Persistent mistakes

For those of us who are opposed to any of the “standard” or “traditional” readings of philosophy, the most important question to ask is not why these readings are deficient but whence they come and why they persist. They are reproduced, harmlessly we say, in every intro class where we speak of Plato, the Apology, and the Republic as one of two things: either as an encomium of the “life of the mind” or, alternately, as the politicization of philosophy. Both of these alternatives make the mistake of trying to demonstrate in a world of technology that philosophy is “relevant”.

We can make philosophy relevant to the world through “critical thinking”, through politics, by training scientists and doctors to be “ethical”, etc. Philosophy then becomes procedure, i.e., formal. Or, we make philosophy relevant to “the human” by reducing philosophy to content—to the “eternal questions”.

On the other hand, we can make philosophy irrelevant to the world—by confining the realm of philosophy to “thinking about thinking”—by attempting to make philosophy relevant to itself.

These are both the fundamental mistakes of the philosophical institution (by means of a mistaken reading of Plato), which results in the familiar inanity of philosophical writing and discourse.


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