Once again the NEH has announced the “Enduring Questions” grant competition:
The announcement raises many troubling questions.
Does the NEH not realize that philosophy departments currently offer courses on exactly these subjects? Surely that is impossible. They are not idiots. Since they do realize it, perhaps they think philosophers are not doing a good enough job teaching their courses, especially their ethics courses. Why would they think that? Surely it is not related to student enrollments, since ethics courses offered by philosophy departments tend to be enormously popular.
According to the announcement, questions such as “is there such a thing as right or wrong?” are “predisciplinary.” I have never seen this “word” outside of this grant announcement. OED turns up no results. They seem to mean that these questions arose before any academic discipline began studying them. Perhaps this is true. Nevertheless, an academic discipline arose to discuss them: philosophy. What is to be gained by pretending that this discipline does not exist?
According to the announcement, no discipline can lay “exclusive claim” to these enduring questions. But one discipline, ethics, has been devoted to answering these questions for centuries. I think this gives us, if not an “exclusive claim” (whatever they mean by this), at least some reason to think that we have special expertise in teaching courses on these subjects. Do they think we lack this expertise? Do they think it is beneficial to have people with less expertise teaching courses on these questions? So beneficial that they should spend money to bring it about?
The NEH is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to help
non-philosophers teach courses on philosophical questions. This might be appropriate if there were not
sufficient philosophers to do the work.
But there are plenty. In fact, as
we all know, there are a great many unemployed philosophers who are ready to
teach courses on “enduring questions” and do not need a grant to help them
learn how to do it. (Maybe they would
need a grant to help find a piece of artwork that sheds light on the question
of whether there is such a thing as right or wrong.)
So this seems like a monumental waste of
money. [Edit: in light of some of the comments below, especially Mike Austin's, I take this back. The NEH should totally give Mike Austin money to teach philosophy classes!] Why is this happening? Are there any philosophers at the NEH?
(PS. Sorry, Jussi, for posting right over you! Some rants just can't be contained!)
Update: see this reply the NEH gave to Rob Stainton.