Two questions

1. I was recently asked to define philosophy. With no small amount of embarrassment and prevarication, I fell back to the old definition of “thinking about thinking”. The more I thought about this definition, the more I wished I could recant, despite the initial appeal of this reflexive definition, if for no other reason than the history of this conception of philosophy according to which thought becomes nothing other than the material prison of facticity. Neither, however, do I want to reduce the love of wisdom into the desire for knowledge, which ultimately turns philosophy into French anti-philosophy. Instead, perhaps philosophy is the practice of thinking. If this is so, then what needs to be rescued is not “philosophy” but “practice” (or, more specifically, to rescue “practice” from “tradition”).

2. The mildly annoying refrain of a recent pop song proclaims: “say what you need to say”. Among my first serious intellectual interlocutors, who was more “scientifically-minded”, I was often told that the problem with the humanities (especially literature and philosophy) is that we do not simply “say what we need to say” (so too the usual undergraduate who is asked to read anything that cannot be summarized in Spark Notes or Wikipedia). There is an obvious conflict between the culture of information (which includes the ideology of discourse and consensus) and any discipline with an operative form-content dialectic. The real question is how to get this dialectic off the ground; once it does, whatever problems we might encounter are internally manageable. Plato was well-aware that this is a pedagogical problem, but if things were so simple, then we would merely be faced with ethical or political questions. Instead, it seems that the problem philosophers face vis-à-vis the technical disciplines is metapolitical, which is to say institutional, structural, or economic; yet it seems that the very existence of philosophy is institutional. Is it then naïve to have faith in the possibility of immanent critique?


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