Folklore is philosophy (Abigail Tulenkois, 2/26/24, Aeon)

The Hungarian folktale Pretty Maid Ibronka terrified and tantalised me as a child. In the story, the young Ibronka must tie herself to the devil with string in order to discover important truths. These days, as a PhD student in philosophy, I sometimes worry I’ve done the same. I still believe in philosophy’s capacity to seek truth, but I’m conscious that I’ve tethered myself to an academic heritage plagued by formidable demons.

The demons of academic philosophy come in familiar guises: exclusivity, hegemony and investment in the myth of individual genius. As the ethicist Jill Hernandez notes, philosophy has been slower to change than many of its sister disciplines in the humanities: ‘It may be a surprise to many … given that theology and, certainly, religious studies tend to be inclusive, but philosophy is mostly resistant toward including diverse voices.’ Simultaneously, philosophy has grown increasingly specialised due to the pressures of professionalisation. Academics zero in on narrower and narrower topics in order to establish unique niches and, in the process, what was once a discipline that sought answers to humanity’s most fundamental questions becomes a jargon-riddled puzzle for a narrow group of insiders.

This was inevitable once Physics became obscurantist. It was intolerable for specialists that people could understand their fields but they couldn’t understand others. So they just added phoney-baloney theories too.