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2011-03-27
Amateur Philosophers in Academia
I wish to know what scope there is in academic philosophy for amateur philosophers? By amateur philosopher, I mean anybody who is not a professional philosopher, anybody whose livelihood does not depend on philosophy. And by academic philosophy I mean the philosophical discourse and dialogue that takes place on the venue of academic journals of philosophy, philosophy conferences and philosophy books.

Being a professional philosopher is certainly not an official prerequisite for participating in the discourse of academic philosophy. Let's just consider the case of philosophy journals for now - publish their articles in peer reviewed journals of academic philosophy is an excellent way for philosophers to participate in the discourse of academic philosophy is to. But being a professional philosopher is certainly not a prerequisite for this. Journals publish articles based solely on the credentials of the submitted article rather than the credentials of the author (this is what is meant by a "blind" peer review process). The journal is not interested in who you are but is only interested in one question: is the submitted article of a high quality? So long as the submitted article is of a high quality the journal does not care who you are - you need not be a professional, you need not be a professor and you need not even have a PhD; as far as the journal knows, you may be 13 years old.

Although the journals aren't specifically restricted to professional philosophers, I'm willing to bet that over 90% of articles published in academic journals of philosophy are in fact submitted by professional philosophers. (Of course, I just made up that number, 90, and I'm interested in knowing the actual percentage figure here.)

I'm asking this question for personal reasons - because this is something that I'm personally interested in doing with my life. I'm currently finishing up college and looking to go into a philosophy PhD program, but beyond that I'm not sure if I want to pursue a career in professional philosophy. But I'm also not sure that I want to turn my back on philosophy entirely. So I'm wondering, if I go down that path, what scope will there be for a person like me to publish my work in journals of philosophy and be part of the philosophical discourse and dialogue?

2011-03-28
Amateur Philosophers in Academia
Hi Nikhil

I think it depends on what you mean by "amateur philosopher". 
On the one hand, some areas of philosophy are strongly interdisciplinary. For example, one often sees papers in philosophy of science journals that are authored (or co-authored) by scientists. These scientists are not "professional philosophers" but they still have relevant expertise. So it is certainly possible to pursue another academic career, particularly a career in science, while retaining an interest in philosophy.

On the other hand, I think your figure of 90% is an underestimate. You have to be aware that journals publish at most 10% of the papers they receive and that most of these have only been published after a fairly extended process of revision and review. The result is that not even professional philosophers can publish everything they want to publish.  

It's true that, if a journal is properly run, the professional status of the author should not matter. But the problem is finding the time to write a paper that gets into that top 10%. You often hear lecturers with a heavy teaching load complaining that they don't have enough time to do research. Doing research while holding down a full-time job outside academia is, I fear, almost totally impossible.

Best wishes
Jonathan 

2011-03-29
Amateur Philosophers in Academia

Nikhil,

It certainly is possible. I am an 'amateur' philosopher who has recently published an academic book in philosophy (see my profile for more info.), and it is certainly not a crossover book from another field.  

But as Jonathan says, research and writing requires an enormous time commitment. I had to take a year off work to complete the book, and that was really less than half of the time it eventually took to complete only the final draft. Not everybody is able to put themselves into the kind of situation where this is possible. Also, as an amateur one has to be prepared to work pretty much alone; but then again, probably all original work has to be done by oneself, in essence. However, the kind of feedback that might make your work a better one will be largely unavailable. 

So, yes, it is possible to leave the academic world and not 'turn one's back on philosophy'. I did not, but it took an enormous amount of dedication. 



2012-01-02
Amateur Philosophers in Academia
Jonathan's phrase "...complaining that they don't have enough time to do research" struck me. I submit that the purpose of research is NOT so much philosophical, but more keeping the books straight on who said what and when, the maintenance of records, and the survival of the institution. The "philosophical" or integral text (as I called it in an essay) that emerges out of this, a net held together in the most part by the system of referencing, is not a syntax of philosophy. The analytic/continental divide was a problem of organization, reflecting the different organizing principles that build different nets or integral texts.

Russell noted that historical periods of philosophical descent are matched by an ascent in dry scholasticism, by which I assume he meant a commitment to procedure at the expense of sense and novelty. Is this why so much emphasis is now placed on "research"? is philosophy in decline? Wittgenstein didn't do any research. And, I would be surprised if research was a great consideration for Nietschze. Even Frege was told off for going it alone, without research, in his first drafts for Foundations of Arithmetic. But there again, Wittgenstein objected mightily when he thought that his works were not properly referenced and not credited with intellectual priority. In my own case, what I thought were novel ideas were marked away as extraneous to, or absent from, the slowly evolving grand integral text of the institutions, something I still find a little unforgiveable.