What possible use or relevance to human life can a discussion like this have? ... What a terrible waste of brainpower... How selfish. The author apparently feels no obligation towards others on behalf of his abilities. There is a longstanding tradition in several religions and many moral systems that to whom much is given much is expected: people of ability... who nonetheless spend it playing intellectual games are depriving others of what those abilities might be able to accomplish. They are indulging their own narrow and selfish desires, and perhaps flattering their own vanity: but they are allowing their abilities to bear no fruit for others.
The blogger, 'Protagoras', elaborates in comments:
I think that one central justification for theory in the sciences is that it can--and indeed has--proved itself to bear on practical concerns at some point, even if we don't know now how that will come about. My beef with this article, as with much, though not all, of academic philosophy today is that it has no similar justification going for it.
This strikes me as incredibly misguided, for several reasons:
(1) History teaches us that it's very difficult to predict in advance which areas of theoretical inquiry will ultimately yield practical payoffs. Who would've guessed that philosophical theorizing about the limits of formal logic and mathematics would eventually bring us the personal computer? Not every academic can be an Alan Turing, admittedly, but the sophisticated consequentialist will keep in mind the big picture. We should design our academic institutions so as to have the overall effect of producing important knowledge (even if that means that many individual academics end up doing "pointless" work, considered in isolation). This is the basic argument for academic freedom: we can expect the best results if we give academics free reign to inquire as their intellectual curiosity sees fit, rather than limiting them to socially "approved" avenues of inquiry.
I trust that most academics are the best judges of what intellectual endeavours are worth their time and effort. (Cf. J.S. Mill's arguments for liberty.) But even if not, the few exceptions -- the Turings of the world, whose theoretical passions lead to invaluable insights -- are arguably so momentous as to justify the whole system that enables them.
(2) For this reason, among others, it is not generally 'selfish' or otherwise immoral to pursue your personal passions. On the contrary, I think it is to be encouraged. See my post 'Value, Alienation and Choice' for more detail.
(3) The particular article in question tackles deeply interesting issues at the intersection of epistemology and philosophy of mind, arguing that:
the best bet for defending an internalist epistemology against Williamson's attack is to take there to be a tight, intimate connection between (to take one example) our experiences and our beliefs upon reflection about the obtaining of those experiences, or between (to take another example) the rationality of our beliefs and our beliefs upon reflection about the rationality of those beliefs.
As an anonymous commenter explained, [edited lightly:] the nature of rationality and our ability to know our own minds are topics 'relevant to human life.' Indeed, they concern our basic condition as humans. One suspects that Protagoras' incredulous response to the paper ("You have to be kidding me") is simply due to his not actually understanding what it says.
(4) There's something incoherent about the crassly 'utilitarian' (in the non-philosophical sense) stance according to which things must be 'useful' to be of value. Note that useful things must be instrumental to some end or ultimate value. The ultimate ends, on the other hand, need not serve any other purpose, for they are valuable in themselves. They are that for which we do the instrumental act. But the confused instrumentalist is blind to non-instrumental values, and thus the point of the whole endeavour. He will thus criticize the direct realization of the ultimate good because it is not instrumental to something else. How backward!
Now, intellectual inquiry, truth and understanding are arguably among the intrinsic goods (i.e. the things we should value non-instrumentally). It would seem to me base and ignoble to deny this. But if this is so, it is backwards to demand that philosophy serve other purposes. (It happens that it does, as per my #1 above, but one shouldn't demand it.) To end on a provocative note: Depending on how it balances against other values, I think it entirely possible that society ought to be set up to serve philosophy!
What say you?