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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Reply to Jason Stanley's The Crisis of Philosophy

What surprises me of Jason Stanley's interesting article on Inside Higher Ed is that he starts with a long complaint about the fact that philosophers don’t matter anymore, they are marginalized, not invited at cocktail parties, ignored by artists, intellectuals and politicians and doesn’t give any solution about our possible re-integration in the civilized world outside there. He seems to conclude that, ok, that’s it, philosopher’s role is to talk about the meaning of fundamental concepts, it has always been difficult and hard to understand for the general public and it is going to be so in the future.

He then mentions the Vienna Circle as responsible of having introduced such a “dry” method of reasoning and inquiry about the grounds of our knowledge. That was sad but necessary. As a caveat, he adds that these were civilized people nonetheless, with sporadic contacts with the Bauhaus movement. But he forgets to mention that Logical Positivism was also a deeply political and ideological movement whose aim was to have an autonomous grip on truth that was not controlled by politics and institutional ideologies. In this perspective, the spirit of the Vienna Circle was not so different from that of Frankfurt School, another independent and privately funded institution whose aim, 15 years later, was to assure a critical stance towards society and power. Both were aware of the critical role of intellectuals towards power, both endorsed the moral responsibility of taking a different stance vis-à-vis the world they were living in and fight for better standards of knowledge and understanding.

I think that this stance is what any responsible thinker today, philosopher or not, has to take in front of our world: a vigilant stance that doesn’t accept the received view about how things are, but fights for better epistemic and moral standards of inquiry. What I find irresponsible today in philosophy is not the fact the people use abstruse arguments, but that they use them just for the happy or unhappy few crowd they use to meet at summer workshops in nice locations in which they spend their holidays without any thought, any insight about the possible impact of their words and ways of conceiving reality on the society of knowledge that dominates our lives today.

An epistemic vigilant attitude, a bias for hard work in getting things right, is what distinguishes us from other disciplines and what makes us proud of being intellectuals in this world. Without this attitude, without a capacity to evaluate the impact of a more fine-grained analysis of a concept on the overall conception of a scientific or social question that matters in this world, philosophy becomes an empty game, no more interesting than chess playing or tennis, but much less paid.


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Julie Fontaine said...

Inspiring! I entirely suscribe to it.
But I'm wondering: what if some people do not value truth or wisdom as some of us do (and as philosophers are supposed to do so) ? What if some people are more interested in being happy than in being wise(r)? What about those who fear truth, or to whom the quest for truths might bring no good?
(Alhough I have a personal answer to that, still I'm curious about what your personal answer would be)
Thank you for sharing!