Juhani Yli-Vakkuri offers a fascinating comment on my post about the differences among academic disciplines. His description of present-day practices among analytic philosophers is utterly distinct from my experiences [with analytic philosophers as well as those of other persuasions]. Since I have been out of touch with academic philosophy for a quarter of a century, and out of sympathy with it for a good deal longer, I accept his description as an accurate portrayal of the current state of affairs.
Let me explain why I find the world he describes so alien. The greatest work in what the Germans call geisteswissenschaften and the eighteenth century English called Moral Philosophy [as opposed to Natural Philosophy, or science] has always seemed to me to depend essentially both on reason and on what literary critics call voice. It is through his or her distinctive voice that great philosophers, historians, sociologists, and yes even economists communicate their distinctive vision of the human condition. Aristotle's voice is completely different from that of Plato, Hume's voice is nothing like that of Kant, and Marx's voice is utterly unique in the Western intellectual tradition. Whatever cavils you may have about the teaching of A Theory of Justice, there is no denying that Rawls achieves a distinctive voice in that influential work, as did Jean-Paul Sartre, Willard van Orman Quine, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein in theirs. All my life, I have striven for a literary voice that would capture my complex understanding of contemporary public affairs.
Necessarily, it seems to me, a co-authored work, growing as Yli-Vakkuri suggests out of collaborative discussion and intellectual exchange, cannot have an authentic and distinctive voice. Inevitably, unless one author completely dominates the others, it will be written in the flat, correct, acceptable one-dimensional language of the Academy. There will be no dark recesses or ironic overtones, no multi-dimensional representations of a complex, perhaps even internally contradictory social reality. In short, in literary style, it will be indistinguishable from a journal article in Microbiology.
But if that is true, why bother? Philosophers do not, qua philosophers, know anything in particular, save perhaps the history of their own field. They do not do experiments, they do not make observations, they do not prove anything [although logicians do, of course]. It is for this reason, as I have observed here before, that there is little value in workmanlike uninspired Philosophy, even though there is great value in workmanlike uninspired research science.