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Caring for Philosophy?; Realism in the Human Sciences; P.L.A.T.O.

NEWS

Caring for Philosophy?

“Not to care for philosophy is to be a true philosopher.”
So said Pascal. The government and the UGC, it seems,
agree. For philosophy departments in Britain’s universities
have suffered badly in recent years. Alarmed by these
developments, representatives from philosophy
deparĀ·tments at Britain’s universities met at Leeds in
February to found a “National Committee for Philosophy”,
which aims to represent the interests of philosophy and to
defend it against further attack.

One of the first tasks for the Committee has been to
gather information about the impact of recent cuts. The
picture is a depressing one. Since 1980:

* There have been only 14 new appointments to fulltime teaching posts in philosophy.

* The number of full-time teaching staff has declined
by 18%. One department (Surrey) has been closed, and
others are threatened.

* In 1983-84 (the last year for which figures are
available), only 8.4% of philosophy teachers were
younger than 35, compared with an average for all
subjects of 17.4%. Only theology was worse off among
non language based arts subjects.

How to defend a subject like philosophy in the brave
new world of market forces has exercised the NCP.

Traditional Oxford philosophy is not well equippped to do
so, as NCP chairman George MacDonald Ross recognizes.

“British philosophy went through a phase in which it was
unduly modest about its role,” he writes, “we fear that
many decision-makers may be una ware of the extent to
which philosophy has changed.” Now, he claims,
philosophy is more relevant, more engaged with practical
issues.

The shortcomings of Oxford philosophy need no
emphasis to readers of Radical Philosophy. Indeed, we
may pride ourselves on having made such criticisms many
years ago, and without the need of prompting from the
likes of Sir Keith Joseph. Despite this, however, the sorts
of interests reflected in the pages of Radical Philosophy
are not adequately represented on the NCP. It is a
curiously accidental body, composed of representatives of
various journals and groups – including Mind, the Royal
Institute of Philosophy, the Society for Applied
Philosophy – but not Radical Philosophy. Nor is there any
other representation of the impact of continental
philosophies in recent years. In short, for all the talk of
a new philosophical world, some of its most significant
elements have still to be recognized.

The NCP started life as a defensive response by
uni versi ty philosophers to UGC policies. However, it
aspires to a larger role. At the inaugural conference in
February, the NCP declared itself to be “a fair
representation of the philosophical profession as a
whole”, although it also acknowledged the need to
“strengthen” the representation of public sector
philosophy. Certainly, there is plenty of scope for this,
since teachers from Polys, Techs, Teacher Training
Colleges, etc., were hardly represented at the Leeds
conference.

A further conference is planned for July in London, at
which such issues will no doubt continue to be aired.

Details of the NCP are obtainable from Mr G. N. Ross,
Department of Philosophy, The University, Leeds LS2 9JT.

Realism in the Human
Sciences
On 17-18 December 1985 a small conference was held at
the IDS at Sussex University, on the subject of realism in
the human sciences. The aim was to draw together people
working in philosophy and the human sciences who had
been influenced by the new scientific realism which has
been developed in the work of, among others, Roy Bhaskar,
Ted Benton, Russell Keat and John Urry, all of whom
were at the conference.

The majority of those present were committed
socialists, and the value of realism in the politically
relevant sciences was in the foreground. In addition to
general methodological discussions, including critiques of
realism, there were discussions of capitalism and the
nation state, economic structure, Marxist historical
explanation, ecology and the fact/value dichotomy in
Marxism.

The exchange of ideas between people using similar
approaches in different disciplines was generally felt to
be worthwhile, and a lot of questions were raised which
will require research and clarification. An exciting new
programme of research could be opened up in realist
social science and its political implications.

Andrew Collier
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P.L.A.T.O.

News has reached us of the formation of a new
organisation, PLATO (Philosophy Lecturing and Teaching
Opportunities), based at the University of Bristol, but with
national aspirations, set up “to protect the interests of and
materially to help the generation of philosophers who are
un-or impermanently employed in academic work”. The
organisation describes itself as “a charitable scheme”, and
hopes to raise funds to provide a limited number of
academic fellOWShips and small research grants. It also
aims “to establish a centre where PLATO members can use
other skills, e.g. in TEFL, translation or adult teaching,
to earn some sort of remuneration while pursuing
philosophical work”. Membership is open to anyone with
more than two years post-graduate experience in
philosophy or “related disciplines”, and currently stands
at ar?und .100. An appeal for funds is apparently being
organised In the USA, and the organisation wishes to
contact:

(a) British philosophy post-graduate students
(b) Staff who hold limited tenure or part-time posts, or
non-renewable or non-stipendiary fellowships
(c) Philosophers who continue to write or publish
despi te being unemployed or holding non-academic
positions, and who might benefit from any grants that
might be made available.

Donations, it also assures us, will be gratefully received,
to offset word-processing and secretarial costs.

Anyone wishing to register with the scheme should
write’, enclosing S.A.E., to:

The Secretary, PLATO
University of Bristol
Department of Philosophy
9 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1TB
Is the era of the privatisation of graduate philosophy about
to begin?

Correction
A line was omitted in Joseph McCarney’s “Comment: A New Marxist Paradigm” in Radical
Philosophy 43. The last sentence on page 29 should read as follows: “It is understandable that
someone writing at the present time should be oppressed by a sense that such an outcome is only to
be won, if at all, by the travail of generations.”

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