Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How You Can Help If You Are a Philosopher

I would hardly presume to tell philosophers how to do their job. However it does seem to me that given the present state of affairs in this country that we can use all the help we can get, and it may be time to at least consider how philosophers could be of some use. To begin with, it seems that philosophers are at least partly responsible for our present condition. In fact I would like to make the claim that the present crisis in America is to a certain extent a failure of philosophy. We live at a time in which post-modernism has become the dominant language of the ruling class. And it is not simply a benevolent elite, but a power-hungry cabal on an apparent arc towards tyranny. This fact ought to raise serious questions about the effectiveness of post-modernism in establishing a cultural standard of discourse. If anything, post-modernism has had a chilling effect on discourse, whose low ebb has been marked simultaneously by the erosion of traditionally democratic institutions, the emergence of rival institutions so remarkably shallow as to invite the spectre of nihlism to the kitchen table, and the rise of a new ruling class with apparently unlimited designs on power. If the task of philosophy is to clarify concepts, dispel errors, and foster the sciences as reservoirs of public knowledge, then post-modernism has certainly failed on all fronts. What is needed are new and more public committments to truth, a robust ethics which challenges the logic of capitalism, and an aesthetics which rejects the wallowing of post-modernism in popular culture. How can philosophers help with this present crisis? They could start by sweeping the floor.


rayito2702 said...

Interesting post.

Perhaps you should define what you mean by post-modernism. You make it sound bad, but I can't quite figure out what you mean when you use the term.

weazoe said...

I mean by post-modernism any of the various species of relativism, materialism, skepticism, and reductionism which would claim that all language is reducible to gestures, that science is simply one paradigm among many for viewing reality, and that popular culture is no better or worse as an artistic medium than traditional art forms, such as literature. I am not trying to assert a new cultural elitism, a return to foundationalism, idealism, (or any other -ism as Ferris Bueller would say) or to ignore the very valid critique which post-modernism makes of traditional western philosophy. I do think it is possible to move beyond that critique through adopting more radically linguistic and constructivist strategies which acknowledge this particular cosmos as a site for creativity, compassion, and relationality.

rayito2702 said...

In general I agree with your assessment of the weaknesses of post-modernism as you describe it.

Your initial post begs the question, “what is a philosopher?” If a philosopher is one who has a degree in philosophy, has made it their primary subject of study and actually gets paid to philosophize I would agree that philosophy has failed. Using that definition I don’t even know any philosophers much less what they have to say. Or are all those best-selling self-help books the output of philosophers?

A philosopher, like an artist or an athlete, is something everyone should be but few people are. Good philosophy requires the philosopher to admit that they may be wrong. This is something few people accept, especially with regard to world view.

At the expense of sounding relativist, how can one philosophy assert its validity over another? Why is a post-modernist more or less correct than an anti-post-modernist? In order to stop failing philosophers need to figure out how to get individuals to look beyond the comfortable notions of materialism and relativism. But how is that done?

weazoe said...


By philosophy I mean both the work of public intellectuals which is supposedly philosophical as well as popular notions which also count as being some part of philosophical discourse. I am saying that philosophy has failed on both counts. The adoption of post-modernism as a particularly vicious form of sophistry by the present ruling class (i.e., the neo-conservatives), as a means of defining and controlling discourse, ought to give every professional post-modernist not currently on the neo-con payroll a chill (that would exclude for instance Francis Fukuyama and other collaborating intellectuals.) I am saying that our present circumstances, i.e. as being ruled by the Bush-Cheney (for prison!) cabal, constitute the terminus of post-modernism in its official and its popular forms. In 2006 there is no way one can simply go off and deconstruct a cereal box without being complicit in the ongoing slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, is what I am saying. As for the solution, I'm glad you asked. If truth is taken to be part of real-world conditions, a committment that we make in the midst of difficult and conflicting circumstances, if consciousness is an object in the world capable of theorizing and cognizing itself and its relation to those objects which disclose themselves to it, if art is taken to be an excellence or fulfillment or saturation of a type of living, if science can be inspired by the deep desire towards understanding the world as givenness and as gift, and if morality is the cultivation of virtue rather than a capitulation to some essence of apodictic certitude, then we are halfway towards solving our problems, halfway towards liberating this country from its death-grip in the hands of a fanatical regime and its morbidly alienated and barely entertained populist constituents (i.e. paris hilton.)