resembles a bull-dog.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 02.01.07 at 9:48 am

I think Nagel may be in the book itself, as the links don’t show all of the photographs from the book. Perhaps someone who has a copy can let us know.


eweininger 02.01.07 at 9:52 am

What about a pic of Searle cowboyed-up? Is that too much to ask? Alas.


Susan Turner 02.01.07 at 10:10 am

Hi all, I’ve been in contact with Pyke who sent me one of the few hard copies left of the first book signed which was nice. If anyone is interested, I can let you know how to get a copy. Paperback versions are still to be found on used book websites. Yes, Nagel is in the book as are many others including Jerry Cohen, my personal favourite. Cohen told me back in the 90’s when the first batch was taken, the sitters were not told the photos would not necessarily be very ‘flattering’ and many of them were unhappy with the results. I see Pyke has attempted in the second group to be kinder to the sitters.


Russell Arben Fox 02.01.07 at 3:19 pm

Didn’t he also take a picture of Charles Taylor? Maybe that one is in the book also.


dearieme 02.01.07 at 4:16 pm

Preferred the Python version, myself.


Marcus Stanley 02.01.07 at 4:37 pm

I didn’t understand Delia Graff’s quote at all:

“By doing philosophy we can discover eternal and mind-independent truths about the real nature of the world by investigating our own conceptions of it, and by subjecting our most commonly or firmly held beliefs to what would otherwise be perversely strict scrutiny”

What is “an eternal and mind-independent truth about the real nature of the world”, and where can I find one?

I’d prefer them in summary form, thanks, as I try to avoid doing philosophy — it’s perversely strict, and not even that fun perversity involving skimpy leather outfits.


Seth Edenbaum 02.01.07 at 6:51 pm

I still wonder how and when every professor of philosophy came to be called a Philosopher. Every professor of chemistry is called a chemist, but that describes no more or less than a level of technical expertise. I know these days some pretend that philosophy is technical (the cousins of those who think of economics is a science) but philosophy covers so wide a field it makes no sense. What would you call a professor of “technical catholicism?” Do you really want to see yourself labeled as theologians?
Or do you consider scholasticism its own reward? In which case “technical scholasticism” is all yours.
Me I’m old fashioned: “A painter calling himself an artist is like a priest calling himself a saint.” Posterity decides who of us has an original mind, not the tenure committee.


john c. halasz 02.01.07 at 9:54 pm

marcus stanley:

Most likely, “eternal, mind-independent truths about the nature of the real world” are the ones you pull out of your own ass. Those ones, at least, would be most likely to reward, “perversely strict scrutiny”.


Kenny Easwaran 02.01.07 at 9:56 pm

I also appreciated the box in Kripke’s quote, but I wasn’t sure if it would show up on other machines and browsers. I was a bit disturbed by Field’s quote, though I guess it’s a sentiment I see mathematicians often have about their own field (see G. H. Hardy’s “A Mathematician’s Apology”). But I have a hard time understanding someone who thinks that what they do is worthless.


Matt 02.01.07 at 10:45 pm

Seth, following that line why do we let those small scientists of today call themselves by that name? Hardly a Newton or a Darwin or even a Mach among them, it seems.


harry b 02.02.07 at 10:00 am

Kenny — Hartry’s quote is a joke. He has a very very dry sense of humour (the last sentence gives it away).

I’m so glad CLR James is in the first batch. Scott, have you looked?


Seth Edenbaum 02.02.07 at 10:05 am

Chemists are scientists. It’s a technical term for a techincal field. I’m talking about grade inflation in the humanities. Not the same thing.


Matt 02.02.07 at 11:16 am

Well, that’s what a chemist might say. As for me, I just don’t see it.


engels 02.02.07 at 11:21 am

Someone who teaches Donne or writes papers on the finer points of Byron is not thereby a poet, so why should someone who performs the same service for Kant or Rawls necessarily be a philosopher? I suspect that the man in the street would say that he isn’t, and it is only academics, and “philosophers” in particular, who talk this way.


engels 02.02.07 at 11:33 am

There’s also an anecdote I read somewhere by Julian Barnes (I think) from when he was at a party before he was at all well known. When someone asked him what he did, he said he was a writer and the girl he was there with fell off her chair laughing. Afterwards she told him that you just don’t say that.


Matt 02.02.07 at 1:05 pm

Well, I’m not sure why the man in the street gets to set the definition here- he also tends to think a lot of stuff that’s clearly not philosophy is so, for one thing (new age garbage, etc.) And, traditionally many people who mostly provided commentary on more famous philosophers have been called philosophers so I don’t think that point works, either.


Chris Bertram 02.02.07 at 1:14 pm

Often, I’m tempted to say of my colleague X that he’s “a real philosopher”. I guess that contrasts with the rest of us who teach and write in the subject but don’t quite have his intuitive feel for it. Of course he isn’t a Philosopher in the _great thinkers of the past_ sense. But maybe some of them weren’t “real philosophers” in the way I mean it about him.


marcus stanley 02.02.07 at 1:57 pm

The job title “philosopher” benefits from a lot of old, now obsolete prestige gained back in the day, when anybody who thought about anything deeply was called a “philosopher”. Not to mention the whole wisdom angle, which could not be more irrelevant to modern analytic philosophy. A lot of classical philosophy would today be shelved in the self-help section.

Would anyone like to hear about my philosophy of life?


Seth Edenbaum 02.02.07 at 3:23 pm

“Not to mention the whole wisdom angle, which could not be more irrelevant to modern analytic philosophy.”

So then analytic philosophy is the equivalent as “technical catholicism,” the study of the internal logic and mechanics of a closed system. But the function of language is flawed (fogged) mimesis. Internal consistency if it even exists, is secondary.

To be wise is to be able to tell the difference between one’s logic and one’s fears. I thought that was the primary goal of all philosophical thought. Is the grade inflation of the title professor of philosophy a sign of our increased ability to face and systematize the complexities of the world or merely a symptom of a preference for systemization over testable resilience? If ideas were as subtle as words we wouldn’t need either literature or the rule of law. Meanings change and if rationalists and theologians are the last to find out, novelists are the first.
How to rescue American secularism from Richard Posner, Dawkins, and Donald Rumsfeld? How do we rescue it from defenders of closed systems? How do we rescue it from autism?
You could begin by watching more Clint Eastwood and less George Lucas.


John Emerson 02.02.07 at 4:17 pm

Often, I’m tempted to say of my colleague X that he’s “a real philosopher”.

It was very wise of you to protect X’s privacy. Had you not, he would have been in serious jeopardy. When a karass of vengeful, jealous quasi-philosophers unleashes litotes, reductio, and indirect proof in order to haze an interloper, the result is never pretty.


Seth Edenbaum 02.02.07 at 7:46 pm

“Would anyone like to hear about my philosophy of life?”
I would hope that it would have something to do with democracy and the rule of law. But these days who knows?

I wasn’t going to add anything, but that comment was so self-indulgent, so shockingly stupid that something needed to be said.
I just wish I could have counted on someone else to say it.


marcus stanley 02.02.07 at 8:52 pm

Ummm, Seth, it was a joke. About the many meanings of the word “philosophy”. It’s practically an invitation to pomposity. I’ve had a couple of philosophy professors tell me that long speeches about “my philosophy of life” are an occupational hazard of identifying yourself to others as a “philosopher”.

Apparently too subtle a joke for some.


Seth Edenbaum 02.02.07 at 11:02 pm

Everybody has a philosophy of life, because everybody orders their life as a pattern. Having your conscious thought being at all related to that pattern other than as its opposite is a mark of (rare) adulthood. Not bothering to imagine that there might be a disjunction is the mark of modern academia, left and right, and Leiter and Posner both go out of there way to mock the “wisdom angle” [it’s like “the vision thing”] and the rule of law. Neither think it possible that their utilitarian individualism is as much symptom as thought, and consequently wouldn’t make a half-life of a week outside the ghetto of academic rationalism. In the real world like Leiter’s “leftist” poltics, it goes nowhere. Does “Law and Economics” describe the world? Does it do justice to the complexity of human thought? No. Then why continue? Does academic philosophy do a better job? It doesn’t even try. It’s not interested in the world, it’s interested in abstraction as a way of avoiding the world. It likes things simple.
Yes you made a joke, but it wasn’t a joke this is a joke.
welcome to academia.


john c. halasz 02.03.07 at 12:03 am

Philosophy is “about” how to live a mortal life. It has nothing to do with any imaginary and impossible certification of Knowledge,- ( natural scientists don’t need stage directions from philosphers, thank you very much),- nor with the attainment of any Final Truth about Ultimate Reality, which identification is not only a half-assed misrecognition of any possible stakes, but obtusely reductive with respect to any potentials that might exceed the pre-given.


harry b 02.03.07 at 10:00 am

I’m a philosopher because I do philosophy. Philosophy is an activity, and I do it professionally. Most people do, in fact, do it, but its not their job so they don’t call themselves philosophers. If writing poetry were my job I’d call myself a poet. I’m not an especially good philosopher, just an ok one, by the standards of the profession, let alone by the standards of the great philosophers. The reason literary critics don’t get called poets or novelists is because they don’t write poetry or novels. I don’t really see your problem, seth. We all knoe that Hume and Kant were great philosophers, and David Lewis was a really good one, just as Shakespeare and Eliot were great poets and Seamus Heaney a really good one. It is a pretty well-defined activity, probably as well defined as poetry.

I don’t usually claim to be a philosopher except in academia. If a non-academic asks what my jopb is I say I work at a university, and, if pressed, ina philosophy department, as a teacher. Not because I don’t think I ama philosopher, but because I am definitely not what most people think a philosopher is.

Hartry had a good joke about this when I was in grad school. A woman next to him on a long bus journey asked him what he did, so he said he was a philosopher. “Oh, would I have heard of any of your sayings?” was the reply.

Btw, seth, you seem to have a much narrower view of what academic philosophy is than most of its practitioners do.


Seth Edenbaum 02.03.07 at 2:39 pm

What does it say about the state of contemporary philosophy that the term Philosopher has been so degraded? What does it say that every PhD must now presumed to have an original mind? What does it say that nerdishness [nerdism? nerdiness?] once only seen in technological and scientific fields, should have spread the the humanities? What does it mean to have an intelligence with no sense of history or it’s place in it?

What I have harry, is a much wider sense of what academic philosophy is than most of its practitioners, just as I have a much wider sense of what America represents to the world than most Americans, as I have a wider sense of what Israel represents than most Israelis and just as I have a wider sense of transportation policy than most auto mechanics.
What I have is perspective.


harry b 02.03.07 at 3:18 pm

Good to have that cleared up seth. I’ll be sure to defer to your superior sense of everything when I next try to think about anything.


Seth Edenbaum 02.03.07 at 4:21 pm

Reading your bio page and remembering what I’ve read in the past we may have interests in common, but that doesn’t mean it makes any sense to designate yourself a philosopher, or that in doing so you’re not alligning yourself with those who consider philosophy a matter of technical “expertise.” So you’ll excuse me if I continue to refer to Martha Nussbaum as a professor of philosophy.
As far as the philosophy of education is concerned I’ll add this:
As a friend of mine noted, he and I had the benefit of being taught while young by women of the generation just before feminism, who were directed at the one job available to them. The intelligence of these frustrated women is not matched by the teachers available now. And this is said sadly by a man whose wife recently graduated one of the most prestigious education programs in the country, where she quickly became a star and will soon be on her way to a six figure income as one of the consultants who suck money out of public education in this country. She’s teaching now, but her husband gives her 4 years before she gets bored. And her mentor, who calls her “a genius” wants her on the team. She’s an expert, but not much of a philosopher. And my friend raises the kids pretty much alone.

I’m sick of “knowledge nerds” Gimme wisdom.


harry b 02.03.07 at 6:07 pm

I grant completely that you are no more likely to find wisdom in a philosophy department than most other places, and less likely than in many other places (in my experience anayway). And you’re welcome to restrict your use of the term to that. But the use to which you object has a very very long history indeed; certainly at least 400 years, and Philosophy has existed as a discipline for all that time (its boundaries have changed, to be sure — as one of my teachers pointed out, whenever people got good at some field of philosophy they seceded and created a new discipline with a new name like Physics or Biology). One that, I agree, has little to do with wisdom. Its just a designation. A shorthand if you like (after I wrote the above I tried to remember when I last called myself a philosopher, and I realised that I have only done so when I was in a department which included sociolocists economists and historians, so “philosopher” was the most convenient way of distinguishing what I did). I’ve no objection at all to you refraining from calling people who do philosophy as a profession “philosophers”, as long as you don’t call us psychologists (nothing against psychologists, but they do someting different).

If your anecdote was an attack on teacher ed programs…. I agree that restricting women to teaching is a much more efficient way of getting bright and good teachers that making people take teacher ed. degrees. Me, I’d abolish the requirement that teachers have ed certs tomorrow, if I could. And, although I’m with you on what I take to be your objection to the consultants who suck money out of public education, I place as much blame on administrators at all levels on whose judgment that money is spent.

Ok, so now I looked at your page. Are you a painter? Or do you just paint?


Seth Edenbaum 02.03.07 at 10:48 pm

“Painter” is a descriptive term, like “writer” or “filmaker.” I’ve always been envious of filmakers since they don’t get called “artists” until people decide they are good enough to warrant the term. All painters get called artists these days and that’s done no one any good. My father was an “english teacher.” He published a few things, one or two well known, but he did not refer to himself as a “literary critic.” He never had “a project” or let anything other than his students take priority. He was not a genius and did not pretend to have an original mind though it could be argued that in some ways he had one. An unimaginative chemist may do research that has value, a “philosopher” with a mediocre mind should stick to teaching philosophy. But the logic of hypertrophied individualism and the need to compete with the hard sciences has created a culture of literary conceptiualism and pseudoscience that in the form of “tenured radicals” gives cafe revolutionaries like me a bad name. “Yummies” Young Upwardly Mobile Marxists as an old family friend named them. I doesn’t matter if it’s literary theory, chicago school economics or linguistic analysis, it’s the same fucking thing: rationalist conceptualism, of by and for the academy and meaningless outside it.

The humanities are a function of the social. They are linked to the world through the study of the history of perception. We are made by language and by culture and are not independent of it. It used to be that there was a reciprocal relation between those who followed their sensibilities, and those who came by afterwords to find out what honesty had made that intellect could not. That reciprocal relation still exists, but not in the academy (and not nearly enough in the ghetto of the art world) In the world at large all is if not well still much much better. By and large it’s still assumed by people who are bright enough to think about such things that Eastwood is better than George Lucas [and these days better than Scorsese!] Pynchon is better than Tolkien and that Ayn Rand simply sucks. In the academy however all bets are off. Libertarianism is little more than a cult in the outside world, has a place of importance in academic culture. And rationalism (about everything) reigns. Rationalism predicated on what now? On what? ON WHAT?
These days every idiot with a PhD wants to be an intellectual.
Talk amongst yourselves.


Matt 02.03.07 at 11:28 pm

Seth! Please, take a deep breath. Or two. Use the term how you want- we won’t really care that much, but I worry that you’re getting a bit worked up.


Seth Edenbaum 02.04.07 at 12:18 am

go fuck youself


john c. halasz 02.04.07 at 4:28 am

Hey, Seth. For once, I almost enjoyed some of your declamations. Yummie! Those bits about “the history of perception” and “conceptual rationalism” were right on! Though I must admit I’ve never read Pynchon, Eastwood, or Lucas, except for the late nite T.V. Leone epics.

Er, no, you needn’t bother. I’ve already cheneyed myself just fine…


Seth Edenbaum 02.04.07 at 9:32 am

What does it mean that “nerds” now run humanities departments?
What and why is a literature geek? And how and why did people, so unwilling or unable to situate themselves socially or historically as products of linguistic and cultural community take over departments dedicated to the study of language, culture and community?
Nerds separate intelligence from perception, from the body. Nerds fear history and context. The hate instability. It makes them nervous. Posner is a nerd.
Everything I’ve read here over the last few years; the language the tone, the arguments, are specific to the culture and times that produced them.

“Professor Franco Moretti argues heretically that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead. He insists that such a move could bring new luster to a tired field, one that in some respects is among “the most backwards disciplines in the academy.”

What’s the difference between and expert and a connoisseur? A connoisseur pays attention to his tastes, his surroundings his responses to them and those of others An expert doesn’t think he has tastes and thinks his surroundings don’t matter. He thinks he’s interested in the outside world. Americans are experts. They neither know nor care how others perceive them. You follow me now?
I’ve spent the last few years arguing with experts trying to explain that expertise is not enough. I’ve failed.


marcus stanley 02.04.07 at 9:51 am

If you think being interested in “abstraction as a way of avoiding the world” is particularly academic, then you don’t understand American life very well. You need more experience with white-collar office work, which is what most Americans do. You might also want to watch more TV.

I don’t think true expertise is really that influential in the U.S. Witness how few participants in the public Iraq debate even spoke Arabic, or in the current Iran discussions speak Persian. That’s a pretty minimal standard of expertise.

I’m all in favor of wisdom. That philosophy is no longer connected to the wisdom tradition should not be taken as a compliment to philosophy. But there’s no point holding it up to criticism because of that, it’s chosen another direction. I’m not sure there ever was a golden age when professors were wise.


Matt 02.04.07 at 10:07 am

“You follow me now?”


“I’ve failed.”


Comments on this entry are closed.