Project Description

This project synthesizes a cluster of political, moral and epistemological problems arising in connection with our conception of what “higher education” amounts to from a philosophical perspective. The close connection between philosophy’s self-understanding and the self-understanding of the university that obtained until the twentieth century is now largely severed. While there are attempts to revive this connection, they tend not to delve deeply into the most fundamental epistemic issues: What is knowledge? What is certainty? What are the conditions and limits of what can be claimed as “true, justified belief”? How does science progress? To the extent that philosophers engage with the question, they tend to disregard the vast empirical scholarship produced in the social and educational sciences. But any adequate answer to the question of the point and purpose of universities must first attend to what they in fact are and do, which has changed dramatically, just as the discipline of philosophy has undergone a radical transformation from a broad base of intellectual training to a special science; indeed, there are striking parallels between developments in the history of philosophy and developments in the history of the university that have not been fully worked out.

In the book project proposed here, an attempt will be made to describe the relationship between philosophy and the university as a set of interrelated historical and contemporary questions: What is the current connection between philosophy and the university? What role does philosophy as a discipline play in higher education today? What role does the university’s organization and socio-economic function play for philosophy? Is philosophy, like the university, under threat from the weakening of the authority of academic claims to truth and knowledge? How we are we to understand the condition and consequences of what has been termed “epistemic vulnerability”?