Competition plays a substantial and structural role in philosophy today. It is therefore remarkable that it has received little systematic ethical scrutiny in the literature until now. This paper aims to contribute to establishing a discussion about competition in the discipline of philosophy by arguing (i) that philosophy is not inherently competitive and (ii) that competition tends to corrupt the practice of philosophy.
Regarding (i), I argue that philosophy can best be understood as a cooperative endeavour. The idea that philosophy is a matter of competitive adversarial argumentation impedes philosophers from achieving what philosophy is all about, that is, realising what Alasdair MacIntyre calls ‘internal goods’: acquiring greater wisdom and knowledge and getting closer to the truth.
I then show that a lot of the competition that characterises today’s practice of philosophy revolves around obtaining external goods, such as money, status, prizes and academic positions. While external goods are needed to sustain and regulate the practice of philosophy, competition for such goods also tends to corrupt the practice (ii), by which I mean that internal goods are seriously compromised. This, in turn, excludes prospective philosophers who are not ‘competitive’ enough, which is also a loss for philosophy generally.