“Of what use is a philosopher who doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings?”
― Diogenes of Sinope
“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”
― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
“Starcraft involves Soulcraft”
― Michael Sandel
During its death struggle of more than 200 years, philosophy has become self-conscious. In German, this would express self-confidence, but in English it means the opposite, a loss of self-confidence. If philosophy were a person, ‘he’ would be a lost man from a basket of deplorables still voting for an ideal of greatness that, as he now fears, has never existed. His loss of confidence began 200 years ago during his marital war with science. Having been married to a more and more unresponsive wife, his former advantage as the universal lover of every- and anything was transformed into a useless ideal. Once the great romantic feelings tricked him into marriage, a marriage that lasted since Aristotle’s time. Where love, however, once expressed his greatness, it got degraded to a fantasy without a practical object. After some thousand years, the overqualified lover had to realize that he could not provide for a marriage of convenience. Truth is, he could never build the secure foundation that he had promised his wife. Since God, the watchman of unity, also retreated, science moved out to become an independent woman. In the middle of the 19th century, philosophy stood on the streets, a metaphysically homeless man in his existential crisis.
Meanwhile, the unwanted children of philosophy and science, each one a relativist on their own, partied in the ruins of what Dilthey called “the fallen systems.” Like a lonely father in his midlife crisis, he could not tame the “anything goes”-mentality of the unruly children.
100 years of fascist and postmodern rainbow-costumes, such as nationalism, existentialism, pessimism, nihilism, communism, post-communism, post-modernity and post-postism had passed. The endless aggressive episodes against the father left their marks. In a last attempt of recovery, he therefore traveled to America. Philosophy wanted to save himself and committed to speech- and communication therapy. Having lost his psychologist friends to his ex-wife, this seemed like one of the last options. Yet, the existentially broken self was beyond repair. At the end of the last century, his open wounds exposed him to death. After countless reanimations, Sloterdijk therefore writes about the dying old-white Western man:
For a century now philosophy has been lying on its deathbed, but it cannot die because it has not fulfilled its task. Its farewell thus has been tortuously drawn out. Where it has not foundered in the mere administration of thoughts, it plods on in glittering agony, realizing what it forgot to say during its lifetime. Faced with its demise, it would like now to be honest and reveal its last secret. It confesses: The great themes, they were evasions and half-truths. Those futile, beautiful, soaring flights—God, Universe, Theory, Praxis, Subject, Object, Body, Spirit, Meaning, Nothingness — all that is nothing. They are nouns for young people, for outsiders, clerics, sociologists (Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason xxvi ).
Now, although he feels shame for his unfortunate situation, there is still pride. The man has aged, but the entitlements of the past keep him alive. The university is his last resort, a senior residence for an ill man with great memories but an irregular heartbeat. Here, professors are his welcomed therapists. Like doctors they can watch the machines that still provide life-support, entertain him during his despair and distract him from the last great transition. But nothing can cover the fact that he is an old-white Western man, who nobody really wants to visit, not even on Christmas.
Already in 2015, Japan cut down its liberal arts programs. Prime-minister Shinzo Abe announced back then: “rather than deepening academic research that is highly theoretical, we will conduct more practical vocational education that better anticipates the needs of society”. In the United States, the higher ed “Apocalypse” is predicted for 2026. Enrollment for liberal arts already dropped and as some commentators suggest that liberal arts colleges are doomed:
Because of low birthrates following the Great Recession […] the four-year-college applicant pool is likely to shrink by almost 280,000 per class, over four years, starting in 2026, a year known in higher ed as “the Apocalypse. (Are liberal arts colleges doomed)
Shouldn’t we simply remove his life-support and stop prolonging his pain? A horse is shot for a broken leg, but when to shoot a philosopher? At least, we could say: “Philosophy is dead, and we have killed him”.
“We killed philosophy, all of us, by treating it as a discipline among others, by becoming professionals who sell philosophy, by becoming experts, by building resumes, identities and marketing ourselves to be paid, be branded, by writing books, by publishing articles that are written for making us promoted, by attending ‘conferences’ similar to other professional organizations, by making a career in philosophy.”– Ferit Güven , ApaOnline
It seems, there are only two ways to argue in favor of philosophy: either we state that philosophy can improve students’ education and quote graphs and statistics how awesome students of philosophy are:
Statistics from: DailyNous
However, against these voices that strengthen philosophy’s outer professional appearance, we could also argue that philosophy should not be associated with the economic narrative at all. The association would change the non-utilitarian nature of philosophy. Güven, for example, argues that philosophy cannot be reduced to propositions. It is an unquantifiable discipline.
Güven’s arguments, nevertheless, untie the philosopher from justifying his position at the university and in society. While charging students up to 70,000 Dollars a year, we need to ask: can we really recommend students an over-prized major because it gives them a fuzzily warm feeling?
Maybe, we should ask instead what does it mean when somebody constantly remarks that he is important?
Socrates: Have you noticed on our journey how often the citizens of this new land remind each other it is a free country?
Plato: I have, and think it odd they do this.
Socrates: How so, Plato?
Plato: It is like reminding a baker he is a baker, or a sculptor he is a sculptor.
Socrates: You mean to say if someone is convinced of their trade, they have no need to be reminded.
Plato: That is correct.
Socrates: I agree. If these citizens were convinced of their freedom, they would not need reminders.”― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly,
Like the old dying man, many professors remind us of their importance. Maybe, these discussions occur because philosophers need to convince themselves that they are alive? In fact, however, it might degrade and cripple philosophy – a waste of energy – while the lost time could have been invested in philosophy’s meaning.
Is there another way?
Recently, I have visited the website of my former Ph.D. Department. I was listed as pursuing a non-academic career. I probably failed to hold contact with some professionals at my institution. But maybe the non-academic listing is my future , even though I work and will work at a university. So instead of fighting against the demise that only prolongs the death struggle of philosophy and merely reinvigorates his pride, we may actively engage in punching, choking and stabbing philosophy. Instead of standing besides the deathbed of the ill, we could really attempt to kill him. At least, we should not pity his loneliness.
The house that philosophy has built in former days belongs to his ex-wife now. Should he still attempt to visit the house if he is, in fact, unwanted? It would not be a loss because the foundation of the house is shaky anyway. And who needs a house if he is a philosopher?
Philosophy attempting to destroy itself might acknowledge its true body made from self-critique, vitalized by the lust for destruction. It can discover the parts of itself that it cannot destroy. We could even design the challenge of self-destruction a bit more postmodernist: Is the attempt of destroying oneself destroying destruction? I admit it sounds like I opt for a renewal of Critical Theory, envisioning ourselves on a way of overcoming all narratives, contradictions and institutions. Yet, as Helmut Schmidt knows:
“People with visions should go to the doctor.”
By an uncritical destruction philosophy risks more than his chains. Isn’t it true that our age has produced enough “critical” thinkers. As Critical Thinking has meandered into the mainstream, textbooks on critical thinking urge students to develop their critical thinking skills. Part of the practice includes that they should always ask what is the purpose of any document. Nevertheless, anyone in the internet has already discovered his critical thinking and it has become an attitude. Flat-earthers are certainly the most interesting examples of the overconfident critic. They fight their lonely war against Disney-blinded globalists and they produce interesting results: a “US daredevil” who tried to prove that Earth is flat was recently killed in a homemade rocket crash“. Before his death, he reminded us of our critical duties:
“I just want people to question everything. Question what your congressman is doing, your city council. Question what really happened during the Civil War. What happened during 9/11.”
Critical thinking is an overvalued empty form that philosophy has produced in its pride. Textbooks on critical thinking therefore fail because in their pride they do not apply their own approach to themselves. None of the standard textbooks on Critical Thinking asks: what is critical about critical thinking itself? If critical thinking, however, is a tool that even flat-earthers claim to possess, we may, at least, need to investigate its side-effects. We might come to the insight that the intensity of questioning does not create, instead, its purpose is often merely to elevate the questioner. Furthermore, we need to ask whether the acid of critical questions may even hurt the questioner. In the end, criticism may destroy the reputation of questions itself.
In that regard, isn’t it interesting that a questioner became one of the most powerful man within old-white Western thought?
By now, Socrates has been dying for more than 2000 years. His half-death has left a question mark in the books of our Western tradition. Yet, instead of leaving us with the eternal questions, it also inspired embittered, nasty and resentful intellects. It was not Socrates who was wrong. Rather, many of his followers were not prepared for the consequences of radical critique: they were not ready to die by their own words and standards. Instead, they used questions only for firing at their opponents. After all, critique turned out to be a weapon and in combination with the internet it became finally a weapon of intellectual mass destruction. While Socrates questioned the value of determinated truths, with groundless critique we have abandoned truth overall.
Socrates might have seen that the dialectic of his questioning had to bring oneself to a higher standpoint. Criticism needs not to aim only at others but, at the same time, ask for its own stance. And by that I do not mean daredevils riding on their rockets or incels who kill and blow themselves up for a false ideal. Socrates was ready to die so that the practical, living man could be replaced by the ideal. One could say that his suffering and sacrifice anticipated Christian narratives. After all, it was not about killing the opponent, it was about suffering from the truth so that truth could become. It was about giving up power.
So what about our old-white Western man in this story of sacrifice? His former wife as the beholder of weaponized truth has successfully started her trillion dollar business. She would never admit that their was anything good about their relationship. Maybe, it is true: a marriage, in which your husband questions all of your decisions is paralyzing and a “toxic” hell. Nevertheless, in isolation, on detox, her relationship to truth has become limited too. Given the danger that white-Western thought has been the evil of mankind, she now rather rejects truth as a whole than letting him back into their house. In the strong division, she has never completed her critical thinking. We as a scientific society have only learned to criticize the other. Maybe, it is the phantom pain of the missing part that still harbors the anger and mistrust.
Science celebrates itself as a rational instance of self-control. It is commonly assumed that it can correct itself. But isn’t celebrated self-control the sign of an autocratic government? Science murmurs that her power would mean progress, but reason is not only a question of a self-confident intellect who claims her own body and her house.
If we think it on a deeper level, shouldn’t science be female? Namely, a lifted awareness of one’s body as a fluid concept that by giving birth might become the other? Yet, in her criticism she has become male herself, a force of domination. After all, gender-fluidity might not be something we simply choose, but that can overwhelms us. Gender is the question of power and how much power someone has. Science criticizes others and gains for the moment the high-ground, but by the power of exaggerated criticism we might lose our relationship to the whole and to the other. We might loose our relationship to the other as ourselves (Notes on the Dependence of Independence on Dependence).
Almost any position born from criticism remains in the acid of criticism. While the critic has become self-confident that external powers cannot hurt his voice anymore, he begins lacking self-consciousness that is needed to be open towards the pain of being the other. It is self-consciousness that means to become humble with regard to the presence of the other and that give us back to ourselves in the other (Notes on Socrates’ soul and its inner city).
“We are too weak to discover the truth by reason alone” – St. Augustine (see Note: Reason as Inferential Activity)
Maybe, the recent criticism means that the old-white Western philosophers should be left alone and die. But maybe Socrates taught us that philosophy lives by dying. Philosophy then remains as the paradox of sacrifice. It surrenders to the criticism born from pain lost in rage, it deceases, only to rise in new bodies. Giving up resistance, he finally dies, and by that philosophy lives. Maybe we can say: philosophy is dead, long live philosophy!
Why this Blog?
This blog is more about the death of old-white Western philosophy than about defending it. Yet, my philosophy is not the philosophy of “no” that loses itself in empty criticism and thus depends on the external content to be criticized. Rather, I follow a philosophy of “yes”, a criticism with a smile, sublating the pain with humor. In a sense, it is Hegelian. For Hegel, the sage accepts the fate of her historical moment, but she is in a position of reflection and prepares the concepts of the future. As Sloterdijk argues, a philosophy of “yes” means therefore to say “yes” to the “no”. In this case, it means a yes to the joys of philosophy’s death. It lets it go and gives up the torment of power and resistance. It frees from the negative attitude of the critical thinkers who look everyday at their doomsday watch and lament about our horrible lives. It gives up on feeling miserable.
What else should we want than that the people in their power of criticism step aside and allow us to see the sun? So if somebody asked me about what is my philosophy, I would therefore answer: I already had to give up too many claims in my life (notes on the undead philosophy). Truth is not a matter of defense, but a matter of unarmed seeing. Is this academic? I am not sure, but after my PhD-defense I feel powerless. Is philosophy useful? I ask myself this question almost everyday. Is philosophy finally dead? You tell me, but keep in mind Epictetus recommends:
“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”― Epictetus
Why should you follow this Blog?
Socrates knew that he did not know and in this sense he also recognized the empty shell of institutional education. The following quote is probably also misattributed to him but it captures his attitude toward the question of education: “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”.
In general, I follow the idea that questions help us in processing content and learning. For that reason, I will attach in all articles questions that you can answer in the comment section.
- What is the history of philosophy and its current status?
- Why is philosophy dying?
- Is philosophy a “useful” major (what is the quantifiable and what is the unquantifiable perspective on this issue)?
- Why is Critical Thinking in current educational and societal contexts problematic?
- Why is Socrates’ approach superior to standard Critical Thinking?
- What does the sentence “philosophy is dead, long live philosophy” mean?
- What is a possible alternative to the current paradigm of academic philosophy?
- How does a philosophy of “yes” include a philosophy of “no”?
- According to the article, is philosophy useful?
- Why asking questions?
- For finding valuable quotes in general, Goodreads usually provides a qualitative selection:
- If you seek inspiration, this is a robot that randomly generates them: http://inspirobot.me/
- For reliable information on philosophy, Stanford is usually the best website: https://plato.stanford.edu/contents.html
- A website that lists pro and con-arguments of different questions: https://standardizedtests.procon.org/
- If you need more links, you can also go to my-link-page