In response to my bemused brief post about the discussion of anti-natalism that suddenly has broken out on this blog, S. Wallerstein, after some very kind words, says this: “I suspect that back when you were working as an academic philosopher, you too discussed whatever issues your academic philosopher colleagues were talking about with them.”
That got me thinking about the old days, and I realized that in fact the truth is somewhat different. To be sure, I did engage in such discussions as a student. Back in the middle ‘50s [the 1950’s not the 1850’s], one very hot topic, endlessly discussed in the journals, was the analytic/synthetic distinction [you had to have been there.] Two of my professors, Morton White and Willard Van Orman Quine, published articles on the subject. I can still recall, as a nineteen year old graduate student, staying up all night brooding about it and rushing over on a Sunday morning looking for Stanley Cavell. I found him in the Adams House dining room having a leisurely breakfast with the poet John Hollander. “Stanley, Stanley,” I cried, scarcely pausing to say hello, “I think I have solved the analytic synthetic problem!” He looked down his nose at me and said languidly, “Please, not before breakfast.” I slunk away, rebuked but not discouraged.
Not long after that I spent a wanderjahr in Europe on a traveling fellowship, neither reading nor talking about Philosophy [although I did attempt some bad faux Kierkegaardesque ruminations.] When I got home, I wrote my doctoral dissertation, went in the army, and started my career. Pretty soon I stopped reading the journals, and for the next fifty or sixty years pursued the thoughts in my head rather than those in the journals. I did not go to professional meetings, save when I was asked to speak at them, and I published books that responded to Kant or Marx or Mill or the world rather than to what my colleagues were talking about. I did not even pay very close attention to what people were writing about me, with the consequence that I was quite startled recently to learn that my little book, In Defense of Anarchism, had made a considerable impact on legal scholars and political theorists [the early reviews were all quite negative.]
I do not recommend this course to others; it is simply a description of what I have done with my life. So if anti-natalism is all the rage, have at it. It is probably better than trolley cars.