Somehow it seems like the professionalization of philosophy, which began in the 19th century, was a disaster.  I suppose there’s something suicidal in saying such a thing.  If there weren’t such a thing as professional philosophy, then I wouldn’t have a job.  I’ll grant that.  However, when I look at what professionalization has wrought, I wonder if it hasn’t been catastrophic.  Through professionalization, the questions of philosophy have become rarified and abstract, generating all sorts of fascinating philosophical riddles and puzzles, yet one is left– especially the outsider –with the general question “why does it matter?”  At the end of the day, what difference does any of this make?  How pathetic is it that we endlessly pour over Chinese Rooms and what Mary learned and brains in a vat?  This is what we’ve been reduced to?  Grue?  I can, of course, tell a story about why this or that matters, but the point is that it takes a lot of work to dig that “mattering”, that difference, out.  What seems to be missing is an overall telos or aim of philosophical inquiry.  In this regard, I suppose that I’m a sort of Peircian pragmatist.  I believe that conceptual differences and concepts more generally should make some sort of difference to our practice, to how we live, how we feel, how we inquire, or how we relate to one another.  If they don’t, then they’re not of much interest and should probably be abandoned.  What is it we’re doing when we do philosophy, I wonder, but most importantly, why are we doing it and is it worth doing at all?  What philosophy seems to lack is a global vision that renders its activity comprehensible and provides a compass for directing inquiry.

It’s naive and romantic, but the original signification of philosophy as “love or friendship with wisdom” seems to be precisely what is lost.  But why should I care about wisdom?  Why should I desire this special sort of knowledge?  Why should anyone desire wisdom?  I think anyone should desire wisdom because wisdom is a knowledge of how to live well; it is knowledge of the good life; and it is knowledge of how to make conducive to achieving that aim.  Everyone is laughing at me now.  Who takes wisdom seriously anymore?  Who believes there is a picture of the good life?  I don’t know if I do.  I get tied up in knots with these questions.  However, with such a question philosophy opens up like a flower and the other questions– the ontological, the ethical, the epistemological, and all the rest –bloom of their own accord.  They open up out of the question of the good life and the desire to know what the good life might be.  If ontology– the question of the nature of being –and metaphysics are of any value at all, then this is because we must know something of the true nature of being or reality to make wise decisions.  We don’t want to be Don Quixote and spend our lives as Don Quixote, tilting at windmills because doing so will lead to both disastrous consequences and our lives will be in vain.  It matters whether or not I have a soul or whether God exists or whether I am nothing but a physical being.  I will live my life in entirely different ways, depending on my answers to these questions.  My practice will be entirely different.  It matters whether being is a process or composed of things or of forms.  All of these answers will influence my practice and my life differently.

If I give a damn about questions of knowledge, of what it means to know, then this is because action based on opinion can be mistaken, leading to tragic consequences.  I have the opinion that vaccination is dangerous and causes autism.  I thereby don’t vaccinate our daughter.  She gets sick and dies or becomes an incubator for new strains of diseases that had previously been put to bed.  The concept of faith– or conviction in the absence of demonstration –and you get the bloodshed of the Protestant Reformation because everyone is convinced they know divine will, yet no one can demonstrate it to the others.  The only act of love is to murder those who refuse to see the “truth”.  But as Deleuze argues, what is most interesting in Philosophy’s eternal war against doxa or opinion is not simple errors of truth, simple mistakes– and I’m among those that believe we can’t dispense with the correspondence theory of truth –but rather, the real enemy of philosophy are those illusions that haunt thought:  superstition, the lures of simulacra, alienation, stupidity, and, above all, ideology.  If philosophy is to have any value, it is above all in freeing us, in curing us, of these illusions internal to thought that again and again lead us to self-destructive and self-defeating action in our pursuit of the good life, whatever the good life might turn out to be.

And then there is the queen of philosophy– which has become the saddest of the philosophical branches in the contemporary era –ethics.  Ethics, if it is anything at all, is that branch of philosophy that provides a picture of the good life.  It is that branch of philosophy for the sake of which all of these other questions are asked and all these critiques are undertaken.  It is hard not to have contempt and a withering regard for what the discipline of ethics has become today, with its banal questions of whether or not euthanasia is moral, where we should stand on abortion, whether or not it is justified to divert a train heading to kill five people onto a track where it would kill one person, or its meditations on trembling and responsibility towards the infinite other.  What a sad, disgusting discipline it has become with its endless talk of norms and its debates between deontologists and utilitarians.  There is something indecent and profoundly ugly about all of these questions and meditations; something that indicates a deep cultural rot, and an inability to ask what is most important:  what would a life of flourishing be and what must be included in such a life?  One wonders what twisted mind thinks it’s a pressing ethical issue to determine how to persuade the psychopath and the serial killer or the capitalist that lays waste to the planet and institutes profoundly cruel factory farming?  No, we can’t even imagine the question of the good life anymore, yet everywhere such a question haunts us in our political critique and engagement as we everywhere see horror, cruelty, and injustice in the world around us.  Yet perhaps all that is required is a little dialectical negation, a little dialectical inversion, where we transform what we denounce into what we affirm and then use that which we affirm as a target of the world we’d like to create.  Yet somehow it seems as if philosophy has lost this capacity for such inversions and instead we’re left with fragments of thoughts that could be.

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