HOW TO INTEGRATE PHILOSOPHY AND EVERYDAY LIFE:
TO THINK PHILOSOPHICALLY IN LIFE,
OR REPRODUCE THE FRAGMENTATION OF KNOWLEDGE?
by Ralph Dumain
Nothing reveals more clearly the degree to which employed professionals are alienated from their subjects than does the sharply contrasting behavior of the hobbyists or "buffs" in their fields. When hobbyists encounter one another at a social gathering, before long you will find them talking eagerly about the content of their subject of common interest, showing an excitement, enthusiasm, wonder and curiosity that is reminiscent of beginning professional students. This rarely happens when professionals talk casually with their colleagues. Unlike the amateurs, the professionals don't talk much about the work itself; they often appear detached from their subject, as if they don't derive much satisfaction from it. Yes, they "talk shop," but their focus is so far from the content of the work itself that you would have a hard time if you had to guess what kind of "shop" they work in. A commercial bank? A junior high school? A government agency? A university department? Casual conversation among professionals tends to focus on the actions and personalities of employers and powerful figures within their fieldsthe standard gossip topics of the powerless. Their gossip is by no means idle, however, for the politics are central to their work as professionals.Thus, at the wine-and-cheese reception after an English department colloquium, a first-year graduate student musters the courage to approach the speaker, a well-known professor from another university, and ask a question about literature. But before the conversation has gotten very far, a local faculty member walks up and derails it with the question that he has been waiting to ask: "Is Jones really planning to leave Yale? I heard a rumor." Soon the two professors are engrossed in a wide-ranging discussion about job openings around the country, research grants, book contracts, journal editors and who's jockeying for power in the field. The graduate student, realizing that the conversation is not going to return to the evidently less important topic of literature, retreats back into the crowd. Versions of this generic scene occur frequently in every field.
Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), pp. 145-146.
It can be argued that there are two types of philosophy—or rather that there are two modes of thought which are both conventionally included under the single term, Philosophy. . . . . There exist two modes of thought because there are two distinct series of questions confronting the individual whose function it is to supply answers to the most general inquiry. The first series deals with our knowledge of the world; the second with the lives of men. One type of philosophy is an extension of, and a commentary on, science; the other treats those problems arising from the situations men find themselves in, with respect both to the world and to each other.
The first of these philosophies has a task that, at first glance, is clearly defined . . . . This philosophy strives to make sense out of the contradictory assertions of the sciences, each of which tends to go its own way. It seeks to draw up periodic balance sheets and to define with precision the ideas and techniques that develop as the scientists proceed with the construction of the edifice of knowledge. And, finally, from its observations of the practices, the experiments, the positive findings, the errors and failures, and the triumphs and setbacks of the sciences, it attempts to draw conclusions concerning the nature and functions of intelligence-in-general. . . . The value of this philosophical genre, which it would be best to call simply "general logic," is a matter for debate between the scientists and the philosophers. The question is purely academic and is not of immediate concern to the layman. Nor does it directly affect Philosophy, or human wisdom in general. One cannot say to M. Rey, professional philosopher, that he does not practice philosophy because he applies his thoughts to theoretical physics and grapples with the dilemmas of thermodynamics. He would reply—no doubt in a calm, rational manner—that he practices his profession as he sees fit and that no one has any right to accuse him of betraying the humanitarian mission of Philosophy, whatever that may be. Why, M. Rey might add, don’t you accuse my neighbor, who is a physician, of betraying the mission of medicine because he has failed to condemn preventive detention? Why don’t you accuse my other neighbor, who is a cobbler, of betraying the shoemaker’s craft because he is not protesting against the massacres of Indochinese peasants? And this would be a reasonable reply, which could be backed up with a number of solid arguments. M. Meyerson would probably make the same reply. One cannot accuse M. Rey and M. Meyerson of betraying their philosophical calling just because they are content to till their own plot of ground. After all, the activity they are engaged in, the kind of thinking they do, is of a purely technical character; it must be judged from a purely technical standpoint, and the only possible verdict would be that they are doing their job well or doing it poorly, just as one would say of an engineer that he is either doing his job well or doing it poorly. . . .
On the other hand, the second type of philosophy is at present in a situation totally inconsistent with its basic character: this philosophy, or mode of thought, has assigned itself the task of making an assessment of human life. That is its express purpose, and its practitioners are aware of their goal. Its reason for being is to find the guiding principle of life on earth. . . .
Thus, one must judge what the philosophers are now doing in relation to this conception—which they readily acknowledge and firmly believe in—of a humanitarian mission that is independent of all geographical and temporal conditions, as well as of any special interests. By doing so, one will find out what scholars are really like; one will discover their real intentions and their obnoxious nature; and one will see why it has at last become both desirable and possible that they be replaced.
Paul Nizan. The Watchdogs: Philosophers and the Established Order, translated by Paul Fittingoff (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), pp. 30-35.
But it would be facile to discard the problem by trying to separate popular from academic philosophy, and praising the former for its vital engagement with reality, whilst scorning the decadent aestheticism of the latter. For, on the one hand, popular philosophies will turn out to be modelled mainly on academic ones; and on the other, academic philosophies characteristically involve an image, a "wild idea" as Hegel put it, of something called "the people". The idea of an autonomous "popular philosophy", therefore, may be no more than a wishful projection of the academic imagination. . . .
This sketch of the intellectual consequences of the institutional situation of philosophy points to a definite paradox. The philosophy-class was bound to look very different from the outside than from the inside. Outsiders would think of it as majestically concentrating all the virtue of liberal culture within itself, or at least as pretending to do so, and would expect the philosophy masters to be eloquent, confident and superb. But viewed from within, the class would harbour an upside-down intellectual culture of self-deprecation, hesitancy, and pastoral democracy.
Youngsters moving up into the philosophy-class could be expected to experience some disappointment; but the situation of real outsiders"proletarians" like Fourier in the Jura, or Dietzgen in the Rhineland, or Everhard in Jack Londonwas even more awkward. As working people with a longing for science, or poetry, or music, or art, they were desperate to get away from the "simplicity" and "purity" and "commonsense" in which, as a class, they were supposed to be submerged; they did not wish to glory in the dignity of labour, whatever bourgeois socialists or democratic philosophy masters might say. And by focussing their desires on philosophy, they were embracing a particularly acute form of this contradiction. They might hope to take the subject by storm, as the pinnacle of the academic culture of an oppressive ruling class; they might hope to commandeer and transform it in the name of the dispossessed. But then, owing to the sceptical, pastoral and anti-academic tendencies already implicit in philosophy, they would find the philosophers either welcoming them and applauding them for their good sense, or criticising them for straying from the paths of the masses whom they claimed to represent. . . .
My argument so far has been that, if you consider philosophy as an institution going back to the seventeenth century and beyond, rather than as a set of doctrines going back to Socrates, you will notice a constantly repeated (but seldom remembered) set of themes, images, and words, connecting the ideals of the philosophy class to the supposed virtues of "the people": commonsense, simplicity, and silent reproach against excessive theory. This "pastorally democratic" attitude, as I have called it, prepares a perplexing reception for any members of the "people" who manage to force an entrance into the philosophical world. . . .
But there is a distinction, as has already been noted, between the relatively docile pastoral figure of "the philosopher of the people", and the vindictive and militant "proletarian philosophers" such as Fourier, Dietzgen, or Earnest Everhard. The embarrassment is that this distinction between proletarian and pastoral may not go very deep. If the proletarian philosopher refuses to play the part of sweet simplicity in the philosopher's pastoral romance, he will be consigned to a mock-heroic subplot, like the tinker in Plato who gives himself airs and hopes to marry his master's daughter. . . . The proletarian philosopher, I think, is always in danger of reverting to pastoral type. What begins as a subversion of pastoral, ends as another version of it.
Jonathan Rée, "Proletarian Philosophy: A Version of Pastoral?", Radical Philosophy, no. 44, Autumn 1986, pp. 3-7.
Philosophy . . . elevates the human mind higher than any geometry can. It gives the mind not only attentiveness, dexterity, stability, but at the same time absolute independence, forcing it to be alone with itself, and to live and manage by itself. Compared with it, every other mental operation is infinitely easy; and to one who has been exercised in it nothing comes hard. Besides, as it prosecutes all objects of human lore to the centre, it accustoms the eye to hit the proper point at first glance in everything presented to it, and to prosecute it undeviatingly. For such a practical philosopher therefore there can be nothing dark, complicated, and confused, if only he is acquainted with the object of discussion. It comes always easiest to him to construct everything afresh and ab initio, because he carries within him plans for every scientific edifice. He finds his way easily, therefore, in any complicated structure. Add to this the security and confidence of glance which he has acquired in philosophy—the guide which conducts in all raisonnement, and the imperturbability with which his eye meets every divergence from the accustomed path and every paradox. It would be quite different with all human concerns, if men could only resolve to believe their eyes. At present they inquire at their neighbours and at antiquity what they really see, and by this distrust in themselves errors are eternalized. Against this distrust the possessor of philosophy is for ever protected. In a word, by philosophy the mind of man comes to itself, and from henceforth rests on itself without foreign aid, and is completely master of itself, as the dancer of his feet, or the boxer of his hands.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Werke, II, 404; cited in a supplemental footnote in Hegel's Logic, trans. William Wallace, 3rd. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 303-304.
Every educated consciousness has its metaphysics, an instinctive way of thinking, the absolute power within us of which we become master only when we make it in turn the object of our knowledge. Philosophy, in general, has, as philosophy, other categories than ordinary consciousness; all culture reduces itself to difference of categories. All revolutions, in the sciences, no less than in general history, originate only in this, that the spirit of man, for the understanding and comprehending of himself, for the possessing of himself, has now altered his categories, uniting himself in a truer, deeper, more inner and intimate relation with himself.
These quotations embody a logical progression and an overview of indispensable considerations for those who would seek to unify philosophy and everyday life. My point of departure is radically different from the usual fare. I insisted upon the wording of today's topic'the relationship of philosophy and everyday life'for a reason. The customary phraseologyapplying philosophy to everyday life, or making philosophy relevant to everyday lifeimplies that there are two separate entities, 'philosophy' in a formal or academic sense, and 'life', and the task is to chastise the former for being irrelevant to the latter, or to find some way to turn 'philosophy' into edification, to sell it to the man on the street. I want to show why this approach is deeply misguided.
That this endeavor fills a social need is evidenced by the spate of popularizing books being published these days, and by the growth of a public philosophy movement exemplified in such discussion groups as the Café Philo and Socrates Café groups.
There are books of various sortssome, continuations of old strategies and some, exemplifying new onesand there are substantial popular magazines such as Philosophy Now and The Philosopher's Magazine (whose current issue's editorial [no. 20, Autumn 2002] tackles our very problem). The book trade circulates straight-out popularization efforts of greater or less competence or depth, the low end exemplified by superficial trash such as Sophie's World and Zeno and the Tortoise. Much worse is the trend to process formal philosophy into self-help platitudes, of which the exemplar is Alain de Botton's worthless The Consolations of Philosophy, which has mushroomed into a minor self-help industry. Another blossoming trend is to publish philosophical analyses of the products of popular culture, such as William Irwin's anthologies on Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and now The Matrix and philosophy. Forthcoming volumes will cover Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lord of the Rings, and Woody Allen.
By citing these popular culture television shows, films, and personalities, I do not mean to suggest that philosophical treatments of them are necessarily frivolous or merely gimmicky. Popular culture is so heavily ideologically laden and so deeply ingrained in contemporary life that the ability to analyze its products conceptually is a pressing social necessity. The problem is rather with the assumptions implicit in these anthologies. Perusing them, one will find individual essays of greater or lesser insight and depth. Overall, these anthologies may miss the mark in two ways: when they betray an excessive quantity of superficiality, stupidity, or wrongheadedness; and when they say so many minor things from varying standpoints but end up missing the most essential understanding of the objects of their analyses. These anthologies perpetuate the worst habits of both academic and everyday life and the social division of labor that divides them. On the one hand, we see the daily habits of thoughtless consumption of popular entertainment; on the other, the 'application' of academic philosophy to eludicate aspects of these products, illustrating issues in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, or relating them to various schools of thought such as phenomenology or existentialism. The result is formed from marshalling a variegated crew of philosophical 'experts' (selected how?) who reproduce the fragmented relationship to reality characteristic of both academic and everyday life. To think philosophically, to analyze the implicit conceptual structure of films and TV programs, is to learn how to think critically, how to analyze a concrete phenomenon conceptually, and, indispensably, how to become conscious of the essentials of what makes these cultural products tick. None of these books teach how this can be done. Developing the practice of thinking about life and one's environment philosophically as a habitual daily act makes different demands on people than just showing how some bit of formal philosophy 'applies' to daily life and cultural stimuli, which more often than not, turns out to be just another superficial gimmick.
Now let's look at the public philosophy discussion movement. People who start discussion groups are usually people formally trained in philosophy but who are dissatisfied or disillusioned with academia, and/or feel the need to create a social presence for reasoned public discourse. Yet none has ever confronted honestly what can and cannot be accomplished in such group discussions. Brave souls organize groups for children, senior citizens, prisoners, and others, and some publish the results of their experiences. All these stories have their inspiring moments, and these endeavors surely do good for most of their participants, but the sentimentality of their facilitators precludes any analysis or criticism of their limitations.
The Socrates Café movement of Chris Phillips is an exemplar of the heroism of such efforts; yet Phillips' book on the subject is so saturated with his sentimentality and his own social need to belong, its underlying ideology of childlike innocence and making friends with everybody completely undercuts any intellectual assessment of the quality of the results, of the scientific adequacy for today's world of the thinking displayed, or of the dimension of the ruthless pursuit of truth beyond sociability. Phillips displays an implicit ideology reflecting a typically American narcissism, stemming from the lonely individual driven by the need to belong, to express himself, even to encourage others to express themselves, to foster the ideal of democratic communication, but not to know what is worth expressing or communicating.
The Café Philo movement illustrates comparable problems. For example, Bernard Roy in New York expressed the sentiment that academic philosophy has become sterile and that it needs reinvigoration from the general public. However, he has never specified in what ways public participation could improve the discipline of philosophy. What exactly is the problem with academic philosophy as practiced in his milieu? Has the field itself marginalized topics of vital concern through an overly technical, specialized approach, or an outright restriction of the range of discussion in an environment where analytical philosophy reigns? Is the problem the loss of enthusiasm and excitement, or the lack of opportunity for uninhibited dialogue in a career setting, in contrast to the spontaneous moments that once sparked a passion for philosophy? What can popular philosophy supply that would satisfy the needs of the professional? Roy suggests that both groups can formulate questions to challenge one another's presuppositions. But we really don't know. We are left with a romantic 'pastoral' attitude toward the common folk, who are alleged, without proof, to deliver something of an unspecified nature.
TWO MEANINGS OF 'PHILOSOPHY'
There is a popular, informal use of the word 'philosophy', which refers to sets of beliefs and ways of thinking implicitly or explicitly held. All people have some philosophysome world viewwhether they know it, admit it, or not. At the other extreme there is a body of canonical texts known as 'philosophy', most of which exhibit to varying degrees a consciously elaborated logical structure and explicitly formulated ideas going beyond the spontaneous thinking and commonsense of daily life. There are gray areas as to which works fit this description, which works are considered canonical, according to which traditions, and which ones would be accepted as real philosophy by specialists as opposed to members or factions within the general public. (Perhaps an intermediate type could be defined by classifying proverbs, parables, religious notions, popular or esoteric wisdom, poetry or narratives, as manifestations of thought beyond commonsense, but for our purposes such a category presents the all the same issues of the popular, informal notion of 'philosophy', so let us stick with our two categories for the moment.) The decisive question is: what is the logical relation between these two conceptions of philosophy? And why and how should this matter to the general public?
Here is the fatal flaw of all literature obsessed with the problem of philosophy and everyday life: it is addressed entirely from the bureaucratic side of the question: either 'philosophy' must answer to, be applied to, or remain independent of daily practical life, or somehow it must be absorbed into or fused with it. There are canonical texts on one side, life on the other. But suppose there were no canonical texts or no academic discipline. Would the issue then disappear? Or is there an important distinction to be maintained within the mind of the individual, totally intrinsic and dependent upon the nature of abstract thought itself, that would differentiate even while linking these polar conceptions of 'philosophy'? This is the deepest question of what it means to make life philosophical, and none of the literature of edification is capable of addressing it.
Returning to the real social world in which we live: since specialized knowledge of all kinds is organized in a highly differentiated division of labor, we must consider what making philosophy popular means. Is a romantic, pastoral attitude to the common folk honest in an advanced, technological civilization, or is it just another way of cheating them out of a sober assessment of their relationship to the universe of knowledge? What kind of a world can you have when the focus on everyday life, common sense, or even some limited critical analysis cuts itself off from the laboriously acquired, accumulated formal knowledge of the human race? If everyone had to reinvent the wheel, would we ever have anything but wheels?
PHILOSOPHICAL TRADITIONS AND THE TWO MEANINGS OF 'PHILOSOPHY'
The relationship between the two meanings of 'philosophy' also surfaces in the formation of new formal disciplines. African Philosophy (here referring to Black Africa), as a formally acknowledged object of inquiry, dates back to 1945. There is a philosophical literature in Arabic, a literature in Ethiopia, and perhaps texts of ancient Egypt that would qualify by formal criteria, which go back hundreds of years and in some instances thousands. But the formal question of philosophy in Black Africa arose in 1945, and as the attempt to forge a contemporary philosophical tradition grew, the question of which kind of philosophy is legitimate for our time became the central concern of African philosophers. According to the everyday conception of philosophy, 'philosophy' obviously has existed in Africa since the dawn of the human race. However, a controversy arose over what came to be called 'ethnophilosophy': is it legimitate to collect oral traditions, folk cosmologies, religious and metaphysical ideas, the ideas of sages of traditional cultures, and to project these as legitimate 'philosophy' in the modern formal sense? Can these traditional systems be validly termed 'philosophy'? Do they become 'philosophy' after they are written down and systematized if not before? Or should philosophy go the modern, scientific, logical route, stop trying to formulate some distinctive, regionally, ethnically based system of thought, and leave traditional folk thought to the anthropologists? This struggle was fought out for approximately three decades, and was just about depleted when it got further complicated by postmodernism (also embodied in 'postcolonial' theory), which, by eradicating the distinction between philosophy and literature and nullifying the quest for objective truth, provided the much-needed mechanism for African philosophers, like their western counterparts, to be able to occupy themselves in useless discourse until the end of time.
The logical heart of the issue is whether legitimate philosophy can be tacit, implicit, symbolic, or whether it must be explicit and logically elaborated. The question of the genres of writing to be admitted into a canon becomes even more obvious in recent attempts to cobble together a tradition out of various types of writing where none existed before. For example, a few African-American philosophers have amalgamated a mishmash of various types of writingliterary texts, political and sociological tracts, and individual formal philosophical textswhich had never before constituted a formal philosophical tradition, and create out of them a canonical entity called African-American Philosophy, answerable to no one's criteria other than what contemporary African-American professional philosophers decide is 'philosophy'. (Sometimes this is linked to a larger project called Africana Philosophy. This need not be Afrocentric in content, so the project could be legitimated or contested on other grounds than the obvious reactionary volkische obscurantism.) And there is an even newer gambit to establish something called Afro-Caribbean philosophy, which even dares to propose the 'creolization' of philosophy. To anybody who knows what creolization actually is, the question might arise as to what the creolization of abstract concepts could possibly mean, followed by howls of laughter at what drivel all this is. In my view, creolization of theory is basically postmodernism with beans and rice, in the service of cultural nationalism.
In 1997, I engaged in a fierce polemic over what kind of work should be treated as legitimately philosophical in our time. The academic issues I have described do not matter for the purposes of this discussion. What does matter is that I had to define for myself the essentials of philosophical thought and the logical interrelationships obtaining among informal/spontaneous/intuitive thinking, poetic/symbolic/metaphorical thinking, and abstract, logically connected thinking, within one and the same mind.
THE TWO TYPES OF 'PHILOSOPHY' IN ONE MIND, AND WHAT MATTERS
My interest in defining philosophy is not to impose such a rigid definition upon 'philosophy' so as to make it completely discontinuous with 'non-philosophy.' Whatever the roots and continuities one can find in formal philosophy as growing out of informal philosophy or folk wisdom, the fact that philosophy has evolved to a higher stage of formalization, elaboration, and abstractness is my point of departure. This higher stage is what philosophy essentially is and ought to be today. This is not to dismiss the philosophical content of less formalized thinking, but what makes philosophy 'philosophy' is the extraction and explicit elaboration of the implicit logical structure of any given intellectual expression. Philosophy for me is the systematic investigation of the most general categories, concepts, and abstract ideas, their relations among themselves, and their relationship to concrete reality. Above all, philosophy is not merely the what (what one thinks, the beliefs one holds) but the how and why, the method and the underlying structure of thinking.
Hence for me the heart of philosophy consists of ontology, epistemology, and logic. Why, because it is their level of abstraction that serves as the basis for investigating the various domains of philosophical reflection. Of course I know there are recognized branches of philosophy such as aesthetics, ethics, political philosophy, etc. But what makes these areas something other than possible laundry lists of concrete assertions about this and that? Answer: the underlying methods, the logical investigations, the systematic conceptions of knowledge and reality that underlie assertions of an ethical, aesthetic, or political nature.
As an autodidact and non-academic, I have no investement in the defense of an absolute division of intellectual labor that cordons off 'philosophy' from everything else. My point is to emphasize the level of abstraction at which 'philosophy' works at its peak. Of course philosophical commitments, notions, ideas, systems, and doctrines can be and are embedded within a variety of genres. But philosophy, or any scientific method of analysis, ultimately serves to make the underlying logical structures of these systems explicit. I do not seek to overvalue or devalue certain genres or the capacity of various people to think, but to show that productive philosophy in our age involves logical elaboration, abstraction, and explicitness as its evolutionary dynamic.
But this is not to say that people who have professionally monopolized the skills of symbol manipulation are inherently sophisticated thinkers while others are not. The reverse can often be proved to be the case. I think however that what makes philosophy philosophical is its underlying method, whether that exists implicitly or explicitly, in logical or metaphorical form.
In 1997 I argued these questions with professional philosophers whose intellectual corruption I challenged, but now I am asserting that they matter to all thinking people, irrespective of the intellectual division of labor in society. The art of philosophical thinking is the mediation between the abstract and the concrete, the development of the capacity to think in abstract systems combined with the development of a fine-tuned intuitive sense. Intuition is not innate and inborn but is a learned skill that grows with experience. It means the development of the ability to take in a new situation in a single glance and to know how to hone in on the essential structure of its properties. Without the development of good intuition, the inept application of abstract thought just creates more confusion and static, characteristic of all the bad philosophy that surrounds us.
On the other side, there are observable consequences of people's mastery of standard languages and abstract thinking: those who can explicitly formulate their thoughts seem to have more control over them and can reflect upon, criticize, systematize, and methodologize them, hence making them more transparent to self-awareness. Whereas people who express themselves metaphorically, through anecdotes, proverbs, and spontaneous, impromptu insights, rarely manifest that kind of control over their conceptual apparatus without formal education. I do believe that an underlying systematic approach to the world can exist and function in the human mind before it is explicitly formulated at the highest level of abstraction, and, since the process of formalization and abstraction is constantly evolving and appears to be inexhaustible, we needn't be completely bewildered short of completing this infinite process.
Abstract reflection enables us to organize our conceptions and discern the underlying structures of the information we take in on a much deeper level than spontaneous cognition can achieve. This is the one answer to the demand for the practical use of philosophy. Something can only be useful for some purpose based upon what it really is. One person can only be useful to another based on the real skills that person can provide. Philosophy is a mode of cognition, and its skills are conceptual. Conscious philosophy enables a person to penetrate beneath phenomenal appearances and ideological smokescreens to uncover the underlying essence of any phenomenon or picture of reality. It is a quest for insight into objective reality beyond appearance. Anti-conscious philosophy blocks this process.
A professional philosopher must address the ultimate question: Does the highest stage of self-consciousness not only require, but require total embodiment in, systematic abstract reflective thought? Hegel provided the most profound and systematic answer to this question. It is too deep a question to decide here, and for my money, the jury is still out. But for our purposes, the development of abstract reflection and deep intuition are both indispensable, and even inseparable.
This is just what matters to the integration of philosophy and everyday life. How unfortunate then I have not found one book in my lifetime of any use in teaching the art of philosophical thinking as I envision it.
THE SELF AND THE UNIVERSE OF KNOWLEDGE
Earlier on I posed the question: what are the consequences of isolating the everyday thinking person from the accumulated storehouse of the knowledge and methods of the human intellect? The obverse question then naturally presents itself, which does get addressed by popular literature of varying ideological bents: what then must one read to be adequately equipped to function on all cylinders in the modern world, and not to have to waste time reinventing the wheel? This question is too huge to attempt to answer here. Obviously, for philosophy one needs to learn the basic terminology and approaches to epistemological and ontological issues, for starters. But I won't go further into this matter now. Instead I will address the intangible dimension of the development of talent. In practice we already use models of formal education and apprenticeship to develop abilities. (I assume educational theory addresses these models.) But the cultivation of originality and intellectual autonomy presents so basic and so simple a question, it never surfaces as an abstract object of philosophical inquiry, certainly not one ever presented to the general public. We still cannot fully compute, beyond the familiar confines of the social division of labor, the ultimate relationship between the self and the universe of knowledge.
I also wrote of the development of intuition, which mediates a growing body of pre-reflective experience (everyday life) with the accumulated resources of abstract reflection. Not only can 'philosophy' illuminate everyday life, but everyday life and social practice may supply the nourishment and discipline for abstract reflection. One can read the texts of the formal philosophical heritage of the human race to develop one's capacities, but everyone is responsible for the application of whatever reflective resources one has, to read the texts of daily life and the society one lives in. Whatever the object of study, the task is the autonomous, philosophical thinking through of life, not the forced, fragmented, gimmicky application (or rejection) of formal philosophy to practical life, reproducing the alienated conditions of existence, the social fragmentation of knowledge, and the commodification of mental life.
Thus I reject the professional philosopher's sentimental, pastoral, or guilt-ridden 'socially responsible' pandering to the lay public, flattering its alleged virtues of motherwit and good common sense, an attitude that falters the minute someone steps out from among the uncredentialed 'people', refusing to remain simple and innocent, to challenge the professional thinker on his own ground. The conception of philosophy of real import to the average person then is not that based on the desperate escape from the alienation of professional life, characterized by Jeff Schmidt, nor the conflation of technical philosophy per se with the social (ir)responsibility of the philosopher, clarified by Paul Nizan, nor the sentimental pastoralism analyzed by Jonathan Rée; in sum, not the condescending, second-rate literature of edification, but the full, self-confident unfolding of the powers of the human intellect, described by Fichte and Hegel.
Kaufmann, Walter. Hegel: Texts and Commentary. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1966. Includes Hegel's preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit and "Who Thinks Abstractly?".
Leder, Drew. The Soul Knows No Bars: Inmates Reflect on Life, Death, and Hope. Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.
Peterson, Richard T. Democratic Philosophy and the Politics of Knowledge. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.
Phillips, Christopher. Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.
Rée, Jonathan. Proletarian Philosophers: Problems in Socialist Culture in Britain, 1900-1940. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.
Sohn-Rethel, Alfred. Intellectual and Manual Labor: A Critique of Epistemology. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1977. Contents; Extracts.
WEB SITES AND PAGES
Ralph Dumain's The Autodidact Project [this site]. Fuller quotes, extracts, and articles cited can be found [see also links in text], as well as related items and topics of interest (such as 'theory and practice'). See also my main and specialized mini-bibliographies, and the page of links to other sites.
Roy, Bernard R. "The Philosophical Value of Coffee-House Debates".
Society for Philosophical Inquiry, home of Socrates Café.
Draft completed 27 September 2002. For presentation at Café Philo, Washington DC, 28 September 2002.
Edited with minor corrections and uploaded 30 September 2002.
Note: An analysis of this event is forthcoming. Click on first link below for a report on my prefatory remarks and the group discussion.
© 2002 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.
"Philosophy & Everyday Life: Prologue to Discussion" by Ralph Dumain
Professional and Popular Philosophy: Online Debates
Wisdom and Abstract Thought by R. Dumain
African Philosophy, Politics, and the Division of Labor: Reading Essential Readings
Howard L. Parsons on the Role of the Philosopher
Evert van der
Zweerde & Ralph Dumain:
Correspondence on autodidacts & Soviet philosophical culture
Merab Mamardashvili: Selected Bibliography & Web Links
Biographical and Psychological Dimensions of Philosophy: Selected Bibliography
The Philosophy of Theory and Practice: Selected Bibliography
Wisdom, Philosophy & Everyday Life Theoretical Perspectives: An Unconventional Guide
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