Philosophy Department As ‘Houses Of Healing,’ Not ‘Houses Of Production’

In ‘Two Pedagogies for Happiness: Healing Goals and Healing Methods in the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas and the Śrī Bhāsyạ of Rāmānuja,’¹ Martin Ganeri (citing Paul Griffiths) writes:

[T]he root metaphor for scholastic intellectual practice is that of reading. The scholastic is one who is dominated by the text he studies, transformed by the text, and the scholastic institution is best described as a ‘house of reading.’ In contrast…the root metaphor for contemporary academia is that of writing. The contemporary academic is concerned with the production of texts, with getting things out in print, with being cited and getting academic credit for  his or her compositions. The university becomes a ‘house of production’ rather than a house of reading.²

….The scholastic approach challenges us to retrieve the idea of philosophy as transformative and pedagogical reading and to retrieve the idea of philosophical institutions as houses of this reading, so that they can also be houses of healing,houses for happiness.

The idea of philosophical institutions–like academic departments–being ‘houses of healing, houses for happiness’ is entrancing. As is the suggestion above by Ganeri of ‘retriev[ing] the idea of philosophy as transformative and pedagogical reading.’ I note this with some poignancy; when initially I began my graduate studies in philosophy I had hoped for philosophy to be ‘healing’ and ‘transformative’ and indeed, therapeutic. But I was, all too soon, consumed by the idea of academic philosophy being the business of writing and the prolific ‘production of texts.’ Indeed, the most common complaint from academic philosophers–a curious one, you’ll agree–is that they never have time to read anything, because they are too busy writing. Most academic philosophers will proudly claim they have no time to read fiction; if you are spotted reading something not directly academic, it is not unusual to be asked, “What are you reading that for” i.e., Which text being generated by you requires that ‘unconventional’ text as raw material? (I was once asked this because I was carrying around a copy of C.P Snow‘s ‘Two Cultures.’) 

Many are the academics who would like to slow down and ‘just read for a bit’; read all those ‘classic’ and ‘great’ authors and texts they refer to, chase down those footnotes to those beguiling sources that promise further exploration of a tantalizing corner of inquiry. But no one has the time–they need to write, to publish. They don’t have time to read your work in progress, which is why I always thank, profusely, those who do make time to perform this noble task, and they do not have time to read outside of their narrow field of specialization. And they most certainly do not have the time or institutional and disciplinary incentives to think about pursuing philosophy as a transformative and therapeutic process. All of which is, in a crucial sense, a betrayal of the promise of philosophy, its notion of unbridled inquiry, its potential to aid in self-understanding-and-construction.      

Notes

  1. In ‘Philosophy as Therapiea’ – Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement #66
  2. Paul Griffiths, ‘Scholasticism: The Possible Recovery of an Intellectual Practice,’ in Scholasticism: Cross-cultural and
    Comparative Perspectives, pp. 201-235.

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