Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle teach in the department of philosophy and religion and the University of North Texas. They are co-authors of the forthcoming Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st-Century Philosophy, claim that philosophy has lost its way ever since "the locating of philosophy within a modern institution (the research university) in the late 19th century:"
This institutionalization of philosophy made it into a discipline that could be seriously pursued only in an academic setting. This fact represents one of the enduring failures of contemporary philosophy.
Take this simple detail: Before its migration to the university, philosophy had never had a central home. Philosophers could be found anywhere -- serving as diplomats, living off pensions, grinding lenses, as well as within a university. Afterward, if they were "serious" thinkers, the expectation was that philosophers would inhabit the research university. Against the inclinations of Socrates, philosophers became experts like other disciplinary specialists. This occurred even as they taught their students the virtues of Socratic wisdom, which highlights the role of the philosopher as the non-expert, the questioner, the gadfly.
Philosophy, then, as the French thinker Bruno Latour would have it, was "purified" -- separated from society in the process of modernization.
"This was the act of purification," they write, "that gave birth to the concept of philosophy most of us know today:"
As a result, and to a degree rarely acknowledged, the institutional imperative of the university has come to drive the theoretical agenda. If philosophy was going to have a secure place in the academy, it needed its own discrete domain, its own arcane language, its own standards of success and its own specialized concerns.
"Philosophy should never have been purified," they conclude.
Jonathan Rée's look at the dream of enlightenment via Anthony Gottlieb's 2000 book The Dream of Reason, (described as "a brilliant retelling of the story of ancient Greek philosophy") and his recent work The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy ("which picks up the story with Descartes and carries it forward to the beginnings of the French Revolution") is rather pessimistic about the situation:
There was a time when every self-respecting egghead had to keep up with the latest developments in philosophy; not any more. Today's intellectuals, if they do not ignore philosophy entirely, can content themselves with reading one or two books about its past. Hundreds of histories of philosophy are available, and they are all much the same: they tell the same basic story, with the same cast of leading characters.