Disconcerting changes to the philosophy department
Last week the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences announced its decision to move the philosophy department to the Mount Vernon Campus. As philosophy students, we oppose this decision.
This decision indicates the University’s preference of almost any other department over the philosophy department. The Vern is universally acknowledged as an inconvenience, and a “damn inconvenience” by some (such as John Conway of the mathematics department).
Provost Steven Lerman’s comment that the move makes “intellectual sense” is therefore either playing on the stereotype of philosophy students as insular or introspective transcendentalists, or resting on the age-old assumption that philosophy, as an abstract, intellectual pursuit, has little practical application and therefore little place in the convenient center of a campus that seeks to produce tomorrow’s leaders.
It is impossible to understate the importance of philosophy. Philosophy’s questions are an impetus for intellectual development. If Plato had never asked, “What is justice?,” how could we practice political science or law? How could we understand how communities and individuals arrange themselves around some set of values?
While the questions posed by philosophy often give birth to other sciences, philosophy rarely gets credited. As Bertrand Russell aptly noted, “As soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to become philosophy, and becomes a separate science.” For example, the concrete results yielded from studying the sky in philosophical wonderment created astronomy. Thus, far from being abstract, philosophy is the very engine that has driven the world’s thought for the last 3,000 years.
The move to the Vern will almost certainly reduce enrollment in the major. Moreover, with most classes moving to the Vern, there is good reason to believe that non-philosophy majors will have little incentive to try out philosophy classes.
As we move this department to a wildly inconvenient location, we need to remember one thing: GW students aspire to be professional leaders. To that end, studying philosophy has much to offer. Effective argumentation, intellectual curiosity and ethical reasoning are important in any occupation. They require a certain critical mindset that is encouraged through philosophical study. They are the very reasons that these occupations cannot be done by machines.
By moving most philosophy classes from the already inconvenient 2020 K St. to the Vern, our school is discouraging the study of this essential discipline.
Iaan Reynolds and Andrew Hori are students in the department of philosophy.