Tagged: philosophizing

Servants of a Greater Master – Are They Still People?

A philosophical problem that keeps me thoughtful lately is the following: Sometimes when you are philosophizing with another person, you suddenly become aware of the fact that the person you are talking to is not really a person!
This astonishing effect usually occurs when the other person does not speak for herself but for another entity that is larger and much more venerable than a single human being.

This may be the case for a professor of philosophy. For a professor of philosophy does not speak for himself but is an intermediary representing philosophy the subject. He (or she) is, so to say, the servant of a greater master – in this case of philosophy the subject. The same, of course, is true for students of philosophy who study philosophy not in order to become philosophers but in order to become professors of philosophy.

Now, what is wrong with being a servant of a greater master, a servant of philosophy?

The problem is whether these people are still human beings?
At this point, I have to concretize my concern because, of course, representatives of institutions do not lose their human rights in any respect.
So, in what aspect could it be the case that they lose their humanity?

Answer: They lose it in that aspect that they become unable to understand what a human being wants, thinks or is asking for.

This becomes especially visible when it comes to philosophy. Imagine a person who is philosophizing because she has some personal problem, and this person starts to talk to a representative of philosophy the subject. The most probable thing is that the representative of philosophy the subject will not even take the other person seriously, because what she is talking does not look in any way like a contribution to philosophy the subject.

Now, let’s consider the other case, namely that a representative of philosophy the subject is talking about philosophy. Will she say anything useful for other people? Most probably not, for she judges the value of insights according to their valuation in the subject of philosophy. She has lost her sense for the “Put yourself in my shoes-thing”.

When we look now at the subject of philosophy: what is philosophy? The decision that philosophy is a subject and should be developed as such is at once a decision against Socrates’ opinion that people should philosophize in order to take care for their souls.

Or let’s put the same thing in other words: “Philosophy”, the word, means “love of wisdom”. However, wisdom is an attribute that is inseparable from human beings. A philosopher can be (or could be) wise, but never can philosophy be wise. By developing philosophy as a subject, what we did in reality was, we separated philosophy from people. That means that we have decided that the task of philosophy is not anymore to solve the problems of people but in order to solve the problems of philosophy the subject.

Building institutions like philosophy the subject corresponds to our need to build up something greater and more durable than we ourselves are, something that lives longer than a human being. Anyway, when it comes to building social institutions, we always again tend to deceive ourselves: First, we intend build up an institution that serves us and helps us to live better lives. However, soon afterwards this function, to be at our service, seems to be an obstacle to the greatness of the social institution. Therefore, we put ourselves at the service of the social institution and do not ask for anything in exchange for our efforts anymore. What makes us happy then is just to see the institution grow and proliferate. The institution lives instead of us. And we live secondary lives by serving the institution and staring at her well-being.

Something in that manner has also happened to philosophy. For once, a long time ago, philosophy helped people to live better lives. Nowadays many people are already unable to understand the sense of the effort of helping a human individual by means of finding orientation in life anymore because this activity does not contribute anything to philosophy the subject. Any philosophical effort seems senseless and worthless to them if it does not contribute to philosophy the subject.

Now we come to the “philosophical” part of this text. The “philosophical” part of a thought – in my understanding – is always that one where it is not enough to understand my words but where you get the option to change your opinion. Well, and the philosophically tempting question here is: Could it really be that servants of a greater master acquire the habit of living their lives as pure intermediaries or representatives and that they, by that, lose their ability to feel, think and react as humans?

Think about it! If you decide that the answer is yes, then it is like a really big and disgusting thing that you will have to swallow.

On the other side, if you decide that the answer is no than you will most probably go on making the same irritating experiences a person makes when she is talking to another person who is not representing herself.

So, the real philosophical question here is: Are people really able to forget what it means for a person to be unhappily in love, to be afraid of illness or concerned about what the future will bring? Can a person really forget that sometimes one has a problem, which is personal, and one would like an honest and personal reaction from the other person? Is it really possible that a person forgets that language, that communication basically serves the task to tell another person what the first person thinks and wants to tell her?

I am afraid all this might really actually be the case.

We are standing here in front of a quite astonishing phenomenon: What happens when a person considers herself in the first place to be a representative, a servant of a greater master, and not a person? What happens then is that this person somehow abandons her responsibility towards herself. She takes herself not serious anymore. Or, she takes herself serious, but only in her function as a representative, not in her function as a person. In other words, she somehow gives it up or neglects it to be herself.

That means that she actively and deliberately stops being a person. And when you are talking to her you cannot be sure that you are talking to her. Because she will not stand up for herself. She will react as if she were just a kind of membrane of the body of the social institution she belongs to.

At this point, I would like to add a thought that lately seems very important to me. Currently I am working among medical doctors, at the General Hospital of Vienna, and I have learned that they are able to encounter a great deal of sense in the effort of healing a person from a disease. I suppose, this is just the way medical doctors should function psychically in order to be good medical doctors. Anyway, I find it difficult to share their passion for healing the bodies of human beings. Therefore, I asked myself: why do I have a different attitude towards the help medicine can provide to human beings?

To my surprise, I have found the answer to this question in the phenomenon I have just described: I think that there are many persons, who are spiritually dead while living in perfectly healthy bodies. I am afraid that our notion of health, which is closely related to the health of the body, distracts us from the fact that many adult human beings have abandoned being themselves by allowing their social roles to completely absorb them.

With this I want to say that although I dread pain and disease as much as any other human being does I have found a task that seems more urgent to me, the task of preventing immediate, voluntary death by manner of a person renouncing to be herself.

It does not even make much sense to me that a person who is not herself should be bodily healthy, because in this situation illness could provide her with time to think about her life while bodily health allows her to work continuously and keeps her away from looking after her soul.

Maybe this is the reason why I have never even considered becoming a medical doctor: the reason that I can conceive something more horrible than bodily disease, namely immediate, voluntary death by giving up oneself while living in an absolutely healthy body.

Every human being has just one life. If we do not live our lives for ourselves, we do not live them at all. However, many persons prefer to live their lives not for themselves but for abstract social institutions like the nation, we belong to, the company, we are working for, or philosophy the subject. They prefer to do that because the social institution is bigger and more durable than they themselves are, and it makes them feel bigger and stronger if they put themselves at the service of an institution that is big and strong instead of living for their own purposes. It is a bit of a Mafia-like thing: people feel lost and vulnerable if they have no strong protector.

And if somebody, like me, says: philosophy should be an activity in order to gain orientation in one’s own life, and not a contribution to philosophy the subject, the servants of a greater master will react by showing their hostility. That is understandable: Wisdom does not give anything to eat, but philosophy the subject is able to provide a household income.

This leads us to another intriguing aspect of my topic here in this text: maybe many people are just too social? By that, I mean that they try to realize a kind of society, which is like an organic body and its cells. If a cell does, what it wants to do, the result is called cancer. In consequence, the organic society is a society, which is based on the concept that her members should give up their own lives in order to only serve the greater whole. However, I think that the human society is not – and should not be – an organic society. Human society should provide the means for its members to live their own lives. It is a kind of society where the society should be at the service of its members, and not the other way round as in the case of the organic Society.

Returning to the activity of philosophizing and its goal: I have now talked a great deal about the interesting phenomenon that many people are tempted to dissolve themselves in society. They think that the only way of being a good member of society is by giving up being themselves. My idea of the activity of philosophy is that it has a goal that is diametrically opposed to that temptation, namely to help us to “come to ourselves” once more, that is to regain individual conscience again after losing ourselves in social alienation.

My idea of the goal of philosophy is based on Socrates’ idea of taking care of one’s own soul and on the idea of rational autonomy as condensed in Kant’s formula for the age of enlightenment: “Sapere aude!” – “Dare to think for yourself!”

These allusions underline that my understanding of philosophy is not so alien judging it from the perspective of the history of philosophy.
Nevertheless, if we take all the ideas in this text together and draw the conclusion, the result is that the principal goal of philosophy would be to cure professors of philosophy from being professors of philosophy. That is to say, that philosophy – as an ego-strengthening activity – should incite alienated intermediaries, who just try to contribute to philosophy the subject, to think for themselves again.

The last paragraph highlights, of course, in a garish manner, to what degree philosophy has failed on the social level and to what degree it has been incapable to explain the sense of its very existence and effort to the people.


Philosophy Is an Activity – What That Means

I use to say that philosopy is philosophizing or doing philosophy, an that this is an activity. I know, of course, that people do not understand me when I say such things. Therefore today I want to explain this issue which is central for me.

Maybe you will ask: “But aren’t all things that are done by human beings human activities? Philosophy is obviously done by human beings – so what else can it be than a human activity?”

Well, no. I will explain the difference to you.

Academic philosophers do say things like: “The questions of epistemology (which is a branch of philosophy) are: Can we really know anything? What is knowledge? … [and so on]”

This clearly indicates that academic philosophers do not share my idea that philosophy is an activity. If philosophy was an activity, there would be for example us two, you and me, philosophizing. We would then ask each other: “What are you interested in?” And what we would answer then, those are our philosophical questions.

Do you understand the difference? If philosophy was an activity, there would be no “questions of epistemology” or “questions of philosophy” because the discussion would not be about epistemology, or ethics or philosophy, it would be about us.

Seeing philosophy as an activity means that we reappropriate our questions. Those questions might be so called philosophical questions, but they might es well be mathematical questions, biological or musical ones. What makes them to be philosophical questions is not that they belong to philosophy but what we do with them, the special treatment we give them.

What does this special treatment consist in? Here again we can find orientation in the idea that philosophy is an activity. Academic philosophers (who do not understand that philosophy is an activity) will say that a philosophic dispute is about who is right. This is false. Philosophical discussions between two or more persons is not about who has the right answer to the question, but about helping the others and oneself to come to a decision about what one really thinks about the question discussed.

The aim of philosophy is not truth (itself), but it is a decision about what one thinks about a specific question. This decision is a deed, it has do be done, accomplished. This is the reason why philosophy cannot in any sense be theoretical, it is always practical. Philosophizing you are “manipulating” yourself, trying to achieve new convictions and leave old ones behind yourself. The topic of your philosophizing might be theoretical or practical, if you achieve the goal to change your own opinion you have done something. This is why philosophy is eminently practical.

There is one more example that shows very well that academic philosophers do not understand philosophy as an activity. If you read papers in philosophy journals you will often come about expressions like “realists” or “anti-realists”, “contextualists”, “invariantists”, “non-reductionists”, and so on. What are they doing here? They invent names for every possible opinion one could hold about a specific question, and then they situate these opinions in the form of positions in some kind of imaginary landscape or continuum. This landscape or continuum is nothing else than the topic itself. The result will be that knowing something about a specific philosophical proeblem in the academic sense will mean to possess knowledge about all possible intellectual positions that exist in this specific theoretical field.

In short, academic philosophers are analysts of positions. They want to find out why something is, or has become, like it is. They do not want to change anything or do anything, they just want to see how things are.

But if you, like myself, embrace the idea that philosophy is an activity the task is a different one. There might be “realists” and “anti-realists” and so on, but you will have to decide yourself for one position because you are just one person. If you want to decide yourself for two positions, you have to make clear if this is possible at all for just one person. Maybe it is possible in some cases, in others it will not be possible. So, for example in ethics for academic philosophers it suffices to know that there are utilitarianists and kantians and virtue ethicists, and so on. It suffices because they do not want to do anything. But if you are a philosopher for whom philosophy is action your task is to find out whether you, yourself, decide to be a utilitarianist a kantian, a virtue ethicist or something else.

And this is because, philosophizing for you will mean to do something, to make up your mind. You will ask yourself: “Did I accomplish something philosophizing today? Did I arrive at some point? If I haven not arrived anywhere, my philosophical work of today was of no use.”

Did I make myself clear about why not all human activities are activities? (Some of them just try to figure out where we are and have no aim to get us anywhere.)


On thinking (2)

In my last post on thinking I have argued against restricting thinking to fully conscient thinking. The requirement of conscient leads to the result that we will only think about the questions and problems other people ask to think about (namely, those people who slaim that thinking is always fully conscient thinking) and that we will not come up with our own questions and problems. This does not mean, of course, that an idea does not have to pass a process of fully conscient thinking in order to be formulated, before it can be discussed. It only means that activity of thinking as a whole is something more comprehensive, and that without these other elements which rather stay in the dark, thinking will not be able to disengage from the surface of the questions and problems that constitute ist objects.

This time I would like to emphasize that thinking, as it seems to me, according to the classical distinction in ontology, belongs to the sphere of “becoming”, and not to the sphere of “being”.

As you might know or not know, philosophy in Greece started with the question about becoming and being. The greeks observed that things are changing or moving, and they asked for the unchangeable substance behind them. For example, a plant is first a seed, than it grow, than it is big and produces fruits, then it withers and dies. So what IS this plant, if it is always in a different state?

Of course, the Greeks did not aks this question out of fun, but out of insecurity about the future. By finding out what things are per se or eternally, they tried to find a way to predict the future. Different results of the quest for being in a world of becoming (or change) are, for example: Plato’s ideas, Pythagorean numbers, Democrit’s Atoms, and, why not, modern natural laws.

Being in philosophy or epistology means: We are looking for the things that stay the same amidst the whole chaos or moving and changing reality.

If we are thinking and doing scientific in order to get out of the vertiginous reality, we are living in, it is no wonder, that thinking is also commonly  conceived as pertaining to the sphere of being. But I think that this is a misconception of being because it confounds being with calculating or computing.

When you are computing a mathematical calculation or draw a logical inference, the whole issue – problem and solution – is already there. There is nothing left to be thought about anymore. On the left side of the =-sign you have the numbers and the operators which tell you what to do with them, whether to add or subtract or multiply or anything else. You apply the (given) rule to the (given) numbers and arrive at the practically also given result (because there is not other result you might arrive at. In a calculus everything is already there from the start, it does not allow to arrive at anything new. This is why calculating, or computing, pertains to the sphere of being.

Thinking is different from calculating. We undertake the activity of thinking in order to arrive at something new. But arriving at something new means to arrive at somehing that seemed impossible to achieve before. And when we have arrived at it (e.g. when we have had a new idea) it seems impossible that there was a time in our (individual) lives, when we were not in possession of that finding.

So thinking is an incomprehensible, mysterious process; as is learning and knowing (the process of advancing from one finding to another). My book “Einladung zur Odyssee. Eine erkenntnistheoretische Reflexion über die “epische Seite der Wahrheit” develops these problems more in extense.

What is the reason for confounding thinking with calculating/computing? It is, of course, our results-orientedness. We do not want to think, we want the results of our thinking. This is why we confuse thinking (the activity) with thoughts (the result of thinking).

What is so wrong about that? Thoughts, if they are good and stable results of thinking, are the end of thinking. The result is good, so there is not reason to think any further. From that follows that nowadaws we confuse thinking with that which is the absolute opposite of thinking: thoughts, results, all that which does not require any further thinking.

And what is the consequence of the present misconception of thinking: Harm is done to the activity of thinking because we think that results (= that which stops thinking) is the only thing that justifies thinking.

That is totally the wrong side around: The real goal of thinking is bringing thinking into action, making it move, bringing it into some kind of energized state where the changes, transformations and movements of thoughts happen more easily, where ideas seem to come on their own.

What happens if people do not think? They arrive at one state of mine, which is more or less pleasant, in which they stay imprisioned for the rest of their lives. There are e.g. those who are not even able to perceive the taste of a fruit, because they have become the smoking & beer-drinking kind of people.

Not that this kind of people would be worse than others, my message is just that as soon as the capacity of mental transformation of a human being is exhausted, life is over. There is still lifetime left, but inside, in your head and in your capacity for experience, you are stuck, you are standing still, you can’t move.

This is why I think it is very important to correct our conception of thinking by emphasizing that thinking is not objective thinking. If we are thinking about objects (things) and do that by producing objective thoughts (thoughts, which are also things), we will become thinking objects (things), and every thing is essentially dead.

On Thinking

Thinking is strongly associated with philosophy.

I think there are more than one misunderstandings about misconceptions of thinking. Here I will talk about one of them.

Thinking is normally taken to be a logical and rational activity which accounts for the logical and rational character of the enterprise called “philosophy”. This does not seem to me to be the whole truth; and as it is only part of the truth it ends up being false.

The reason for that is: if the meaning of “thinking” is restricted to “conscient thinking”, it becomes a cage too small for the philosophizing person to move and develop her philosophy.

Conscient, rational and logical thinking is only possible for questions you already know. It is a part of philosophizing, it is like “editing” and fine-polishing your thoughts. But the more important part of philosophizing is finding out which questions you actually do have.

As I said that conscient reasoning constitutes only a part of philosophizing, you might suspect that the other part is unconscious. This is neither strictly true, nor untrue. I, for example, have become a philosoper by taking the bus. The school-bus is guilty for me being a philosopher. Every morning at 6:30 a.m. I spent three quarters of an hour on my way to school, and every afternoon at 13:48 p.m. (if I remember it correctly) I took the bus on my way home, which for three quarters of an hour. The important issue is that so early in the morning and in the afternoon, after school, I was too tired for thinking. So I spent these 1,5 hours six days a week in a dreamy state of mind. Recent experiences as well as my hopes and fears concerning my immediate future passed through my mind, and my mind somehow took a stand on them. It took a stand on them by discovering a predilection for certain thoughts and a feeling of reluctance towards others. By this means I discovered “my topics”, the topics that make me hot, and in great part also my basic assumptions which had lead me to these topics.

I am telling you this in order to emphasize that not everything that is not fully conscient necessarily has to bi unconscient. My daydreaming was half conscient. It was not even a daydreaming on purpose. In Austria we call this activity “Narrenkastel schauen” – to stare into space. It is an activity where you relax yourself trying not to think anything. And this activity somehow creates the free space in one’s mind where new ideas can appear.

The attitude that philosophizing consists in concious thinking of logical and rational character does wrong to the philosophizing person, for it supposes a philosopher is able to think about different topics with the same fervor. Or, to say it differently, it conceptualizes philosophy as being just a means or an instrument for scrutinizing every kind of topic. This concept of philosopy does not take into account how deep philosophy is rooted in the individual person.

Of course, in the end every thought has to be developed logically and rationally in order to be communicated to others. But if people were aware of the fact that not all thinking is conscient and rational, they would treat these openly stated arguments as just being the tips of an iceberg. An argument, then, would not be treated just according to its being true or false, but as an expresson or a part of a system of philosophy which is currently in development by the person who uttered that thought.

This, of course, would imply to see a philosophical argument as something which is also intrinsically personal. We do not know what another person is working on; and in most cases we, ourselves, do not know which philosophical projects we are pursuing, because most of it stays in the dark of the subconscient and comes to light only step by step.

To understand thinking, as I propose it here, as also including daydreaming and staring into space, results in expressing our respect for the human being as a person, because we can see the person as working hard on developing something which is, by now, only partly brought into existence. (Socrates seems to have meant something similar when talking about “maieutics” – philosophical midwifery.)

On the other hand I would like to warn of conceiving thinking as an foremost logical and rational activity. The consequence of this attitude will not be to arrive at logical and rational results, but to think that which seems to be logical and rational from the outset. But that what seems to be logical and rational from the outset, of course is not logical and rational, but it is just a superstition.

The conception of thinking as logical and rational is nothing more than a self-censorship. If the normal course of thinking consists in (1) thinking freely, (2) sorting out those thoughts which are logical and rational, rational thinking pretends to manage this task by restricting itself to the second part of described activity. But the first part is the creative one.

Rational thinking therefore must end up either in mental infertility, or it could also be the case that people just pretend to think rationally (and the do the creative part secretly, trying not to talk about it). However, the pretension of rational thinking in my opinion contains a considerable amount of disrespect for the human being as a person as it requires that all thoughts be already grown up and rational. The pretension of rational thinking does not respect the mode of functioning of the human mind which needs to conceive new thoughts in a more relaxed and playful atmosphere and let them grow for some time until they become strong enough to be questioned rationally.

What happens normally where the Interpretation of thinking as being rational is practiced is that somebody careless (because he is not even interested in what the others person thinks) questions a very valuable, but young and still undereveloped thought of another person, thus treading down a very indefensible Little plant with the heavy shoe of logic.

On such occasions I tend to think that there is nothing more stupid than rational thinking! And that there is no bigger misunderstanding than that the human being is a rational thinking creature.


On Philosophizing

Philosophizing can be defined as the practice of getting things out of your head.

It is best characterized by the German word “hinterfragen”.

The dictionary mentions “to scrutinize” as translation of “hinterfragen”, but this translation does not seem to transport the original meaning of the German word. “hinter” means “behind” or “on the back of” and “fragen” is “questioning”. “Hinterfragen”, therefore would be “questioning on the back of things”. That is, you do not scrutinize things themselves, but their conditions and presuppositions. A good translation of “hinterfragen” would also be “undermining things be questioning them”. The difference between a scrutiny and a “Hinterfragung” is that you know from the start which questions to ask in a scrutiny (because the thing which is the object of the scrutiny, is given), but it needs a some phantasy and imagination to produce the right questions for undermining a thing or issue, because it is not clear from the start which hidden or latent elements in the shadow make it look strong and convincing.

Philosophizing thus is an essentially negative activity. A philosophizing person has to be aware of the fact that by the activity of philosophizing she will destroy concepts of which other people are proud of, and that they will not like her for doing that. A philosophizing person is essentially bad. But that’s not absolute badness, but rather the necessity of relativizing every goal or knocking it off its perch as soon as you decide to walk on.

Even though, one should know that the activity of philosophizing will be considered as something bad by others. They are criticized and feel attacked, subsequently they fight back. It is, therefore, not advisable – as I am doing it here – to philosophize publicly. The best forum for philosophizing would be a group of good friends. The Problem with that is, that many a person has got good friends, but it is very seldom that these friends understand what philosophizing is about.

Good friends normally confound philosophizing with telling one’s opinion once while drinking a beer together. But philosophizing once is no philosophizing at all. As long as this activity is not repeated, as long as listening to the other does not play the same role as expressing oneself, and as long as it is not as a constructive or progressive activity, it is not philosophizing.

Discussing about the same topic for the second, the third or the tenth time and finding new aspects of it which were not visible during the first discussion (or discussions), this is philosophizing; but not: discussing a topic once, stating one’s opinions and forgetting them after a short period of time.

What I have described as philosophizing, requires very disciplined work. Rarely friends are disciplined enough for continuous work, especially if they like to meet for a couple of beers. This is the reason why one usually stays alone, if one wants to philosophize. But isn’t it the same in all areas, if one really wants do do something?

On Truth

I think that truth has a too good press in philosophy. It is valued much to highly. This has been the case throughout the history of philosophy, and it is still so: it is, as if truth was the ultimate goal of philosophy.

I do not think that this is true, and here is my reason, why I think so: You can be slapped into your face with truth as well as with wrong or superstitious opinions. Somebody, e.g. a person with some kind of social authority (a teacher, a priest, a scientist, a journalist, a physician, a politician and so on) can use truth as well as anything else to make you dumb and numb, to feel stupid and lose confidence into your knowledge and your capabilities.

In that case truth might even be worse than wrong and superstitious dogmas, because you are less able to defend yourself against truth. The other person might block you mentally and disable you by reproaching you that you do not understand anything of the topic you are discussing with her, and that you are obviously not intelligent enough to get it, and you see that cannot defend yourself because, basically, you think the same things as the other person, but you express it in different words, or you have arranged it in your mind in a slightly different way, or you consider other parts of it important than the other person, and so on. In any detail you differ from the commonly accepted dogma, and this makes the other person feel entitled to hit you with the truth onto your head until you aren’t anything more than a trembling and shivering infrahuman something.

Truth can be quite a terrible thing.

This is why I claim that – for philosophizing – there is a goal more important than truth: this goal is to find out what you, yourself, are thinking about a certain thing or topic.

Not to allow others to make you dumb and silly, be it by the use of false and superstitious contents or be it by use of the truth, is the supreme goal of philosophizing.

Or, let’s say rather: it is not the goal, it’s the motivation to philosophize.

Of course, when philosophizing for yourself, you will also want to think the truth. I do not want to think false or erroneous thoughts. But this will be the truth thought by yourself, and not the truth slapped into your face.

The fact that I think that there is something more important in philosophy than truth has an important implication: I think that when all truths have been found, nothing has been accomplished. The reason for that is because these truths still have to be learned by other human beings. And here is it, exactly, where the task of philosophizing starts anew: are they able to learn these truths in a self-determined and dignified way, or are the thruths slapped into their faces.

It is really astonishing that all philosophers (I do not know any exception) seem to think that finding out and establishing the truth is the ultimate goal of philosophy; and when the truth is established, then the work is done and we are all happy.

That’s not true. Philosophizing is the martial practice of mental self-defense; it is the continuous effort of self-empowerment in order to leave the state of frightened and confused infrahuman little somethings and to become outspoken and self-confident human beings.

Manfred R. once said to me: “Whether they throw stones or sweets on you, both of it hurts.” And I say: “Whether they throw falsehoods or thruths on you, in both cases you need to defend yourself.”

On Philosophy (2)

In my last post “On Philosophy”, I wrote that philosophy is the opposite of philosophizing. I think that I have to put more emphasis on that.

The term “philosophy”, how we use it nowadays, means (translated into everyday language): “Do not philosophize!”

And here is the reason, why this is the case. There are mainly three senses we attach to the word “philosophy”. Philosophy may be:

(1) Academic philosophy

(2) Knowledge about the history of philosophy

(3) The practice of philosophizing of the famous philosophers in the history of philosophy.

(2) and (3) are quite close together,  so that they are often mingled, but let’s start with (1).

(1) is an argument about the division of labour. Philosophy is something that is done by professional philosophers. Their place is the university, and philosophical theses are uttered at philosophical conferences, in philosophical journals and books edited by special academic Editorials. Either you are a professor of philosophy yourself and you express your philosophical thoughts in the forums where professional philosophical thoughts are normally expressed and you do it in the form how this should be professionally done, or your thoughts are not philosophical thoughts.

The division of labour imitates here the model of the baker that bakes bread, and the consumer who eats the bread of the baker. But maybe what most people want from bread is rather to eat it than to bake it, and that is the reason why we are quite happy with the division of labour in this field – whereas it could be the case that it is impossible to consume the thoughts of other persons without, while doing that, producing your own thoughts, which could be a reason why in philosophy such division of labour is not sensible.

(2) implies an argument that implies that philosophy means knowing certain things, and that this knowledge does not mean that you think or philosophize yourself. Lately, a “Night of Philosophy” took place in Vienna. Philosophical talks were given in coffee houses. I attended the talk about happiness by Franz Schuh in the Café Schwarzenberg. Schuh does not call himself a philosopher, but what he presented in his talk on that day was a good example for (2), that is, the conviction that philosophy consists in knowledge about the history of philosophy. He explained what different philosophers in the history of philosophy had thought about good life and happiness. He recollected the most curious statements of the most famous names in the history of philosophy to produce something like a philosophical Pearl necklace.  Afterwards, he wanted the auditorium to discuss his talk. I was far away from the microphone. But if the microphone had been near to me, I would have said, that he should first say something before he wants to discuss it with me. It is astonishing – and typical for the identification of philosophy with the history of philosophy – how many people use to tell what others have written or said and think that, by doing that, they have said something themselves.

(3) If (1) was an argument about the division of labour, (3) is an argument about the division of genius. That philosophy is what famous philosophers in the history of philosophy have done, means:  If you are trying to philosophize your are claiming to be one of them. You are not a genius (because you are a normal person) – from that follows that you are not philosophizing.

To sum up, I have stated that “philosophy”, how we understand the term today, means “Do not philosophize!” For that claim I have put Forward three arguments, according to three different meanings of the term “philosophy”: the (1) Division of labour-argument, the (2) philosophy is content with knowledge argument, and the (3) division of genius-argument.

(2) is quite harmless. Followers of (2) most probably will not deny that philosophy could also be philosophizing; but when you attend their meetings and talks you will find that they are doing philosophy without philosophizing themselves. Maybe the are not even aware of that.

(1) and (3) are more aggressive. They state that you are not a philosoper because you are not a professional in philosophy (1) or you are not a genius (3). If you accept these challenges, and you want to be a philosopher, then the consequence will be that you either try to become an academic philosopher (1) or a genius (3). But the question is whether you should accept them?

Should you accept them? Let us have a closer look at what these challenges claim. They claim that philosophy isn’t for you because you are a normal person. You will have to give up being a normal person and start to become something else in order to take part in the enterprise of philosophy. That means that if you want to consider yourself as being a normal person that wants to enrich her life by doing philosophy, you are on the wrong track. If you think that, you are seriously mistaken in what concerns your concept of philosophy.

And here we should return once more to the metaphor of the baker and his bread. Division of labour, I have said, is justified in this area, because we do not really want to bake our bread, but just eat it. Maybe it is also the case that the best manner to play soccer is not by playing it by oneself, but by sitting in front of the television set, drinking beer and eating fat, salty food, and watching how professional players play the game.

But in the case of philosophy I am really doubtful of the aptitude of normal people for forming an audience to the performance of professionals. If the word “philosophy” means that philosophy is nothing for you because you are not a professional philosopher or a genius, then people are perfectly justified in not being interested in philosophy. After all, philosophy is nothing for them. If this is right, then normal people can live perfectly without philosophy (and philosophizing), and from that follows that philosophy has no benefit for them.

This is why I consider philosophy to be the opposite of philosophizing: Philosophy prohibits the human beings to philosophize.

To sum up: Either philosophy is something from which the human being can learn something; in this case philosophy cannot be an expert thing, because most human beings are not experts in philosophy. Or philosophy is an expert thing which is useful for society, for instance by establishing the principles of logic or knowledge or the theory of science, in a way so that nobody outside the expert community learns anything from that; in this case they should do their expert philosophy alone, and leave the rest of us in peace!