I have no knowledge of the status in academic faculties, but I have heard that in recent years the interest in philosophy had significantly declined, so I just wanted to ask the people here that are familiar (or better, are in-) academia, if that's really the case? And if so, what are the reasons, and is there something being done about it?
Eric Schwitzgebel, who works on philosophy of mind and other things at UC Riverside, has written several blog posts over the last few months on undergraduate majors in philosophy at US institutions.
- Sharp Declines in Philosophy, History, and Language Majors Since 2010
- Women Have Been Earning 30-34% of Philosophy BAs in the U.S. Since Approximately Forever*
- Philosophy Undergraduate Majors Aren't Very Black, but Neither Are They As White As You Might Have Thought
- Some Universities Have About 20% Women Philosophy Majors and others About 40%, in Patterns Unlikely to Be Chance
- Philosophy Relies on Those Double Majors
Here's the major figure from that first post:
The figure shows the relative number of bachelor's degrees (as a percentage of all bachelor's degrees) that go to philosophy majors, each year from 1987-2016. The trend is basically flat through the 1990s. There's a substantial increase in 2000-2005; another flat period in 2005-2010; and a drop from 2010 to 2016. In 2016, the relative number of philosophy majors is about the same as where it was in the 1990s.
In the "Double Majors" post (the last in the list), Schwitzgebel looks into a hypothesis that trends against double majors are contributing to this decline. For example, many schools are putting more emphasis on completing a degree in 4 years, which makes it harder to major in both, say, biology and philosophy. Schwitzgebel does find that schools that encourage/enable double majors have more philosophy majors, and so double majors are very important for philosophy. But decreases in double majors don't seem to explain much of the decrease in philosophy majors.
When I was on the regular academic philosophy career track, I often suggested that philosophy programs should create second major programs, with specialized cross-disciplinary curricula in topics such as medical ethics or philosophy of science and technology. A lot of STEM majors want a humanities experience as well, but don't have time for a full second major. This approach probably wouldn't address the causes of the recent decline; but it might help mitigate them.
No - on four counts.
▻ FIRST-ORDER SUBJECT PROMPTS PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS
I should say that the study of philosophy as a sole course is losing its appeal and rightly so. Historically the best work in philosophy was done very often by thinkers who were involved in other matters and turned to philosophy in order to elucidate problems in independent fields - Descartes, Leibniz and Russell all turned to philosophy to aid or clarify their work in science or mathematics, for example. They did this not just for interest' sake but because their first-order inquiries raised problems that turned out to be philosophical. One can go back further, and further afield : Aquinas was a theologian who, within theology, hit rock bottom philosophical problems. Croce in the early 20th century turned to aesthetics and the philosophy of history because in his experience of art and his practice as a historian, he encountered problems that could not be solved or even addressed within art and history but only in the philosophy of these subjects.
It seems to me that mathematicians and scientists - Polkinghorne, Penrose, Raymond Tallis, three that come instantly to mind - have genuine and deep philosophical interests that have stemmed from their professional work. Their involvement in philosophy is a counter-argument to decline.
I can cite a personal example. One of my students, a choreographer, was drawn into philosophy because she wanted to know how far she could vary the performance of 'Swan Lake' and it still remain 'Swan Lake'. Whether she solved the problem, I don't know but she had run slam into a philosophical problem, that of identity.
I can't see this kind of process of being drawn into philosophy as a by-product of one's interest in something else ever stopping or much increasing or declining.
▻ FIRST-ORDER SUBJECTS AND PHILOSOPHY COMBINE
It is not possible to do the philosophy of mind any longer without a reasonable scientific knowledge of the brain and central nervous system. Philosophy detached from or empty of such knowledge is just mental chess. Equally political philosophy, a very different field, needs to be informed by theories of rational choice and the theory of games drawn from economics and strategic studies.
Philosophers can contribute some conceptual finesse and facility in argument to scientific teams working at the intersection of science and philosophy - in regard for instance to the status of 'folk psychology'.
It strikes me that much published work is intersectional. Is one reading a scientific (or scientifically inspired) text on the brain or a work in which scientific concerns and philosophical questions meld ? It's often hard to say and not worth asking.
▻ SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY - THE BLURRED FRONTIER
There have always been scientists, from Newton to Brian Cox, who do not feel the need for any engagement with philosophy in their work. But consider the case of Einstein, mentioned here before. His work on space and time - or space/ time - was both physics and philosophy. Physics and philosophy were related as opposite sides of a curve as he not only did physics but in the process revolutionised the concepts of space and time. From this viewpoint it's otiose to ask whether he was a physicist or a philosopher. In his work this was a distinction without a difference.
I might add that this site is replete with philosophical questions relating to quantum mechanics. I see no decline in the number of such questions. Their overall quality is another matter.
▻ PHILOSOPHY AND CRITICAL THINKING
Critical Thinking courses abound in schools. There are more than ever in the UK. I don't straightforwardly equate critical thinking and philosophy. Critical thinking involves problem-solving, making decisions, learning new concepts, spotting fallacies in arguments where the subject-matter may be of very little if any philosophical interest. Equally there are problems in philosophy such as the definition of truth, the validity of the concept of causation, the old question why there should be something rather than nothing, which require more than (just) critical thinking. None the less the boundary between critical thinking and philosophy is fuzzy. I've taught critical thinking and haven't been sure at times whether what we were doing was critical thinking or philosophy. At points the two activities commingle. In this regard, if critical thinking is flourishing then so is philosophy where the two intersect.