One of the reasons disciplinary philosophy has been a stable institution is because it has clear criteria for establishing what counts as excellence. A philosopher is successful insofar as he or she contributes to the reservoir of peer-reviewed publications. Various bibliometrics measure the number of contributions, the rank of the journals they appear in, and their density of linkages (viacitations) to other pieces in the reservoir (for example, the h-index). The question of value is almost wholly confined to influences within the disciplinary reservoir of knowledge. Whether and how this knowledge might impact or improve the non-disciplinary world is largely beside the point. It is left to a hand waving faith that somehow ideas work their way into culture eventually. Disciplinary philosophy is not concerned with being “useful” or “helpful” to others.
But for a de-disciplined philosophy the question of value for non-disciplinary audiences (here and now) is of central concern. It is a difficult challenge, because according to the disciplinary model only non-philosophical criteria could be in operation. One could devise metrics, certainly, but they would not be measures of philosophical excellence. Insofar as they focus on “impact,” they may not even be More troubling is the worry that de-disciplined metrics would necessarily compromise the critical spirit of philosophy. Philosophers could only be successful in terms of how well they advance the agenda of the group they serve. Once they try to be helpful in a fallen, non-philosophic world they will inevitably be corrupted and confined to the narrow, instrumental discourses they ought to critique. In short, once we stray from the autonomous model of disciplinary peer-control, we have no choice but to be mere lap dogs – valued only for how well our services please our masters.
Drawing from my engagements in the politics of natural gas drilling, I take up the challenge of devising de-disciplined metrics for philosophical excellence. A de-disciplined approach to philosophy sees its purview as real-world problems and its peers as those struggling with those problems. Just as disciplinary peers have a variety of standards of excellence in mind, so too do these non-disciplinary peers have a variety of standards. This diversity will require some sifting and parsing, but it must not be reduced to a monolithic structure. Standards that are fruitfully vague can bolster the autonomy of de-disciplined philosophers as they retain some control over the definition of their value. De-disciplined philosophers may well require the university as their protective refuge so that they are free to be critical. But they may not require any particular disciplinary home or disciplinary peers or, indeed, any pre-determined set of peers at all.