The Home of Philosophy is Life10 Oct 2006, Posted by Writings in
Philosophical theories are like homes in many ways. We take shelter in them from life’s weather. Some are built on firm foundations; others have none at all. There is no point digging deep foundations for a summer night in the forest. A tent with some hooks would do. We live in a philosophy much the same way we live in our homes. Some prefer their arm-chair, others the garden. Some philosophies have no windows, thus inadvertently blocking the light; others have too many, with no shadows to rest in.
I chose home on purpose. For a philosophy that can’t be lived is a mere house not a home. A philosophy used to be a way of life. Now it has degenerated into the analysis of concepts. Philosophy in the last century has given up content in favor of form. It has preferred technique over the purpose of technique. It has opted for a house instead of a home. That house is called department of philosophy. No one lives in the department, it is merely occupied. It is a huge sophistic1 factory, with professors working at the assembly lines of thought. True to its purpose, the factory has managed to significantly decrease the value of its products by its sheer efficiency. Papers were never so numerous, never so cheap. Something has gone wrong.
Needless to say, not all departments fit this description. But enough resemble it in order to make the above description the spirit of the times. The philosopher has preferred his increasingly small and private role on the university campus instead of his original public role on the ancient agora or the modern courts and salons. He has become less sure of himself, indeed a question mark. He has lost his eloquence and wit and has retreated to technical jargon with the hope of retaining any power that resides in a language that only a few possess. Did not the priests do the same with their incredibly obscure and hermetic interpretations of the biblical texts? In this way they made themselves necessary for they claimed to be the only ones to be able to decipher them, only through them could we reach God. To the young student of philosophy, to be tortuously rummaging through a labyrinth of symbols is held to be traversing the path of truth – though I hardly believe any philosopher will claim that it coincides with the path of the good life.
Most students take up the adventure of philosophy because they believe they have the courage to face up to the great questions; only to discover that contemporary philosophy doesn’t really care to answer them and has instead labeled them as pseudo-problems. They prefer working on the semantics of some connective. Philosophers have preferred the details because they have lost sight of the big picture. They prefer the means, Logic & Language, instead of the ends, Ethics and Meta-Ethics, because of their guilt for not being scientists2. It is not just the emphasis on technique that they share with modern scientists but also the general lack of purpose as to the end of their discipline. Philosophers have forgotten that science may give us knowledge but only philosophy can give us wisdom – and wisdom is more important than knowledge.
1. In other words it tends to produce sophists rather than philosophers. See the philosophy page for more differences between philosophers and sophists.
2. William Barrett, Irrational Man, p.6, New York: Anchor Books, 1958.