Here is a paper I wrote with Dr Esa Saarinen for the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy in August 1998.
ESA SAARINEN & T. P. USCHANOV, Department of Philosophy, University of Helsinki
1. Introduction - Wittgenstein's challenge
We shall discuss three interlocking questions, perhaps bewildering in their sheer primacy. Why has present-day philosophy almost cheerfully lost its earlier ability to communicate fruitfully with the general culture? Why has a conception of philosophy as an art of trivial brilliance taken over relatively recently, while the new conception is now the paradigm? And why is this change critically unwelcome from the point of view of much of the best of Western philosophy? These questions will take us into metaphilosophy, sociology of philosophy, and finally to philosophy of life, which are currently the three most neglected areas of the philosophical enterprise. Our fervent conviction will be that a restrictive notion of communication, implicitly endorsed by academic philosophers, plays a key role in the current status of philosophy. In this paper we shall sketch a programmatic, alternative conception of philosophical communication and philosophical relevance.
In the autumn of 1939, Wittgenstein and his friend Norman Malcolm were walking along the river Cam in Cambridge when they saw a newspaper vendor's sign announcing that the German government had accused the British government of instigating an attempt to assassinate Hitler. When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'." Wittgenstein was furious, and the incident broke off his relations to Malcolm for some time (Malcolm, p. 30). Five years later, he wrote to Malcolm:
Whenever I thought of you I couldn't help thinking of a particular incident which seemed to me very important. . . . you made a remark about 'national character' that shocked me by its primitiveness. I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any . . . journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases such people use for their own ends. (Malcolm, p. 93)
What is the use of studying philosophy if it doesn't improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life? Contradicting the standard academic account of what Wittgenstein was up to, we believe that this is the pressing question he asked himself throughout his philosophical career. It was also a question Wittgenstein thought of as outweighing any specific philosophical theses or theories. But it is also exactly the question that has been forgotten and even laughed at by the mainstream of today's professional philosophy.
Why does Wittgenstein refer to Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer, of all possible philosophers, as paragons of philosophical depth? Why does he have nothing but abuse for most of his contemporaries? Why does Wittgenstein reject his professorship in Cambridge? Because in Wittgenstein, as in Kierkegaard and in Schopenhauer, the ancient promise of philosophy lives on, defining the self-conception of the philosopher. According to this conception of philosophy, the philosopher does not see himself as an expert among experts, a commander of his specific square millimetre, a producer of academically respectable and academically meriting results, or a scientist of arguments and concepts.
Rather, the philosopher seems himself in terms of his impact vis-à-vis the grand themes of a good life, the questions of everyday life that everyone - including the philosopher himself - is addressing in his own daily living. There is a long tradition in philosophy of forcefully criticizing approaches in philosophy that "wished to stand out by making an ostentatious display of their philosophical discourse, but did not exercise themselves in the things of life" (Davidson, p. 21). This tradition, so prevalent in ancient Greek philosophy, has been completely neglected by present-day academic philosophy. Most philosophers are currently simply not interested in the Socratic question of a good life, but to us it is as central as it can be. We shall return to it in more detail later.
We believe that the philosophical mistake of the century has been an all too encompassing tie between philosophy and the sciences, the academia and the scholarly life, as opposed to a tie between philosophy and everyday life. As philosophy has struggled to live within the university institution it has come to endorse more and more implicit metaprinciples which have not come to any good. Even if such academic metaprinciples have been appropriate in many areas of knowledge-production they have narrowed the scope of philosophy, amounting to a philosophy which defines itself as a production-force and market-force of trivialities.
It is a crucial feature of the current segregation of philosophy from everyday life that it separates moral philosophy and systematic philosophy into separate realms, to be dealt with by separate people. To a Plato or a Kant this would have been ridiculous or even inconceivable. But systematic philosophers no longer seem to have answers to any ethical questions, even to those arising from their own life and activities. And moral philosophers have quietly accepted their segregation from systematic philosophy, often exiting the discipline of philosophy altogether.
The classics of ethics, of course, are not formal descriptions of thinking about the good life, but attempts to give practical advice to people striving to live good lives. But perhaps because the ghosts of Heidegger's Nazism and Sartre's communism still loom large, today's philosophers are with a few exceptions glad to evade taking positions on the foundations of the society in which they operate. Or is it so that when philosophy refuses to offer a picture of what society ought to be like, that is itself part of its view of what society ought to be like? If so, it is of course a view which nobody shares except a few philosophers.
2. The puzzle - the academic turn in philosophy
As D. W. Hamlyn has recently pointed out in his history of philosophy as a practice,
when considering the practice of philosophy, differences between philosophical doctrines and theoretical approaches pale into insignificance by comparison with the almost universal fact that in this century philosophy has become an academic and professionally managed subject. (Hamlyn, p. 127)
With some notable exceptions like Russell, Wittgenstein and Sartre, the history of philosophy in the twentieth century has exclusively been the history of university philosophy. The tenure system in America and the habilitation system in Europe is perhaps the single most serious factor affecting the substance of academic philosophy, but this has never been discussed as itself a philosophical problem, even when moral philosophers have discussed similar arrangements outside philosophy. It seems to us that the key turn in philosophy this century has not been the linguistic turn, nor the epistemological turn, nor the logical or formalistic turn, but the academic turn.
The most persuasive arguments in favour of the academic turn are the following:
1. The academia is the community devoted to honest, critical, open and self-correcting generation of knowledge and understanding. Inside this institution, and with due respect to the principles carefully developed there, the most profound of rationalities can be generated best. Philosophy is one of the disciplines devoted to the generation of knowledge and understanding. Therefore, serious philosophy should subordinate itself to the disciplinary codes deemed fruitful and productive by the academic community. As such it will score its most valuable victories in the service of the generation of knowledge and understanding. In particular, by imitating the sciences philosophy has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
2. Applications require basic research. Those technological applications that we witness in our everyday environment are based on theoretical research in fields such as theoretical physics, computer science and mathematics. Similarly, we need philosophy of an expressly theoretical nature. The natural home for such philosophy is the academia, the representatives of which are also the judges of success of such theoretical basic research in philosophy. As in other fields of basic research, in purely theoretical and abstract philosophy the results of research will be incomprehensible to laymen.
Note the implications of such a conception of philosophy: (a) The criteria of success in philosophy will in key respects be similar to those in the sciences and other academic disciplines. (b) Sociology of philosophy, as far as it even exists, will in key respects be similar to sociology of the sciences and other academic disciplines. (c) Those aspects of philosophy which connect to the actual conduct of life and to the pragmatic aspects of various human endeavours in culture, social life, economics, or politics, can be defined as secondary and derivative.
The result, in other words, is the kind of conception of philosophy which has led Jay F. Rosenberg, in his introductory textbook on philosophy, to describe philosophers as "the very opposite of practical folk", because "the objects of their theorizing are at one remove from the facts" (Rosenberg, p. 9). Most academic philosophers seem to agree with this view of Rosenberg's. To them, philosophy is a second-order discipline, which does not facilitate action or further life-goals independent of science. The three key aspects of this conception of philosophy are: (1) Philosophy should not concern itself with the issues and problems of "ordinary folk"; (2) Philosophy doesn't have to connect with cultural forms and spheres of conduct outside itself; (3) Philosophy doesn't have to communicate.
The problem here is not that science-imitating academic philosophy is without merit. The problem is rather that the academic turn in twentieth-century philosophy has involved a totalizing aspect, a normative imposition of a one-sided paradigm which is valuable as far as it goes, but nevertheless considers only a narrow slice of the real object of philosophy, which is not the problems of science, but rather the whole human condition. For the general culture, for social life, for struggles for humanity and even for other departments of academic life, philosophy has become remarkably irrelevant. Philosophy does not do its part in society.
In the light of his remark to Malcolm, it is hardly a coincidence that Wittgenstein had at best a tangential relation with the university system, and his remarks cursing its inanities and insanities are numerous. Against his own numerous and explicit wishes, Wittgenstein is nevertheless regarded by many as a proponent of exclusively scientific philosophy as conducted in universities.
Perhaps the only commentator who has fully understood Wittgenstein's conception of the line between science and philosophy is James Conant, who has paid particular attention to the end of the Tractatus (Conant, "Throwing . . .", p. 362-364). There, Wittgenstein says that
The correct method of philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e., propositions of natural science - i.e., something that has nothing to do with philosophy - and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person - he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy - this method would be the only strictly correct one. (Wittgenstein, Tractatus, § 6.53)
Most commentators have struggled with the problem this creates for Wittgenstein's own claim that the point of his book is ethical instead of scientific, and for the Schopenhauerian, decidedly unscientific meditation on the relationship of man and world that concludes his book. Wittgenstein seems to condemn the method of his own book. But according to Conant's convincing inverse interpretation, Wittgenstein through the method of his own book condemns "the strictly correct method of philosophy". On what grounds? "It would not be satisfying to the other".
Wittgenstein's point is that the central controversies of philosophy are rooted so deeply in everyday experience that many students of philosophy are even unable to consider the very suggestion that it is natural science that has the solution to these problems. Conversely, the large part of the Tractatus that deals with Russell's logic is not as much a contribution to the debate on logic as an ironic suggestion that all attempts to perfect logic are useless for as long as the definitions and laws of logic are expressed in ordinary language. There seems to be no other language for expressing them, which means that logic always transcends its own truth-conditions in violation of Kant's critical programme. Wittgenstein would probably have agreed with James K. Feibleman's pithy estimate, according to which
A logical positivist is one who does not know that he has a metaphysics and so supposes that no one else has one, either, and hence concludes that there is no such thing as metaphysics. The low point to which philosophy has sunk is indicated by the fact that it is possible to make a prosperous career in philosophy by not being a metaphysician. (Feibleman, p. 154)
To put it shortly, according to Wittgenstein, exclusively scientific philosophy can only say what it is about, not why or how it is about it. Wittgenstein accuses the proponents of the scientific conception of philosophy of nothing less than failing to practice philosophy to the benefit of the persons they are addressing. As he noted to M. O'C. Drury in 1949, "Bach put at the head of his Orgelbüchlein, 'To the glory of the most high God, and that my neighbour may be benefited thereby.' I would have liked to be able to say this of my work" (Drury, "The Danger of Words", xiv).
The speaker of metaphysical nonsense is meaningless, but the scientist is far worse, since he is usually pointless. According to Wittgenstein, the goal of philosophy is not the attainment of clarity, but rather insight. Philosophical understanding is sui generis. To ask whether some metaphysical vision of the world is right or wrong is almost like asking whether a style or school of art is true or false. Not nearly the whole sphere of human knowledge is the proper sphere for science. In his lectures on aesthetics, Wittgenstein challenges science to demonstrate what brand of coffee tastes best. This is another rather dainty way of putting Wittgenstein's vexing point across. The point of philosophy is not to produce more truths but to operate in a realm which points beyond the landscape of truths, definitions, categories and facts - in a realm in which our everyday experience is embedded and which defines our mode of living and being.
3. The solution to the puzzle - philosophy as a service industry
With whom should philosophy communicate? To whom should philosophy speak? It is essential to observe how restrictive the current metaphilosophy is in its answers to these questions. This restrictive metaphilosophy legitimates itself with an out-of-nowhere appeal to science and academic standards. The overall effect amounts to a nearly total rejection of a partnership view of philosophy. Philosophy does not define itself with an essential tie to non-philosophy, but rather, after the academic turn, takes pride in not connecting and in scorning its potential partners of communication.
Without opposing ourselves to academic philosophy but rather stepping beyond it, we propose that philosophy should be viewed once again, against the main trend of this century, as a service industry. The point of philosophy, in the model we are proposing, is in the way it connects with non-philosophy, rather than in the way it disconnects.
Does communication matter to philosophy? No, if one restricts philosophy to an academic expert discipline; yes, if one wants to reflect more broadly on the prospects of philosophy, with the primary emphasis on making philosophy respectable in the eyes of its own history rather than in the eyes of one's academic colleagues from the science department. Philosophy as a service industry will define its communicative portfolio as pluralistic rather than monolingual, inclusive rather than exclusive, open rather than closed, dialogic rather than monologic.
More than anything, philosophy as a service industry will involve a challenge for philosophy to become an art of connecting - in the sense in which Gadamer with The Enigma of Health connects to medicine and health care; in the sense in which Eco with How to Travel with a Salmon connects to everyday life as a semiotics don; in the sense in which Mary Midgley with Beast and Man connects to anthropology; in the sense in which Martha Nussbaum with Poetic Justice connects to jurisprudence; in the sense in which Evan Eisenberg with The Recording Angel connects to playing records; in the sense in which Michel Onfray and Richard Klein connect to eating, drinking and smoking. One may make such connections effectively or non-effectively, fruitfully or unfruitfully, but the aim is clear: philosophy always presents itself with a tie to what-is-not-philosophy. This is the first challenge for philosophy as a service industry: to develop interactive connections with non-philosophical domains of discourse, institutions and practices.
It is far from clear that the subject matter of philosophy demands for its practice any form of professionalism (Hamlyn, p. 163). Not so long ago, the latest in philosophy was read by the educated lay public as commonly as the latest in literature was. Therefore the conception of philosophy as a service industry will take seriously what Kant, in his notes on the Enlightenment, referred to as public use of reason. "By the public use of one's own reason I mean the use which anyone may make of it as a man of learning addressing the entire reading public". It is in that grand project that philosophy, wanting to live up to its ancient promise, should have the courage to address. But it is clear that expertise-worshipping academic philosophy makes such a project a secondary one at best.
Why philosophy as a public use of reason? Because of the heroic effort that Kant describes as "man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity" with the motto "Have courage to use your own understanding!" Philosophy as a service industry amounts to an effort to serve one's community in its struggle for self-enlightenment and cultivation of the use of one's own judgement. In terms of the philosopher's identity, priorities and communicative strategies, the situation changes dramatically if the idea of philosophy as public use of reason is taken seriously. As opposed to the narrowing process of the non-communicative expert philosophy we arrive at the second challenge to philosophy as a service industry: to develop ways to connect potentially to the entire reading public.
Such an effort might seem excessively ambitious, but reflecting back on the history of philosophy, we observe that the level of ambition has seldom stopped philosophers. On the contrary, before the academic turn in philosophy, from the Presocratics to the Encyclopedists, from Aristotle's first philosophy to Heidegger's analysis of Being, excessive ambition has been a hallmark of a great philosopher. Philosophy, as a service industry, will nevertheless have to become humble in ways that will be shocking to the narcissism of expert-oriented academic philosophy. One needs to reintroduce the idea of Nicholas of Cusa, the idea of an educated ignorance, as the backbone of the philosophical practice - as opposed to the air of superiority of the learned and merited.
Suppose one wants to give philosophical lectures and seminars that attract businessmen and doctors, firemen and nurses, high school kids and retired people, perhaps against a fee, to attend those lectures. Suppose one sets as one's goal to reach a thousand people from different backgrounds and age groups weekly for the next few years. From the experience of the senior author of this paper, as a result of having done that in Finland over the last ten years, it can be concluded that such a goal can be reached only if the following conditions are met: (a) de-learning from the academic ideal of pure thought, reference to authorities and emotional shallowness; (b) taking other people seriously irrespective of their background as respectable partners of philosophical communication; (c) going back to philosophy as an energy resource (of critical and synthetic thinking, of imaginative thinking, of formulating fruitful concepts, of linguistic ingenuity) as opposed to approaching philosophy as a scholarly warehouse of already existing concepts, theories and thoughts.
In short, philosophy as a public use of reason, done in front of the entire public of the community whose servant a philosopher is, involves a relationship to contingent factors regarding the constitution of the public domains and communicative environments of the community. But as pointed out by Bourdieu, Habermas and others, the public domain of our age is different from the public domain of any other age. The conditions of a philosophy that aims at a public use of reason have changed dramatically. New forms of public domains have emerged through technological innovations that have revolutionized the environments in which people structure their thinking and communicate.
Can philosophy remain the same at the age of electronic and image-intensive media? Academic philosophy, communicating only within the boundaries of the expert discipline, may answer "Yes". For the academic philosopher nothing changes, no matter how digitalized and spectacularized life becomes outside the academic setting. As opposed to non-communicative academic philosophy, philosophy as a service industry will have to relate to changes in the technological environment. It cannot remain intact in the age of mass media. Struggling to live up to Kant's call for philosophy as a public use of reason, it will have to develop radically new discursive practices in the digital, electronic and image-intensive communication environments. This is the third challenge for philosophy as a service industry: to enter effectively the new environments of communication created by new technologies. What is called for is what Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen in Imagologies called media philosophy: philosophy in the media and through the media, as a public use of reason in the age of media.
Philosophy in the media requires a radical redefinition of the philosopher's role, identity, style of action, and communicative strategies. The philosopher's own personality becomes part of message, along with many other non-content features of this style of acting out, expressing and performing philosophy. Media philosophy opens the door for a new marketplace of Athens, and philosophy as a service industry paves the way for a reintroduction of the ancient Greek view of philosophy as a performing art. For reasons pointed out most forcefully by Laurie Calhoun, a philosopher's action is one of seduction anyway, even in respectful academic arenas (Calhoun, p. 119-122). From that point of view philosophy as media, in the media, and through communicative strategies effective in the media, is only a stretching of a style of action the philosopher must recognize himself as doing anyway.
This scheme could hardly be any more different from the self-feeding and self-freezing cycle that is the university system of today. It suppresses novelty and defers to fashionable experts on other fashionable experts, forgetting that the classics they use in silencing dissidents were once dissidents themselves (Calhoun, p. 64-67). Esoteric professionalism has taken over in publishing too, and much what counted as philosophy before is now being hawked as a relatively minor branch of literature or as such aberrations as "cultural studies" - as if there were other kinds of studies in the humanities! At present it seems that drastic changes brought about by advances in communication technology might be in the offing in that realm too. First and foremost among these advances is the World Wide Web, which already teems with unpublished and underpublicized philosophical articles, some of them better than any article many refereed journals will ever publish.
4. The methodology - philosophy of extraordinary ordinary language
In 1919, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:
The reason why we are on a higher imaginative level is not because we have finer imagination, but because we have better instruments. In science, the most important thing that has happened during the last forty years is the advance in instrumental design. This advance is partly due to a few men of genius such as Michelson and the German opticians. It is also due to the progress of technological processes of manufacture, particulary in the region of metallurgy. (Whitehead, p. 114)
Fifteen years later, in 1933, Robin Collingwood wrote:
The language of philosophy is therefore, as every careful reader of the great philosophers already knows, a literary language and not a technical. Wherever a philosopher uses a term requiring formal definition, as distinct from the kind of exposition described in the fourth chapter, the intrusion of a non-literary element into his language corresponds with the intrusion of a non-philosophical element into his thought: a fragment of science, a piece of inchoate philosophizing, or a philosophical error; three things not, in such a case, easily to be distinguished. (Collingwood, p. 206-207)
These two quotations are almost ludicrously striking examples of the nascent opposite ends of the exclusively scientific and non-exclusively scientific conceptions of philosophy. The latter conception points out that philosophy is unique as a discipline devoid of any diachronically stable subject matter (Calhoun, p. 67). Therefore there is no unusually philosophical knowledge to be had, only unusually philosophical skills and unusually philosophical attitudes towards things.
It seems that the proponents of philosophy as a second-order discipline have seriously misconstrued this particular datum in their favour when thinking that philosophical skills are scientific and therefore only useful in the sciences. Actually the difference between science and philosophy is that science is technical and rigorous, but philosophy is rigorous without being technical. As Renford Bambrough has noted, scientific philosophers have an idea of a normal philosophy, like Kuhn's normal science. But there is no more or less normal philosophy, simply because there are no more or less normal views in philosophy (Bambrough, p. 195).
This means that what our culture generally thinks of as philosophy is up for grabs - and philosophy cannot educate humanity if humanity prefers to be educated by something else, like religious cults, pseudo-science or pop psychology, fear of which is probably what has driven philosophers away from the study of everyday life in the first place. To an outsider to all philosophy, analytic philosophers are just horsing around with concepts in the way they accuse non-analytic philosophers of doing, and if they cannot explain the goals of their work to outsiders, they can hardly expect much sympathy from outsiders who prefer to get their "philosophy" from a plausible but incompetent non-philosopher. - Witness the use of the concept "philosophy" in the contributions of success-speaker Jim Rohn in America.
If they wanted to, scientists could certainly be literary without ceasing to be scientific. If we think of Bacon, Leibniz, Newton or Locke, their contemporaries certainly appreciated them as great prose stylists as well as great scientists. Their scientific ideas haven't disappeared, but their literary tradition has. It has been replaced by Wittgenstein's suave "philosophical journalists" who use "DANGEROUS phrases for their own ends". Arthur Lovejoy said of William James that he wrote so well that it is difficult to know whether what he wrote is true. Like today's politics, much of today's philosophy is an art of slogans and soundbites, and the ceaseless reduction of his own philosophy to them would certainly have made Wittgenstein explode with rage.
This vanishing trick of philosophical style is so explicit that we do not recognize a literary philosopher even when his literary calibre is enormous. Think of Quine, supposedly the paradigm of the scientific philosopher in his own opinion as well as that of others. And yet Quine has written works as popular and untechnical as any essayist, and these works are shot through with his philosophical spirit. What, for example, is Quine's autobiography if not philosophy? It is philosophy. Traditionally philosophy has been troubled by quack scientists and religious pseudo-philosophers wishing to appear as philosophers, but here we have a prominent philosopher denying that much of the philosophy he does is philosophy.
Again it is the academic setting and its demand for philosophy to follow suit that causes the damage. Quine's more essayistic philosophy is supposedly no more philosophical than Russell's popular writings, Sartre's existential biographies, the essays of Barthes, or the autobiographies of such non-positivist philosophers as Feyerabend and Gadamer. They all fail the scientific litmus test of academic philosophy. But academic philosophy itself usually fails the literary litmus test of the tradition of Bacon, Leibniz, Newton and Locke, which Collingwood invokes in the passage we quote.
This brings us to the problems philosophy has with ordinary language. The considerable interest of scientific philosophy in ordinary language has been limited to the complete reduction of philosophical problems to problems of linguistic usage (ordinary language philosophy), or else to an attempt to substitute "ambiguous and confusing" ordinary language with a Begriffsschrift, some formal or semiformal language (analytic philosophy). But the communicative philosopher sees ordinary language as something to be exploited, not as something to either tame or yield to.
Philosophy as a service industry must learn to see ordinary language as extraordinary. From the point of view of science, it is ordinary language that is indeed extraordinary, since it is infinitely more expressive than any formal language. The communicative philosopher's form of expression must recognize the extraordinary philosophical value of many words of ordinary language, as well as the detection of conceptual shades of linguistic usage without using formal tools. We readily admit that the greatest twentieth-century philosophers have all created their personal jargon, but they have done it by looking at certain ordinary words in isolation - witness the concepts of "the gaze" or "lack" in Sartre, the concepts of "game" or "grammar" in Wittgenstein, the concept of "being" in Heidegger, or various others in Deleuze.
The positivist ideal of pure scientific inquiry works only if the entire audience of philosophy turns into scientists - the turning into scientists of the philosophers themselves would not be enough. But in order to serve his clients, a philosopher must have at his disposal a form of expressing himself that is psychologically expedient in relation to the clients. One striking example of such a form is the use of metaphors. Academic philosophy disrespects metaphors, but for a communication-intensive conception of philosophy metaphors are critical. They are a key creative instrument in producing communicative action. Turning towards imagination as a source of generating insight, understanding and critical reflection, the communicative philosopher looks upon metaphors as a long-neglected power-base. Another example, even more forgotten than metaphors, is the use of stories, for example the one we use about Wittgenstein and Malcolm. Metaphors and stories are two crucial aspects of the effort of the communicative philosopher to exploit ordinary language, and they are already the subject of much fruitful psychological research (e.g. Fiumara's The Other Side of Language and The Metaphoric Process; Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By; and McAdams's Stories We Live By) that remembers the power of ordinary language.
While formal discursive strategies, such as the use of formal logic, give a welcome impression of pertinence and respectability, and may also in some cases produce valuable philosophy, the consequences of formalism as an all-encompassing metaphilosophy are disastrous. The questions an academic philosopher brings to any text are "What is its view?" and "What are its arguments?" Such questions, when pressed too hard upon certain authors like Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, can lead to catastrophic misunderstandings (for examples see Conant, "Kierkegaard's Postscript", passim). Explicitly or implicitly, these men are not even claiming to be scientists. But neither are they abstract artists with their heads in the clouds, as their opponents often think. In claiming to be artists, they are claiming to be craftsmen. The gist of their philosophies is in their style, not in their content.
As such diverse thinkers as Tolstoy, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Sartre have pointed out, art gives people a way of being in the world that science cannot give, and what's even more important, it does this in a way that makes the protestations of science seem irrelevant. In the sciences, everything valuable must be reproducible, but in the arts, to be reproducible is to be worthless! Yet there is no sustained tradition of evaluating philosophical ideas on the basis of their aesthetic worth or even their purely psychological salience.
It is noteworthy that Comte's positivism began as a religious cult, and it seems to rely on the same tacit appeal to gradual human perfection as does communism. In its Manichean dichotomy between truth and happiness, positivist philosophy requires a conversion experience, a sort of feeling of moral inadequacy in the person tempted to seek solutions outside science, to problems outside science. Most non-positivist philosophy is different in this respect. Art does not nevertheless value happiness more than truth, it just equates happiness with truth by living values instead of representing them. The essentially positivist view of knowledge that is implicit in most of today's academic philosophy does not acknowledge this. This is crucial to the dreadfulness of the exclusively scientific conception of philosophy.
By the standards by which it itself judges religions, much of academic philosophy is indeed a religion, because it needs no references outside itself to justify it. Heidegger has noted the resemblance to magical thinking of the "ergo" in "Cogito ergo sum". And as Peter Hacker put it in his recent history of analytic Wittgenstein interpretations,
Science and the scientific spirit of investigation no longer needs defending, but only following, for it was triumphant. Few realized that it might itself contain the seeds of metaphysical nonsense, that it could breed dogmatism and conceptual confusion no less pernicious than its now vanquished adversaries . . . Few worried that it might give rise to scientistic thought - that is, modes of thought that emulate the forms of scientific theories, the jargon and formalization of respectable science, without the constraints of systematic data collecting, quantitative methods and experimental testing. (Hacker, p. 266)
Once again, Wittgenstein is different. As M. O'C. Drury once put it, he is always substituting "must" by "can" (Drury, p. 5). But in today's positivist paradigm, a theory is not a theory if it doesn't explain every case with which it deals. Philosophy must be a panacea or it is nothing. Today's academic philosophy almost always shuns the particular and the delimited, and not just in systematic philosophy, but even more tragically in the philosophy of life. We might pause to consider William Blake, who already predicted the scourge of late 20th-century philosophy in the late 18th century: "To Generalise is to be an Idiot. To Particularise is the Alone Distinction of Merit. General Knowledges are those Knowledges that Idiots possess." To take just one example of this, what would it in practice take away from a skeptic to say "almost nothing can be known" instead of "nothing can be known"? Nothing. But it would strengthen his case considerably. Today we have fuzzy logic, but no fuzzy ontology, fuzzy epistemology, or fuzzy ethics. Instead of an unequivocal starting-point, we have just a vast mass of fanatical positivist antirelativism and an equally vast mass of equally fanatical relativism, each with its own thought police and academic protection racket.
It is therefore no surprise that Wittgenstein is concerned with finding an unproblematic ending-point as opposed to Husserl's unproblematic starting-point. As he wrote in the Investigations, "the real discovery is the one which enables me to stop doing philosophy when I want to" (Wittgenstein, Investigations, § 133). The practitioners of good philosophy must be able to stop philosophizing when they want. For Wittgenstein, the end of philosophy is not a failure, but rather a release into everyday life. The lack of completeness in philosophy turns out not to be a reason for moralistic despair about philosophy, but the very reason for the greatness of philosophy. Questions we can already answer definitively are no longer philosophy - they are facts (Calhoun, p. 67; cf. Wittgenstein, Investigations, § 128).
5. The end result - philosophy in service of the examined life
The communicative aspect of philosophy is not only defined by what, how and to whom one lectures. Rather, the communicative mode of philosophy is most dramatically defined by whom one listens to. Whose problems are worth of the philosopher's attention? Whose talk is to be taken seriously? After the academic turn in philosophy, the prevalent answer to these questions is clear: those worthy of listening are a subset, often a small subset, of the acolytes of the acolytes of the experts on the experts working within one's own research tradition. This is at the extreme opposite end from the Presocratics, whose first attempts at philosophy were an attempt to make consistent the completely ordinary beliefs that everyone in our culture inherits and shares.
Today's professional philosophers have almost never asked men in the street, or their own students, or their spouses and children, or indeed any people outside the domain of experts, what questions of potential philosophical interest might interest them. Like scientists, philosophers need not take laymen seriously as spokesmen for issues of potential professional interest, no matter how learned and experienced the laymen might be in matters outside the philosopher's expertise, no matter how significant in human, social, political, economical, or cultural value his activities and ideas might be.
The result here is that the themes of a philosopher and his school get narrower and narrower. When the senior author of this paper was a graduate student in philosophy in the seventies, he observed that the single most important contribution of American philosophy at that time was Saul Kripke's "Naming and Necessity" (as an article published in the volume Semantics of Natural Language). This is indeed an impressive piece of intellectual brilliance, but still it seems fair to say that the insights of this modern philosophical classic are of little significance to Kripke's colleagues from the science departments, not to mention laymen trying to orient themselves in the complexities of their own life.
Philosophers and institutions that connect to everyday questions, for example the deliberately non-sectarian Royal Institute of Philosophy in Britain and its journal Philosophy, are strikingly different from the mainstream of philosophy today. They continuously expand the sphere of their interest and their influence by expanding the field to which philosophy applies. They are a small minority, but they exist, and they are the best testimony to our thesis that rigour does not have to mean technicality, and that philosophy can potentially delight the entire reading public.
In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein says that "its purpose would be fulfilled if it gave some joy to one person who read it with understanding" (Wittgenstein, Tractatus, Preface). When was the last time, at least since the days of Austin and Ryle, when any academic philosopher hoped that his work could give joy to anyone? But to Wittgenstein, as to Spinoza, joy is the whole point of doing philosophy. "The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man", as the Tractatus also notes (Wittgenstein, Tractatus, § 6.43). Philosophy that connects to non-philosophy is making people happy with philosophy, in a sense that philosophy that doesn't connect is clearly not.
Suppose we did recognize doing people a service at least as a possible task of philosophy. Suppose we did allow the radical possibility that listening might be a key to a new metaphilosophy and to a new role for the philosopher as a production-force of culture. Let us not be normative here, let us only consider an option. Our observation is that such an option is ruled out by the academic turn in philosophy.
In his letter to Malcolm we quoted earlier, Wittgenstein goes on to say that questions of genuine philosophical interest are not necessarily fun or thrilling for the philosopher himself, but that that shouldn't stop philosophers from considering them if they're beneficial to others. Conversely, the prevalent conception of philosophy often seems to define philosophy as nothing but a contest in discovering truths undesirable to others. Finding a contradiction in the argument of one's opponent is much more important and prestigious than considering its context, or its implications and imprints. Again, Wittgenstein disagreed. In his lectures on the foundations of mathematics, he argued against Turing that the harm in a scientific system that contains a contradiction "will not come in unless there is an application, in which case a bridge may fall down or something of the sort" (Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein's Lectures, p. 211). Once again Wittgenstein stressed the relevance of philosophy to everyday life in a way that is relevant to science.
The situation is similar in political and social philosophy. Philosophies such as those of the Frankfurt School or the Situationist International are based on the perfection of critique, on the identification of pain and exploitation, and on the regular exposure of "hard", "unwelcome" truths which would otherwise remain concealed from less alert or less "committed" individuals. But a philosophy which offers only "dissent" and "resistance" as positive terms, is simply not enough. Such a philosophy will not flourish. An internally consistent critique of any position - no matter how concerned or earnest it is otherwise - necessitates by definition a closure on the part of the critic to lived and living contradictions.
A battle is simply not won in philosophy until one's adversary acknowledges that it is won. If this doesn't happen, one can never be sure that it is the true position of one's adversary that one has been fighting, instead of a misconception. If someone claims something to be self-evident, he owes it to those he addresses to explain the very need to argue in favour of that something. After all, it should be self-evident, shouldn't it? In fact, the only way any view can be genuinely self-evident is to make all attempts to criticize it self-undermining, and this isn't very often true in philosophy (Bartlett, p. 11). "Whenever a philosophical proposition is begun with some such warning as 'obviously' or 'it will be clear', we know that the proposition which follows is neither obvious nor clear" (Feibleman, p. 163).
In his devotion to purity at the cost of expediency, the scientific aesthete is not much different from the totalitarian political aesthete like Plato. It may even be that many ostensibly scientific controversies are immersed in politics in a way that philosophers, with a few exceptions, have never recognized. Consider, for example, Ramsey's invocation of mathematicians to rescue mathematics from the "Bolshevik menace" of Brouwer and Weyl, and Wittgenstein's retort that Ramsey was a "bourgeois" mathematician. (For some even more striking examples see Janik, passim.)
Using a particularly harrowing and apposite metaphor, Norman Swartz has spoken in an unpublished paper of philosophy as a blood sport. Given that philosophy proceeds by the presentation of arguments, it should be no surprise that there is a subtext of hunting, or even war, to philosophical engagements. And it is true that already in the Socratic dialogues one often encounters examples taken from sporting and military contexts. Swartz believes that the ways of uncovering error in the philosophical work of others are insulting and unseemly rather than humane and honourable in a percentage of cases that is alarmingly out of proportion with that in many other disciplines (Swartz, no pagination). - Sometimes the frustration of a philosopher comes to the surface with staggering candour. For example, Paul Arthur Schilpp confessed in 1980 that his life's work in editing the Library of Living Philosophers had been in vain, since only one of the philosophers the Library had so far dealt with had been able to admit mistakes in his work (Bartlett, p. 1).
Even the vaunted Socratic ideal of debating implies the ideal of getting opponents to shut up. As Wittgenstein once said to O. K. Bouwsma, not one of the pupils in any of the dialogues ever objects to anything Socrates says. The pupils have no arguments originating outside Socrates, and they say "yes" and "no" in just the way Socrates wants (Bouwsma, p. 60). Considering the way the Phaedrus and the Symposium talk about philosophy as if its aim of begetting ideas was the noble pursuit that is motivated by sexual desire, perhaps there is even something sado-masochist about the relationship of a philosopher and his followers.
But suppose we viewed philosophy as a service industry of the whole of human enterprise and the whole of human happiness. Suppose we did recognise, perhaps inspired by philosophy's ancient glories and reassured by a Kierkegaard or a Wittgenstein, a continuing role for philosophy vis-à-vis the everyday experience. Suppose we did want to multidimensionalise and deepen, to pacify and reassure, and to do this without being as imposing as religion on one hand and science on the other. Suppose we accepted the position that philosophy should not try to ape disciplines such as physics or biology. Suppose we took the stand that philosophy might occasionally animate a scientific study of man but without any obligation to do so - simply because the point of philosophy is not an increase in empirical knowledge. As Foucault put it in a passage that strongly echoes Wittgenstein's letter to Malcolm,
What is the point of striving after knowledge (savoir) if it ensures only the acquisition of knowledges (connaissances) and not, in a certain way and to the greatest extent possible, the disorientation of he who knows? . . . What is philosophy today - I mean philosophical activity - if not the critical work of thought upon thought, if it does not, rather than legitimising what one already knows, consist of an attempt to know how and to what extent it is possible to think differently? (Foucault, p. 14-15)
Suppose, further, that we viewed philosophy as an instrument of the examined life, the self-reflective mode of being-in-the-world. Suppose we did recognise as a cornerstone of philosophical activity the conviction that philosophy should prevent us from being dazzled by what can be known and indeed by what we already know and think. This is the view of philosophy we are proposing here, with all the implications it has for criteria of success, standards of excellence, and the gamut of reasonable communicative strategies.
It is a crucial defining feature of the scientific and academic conception of philosophy, and a sign that it itself is dazzled by what it knows, that it is not very interested in the background conditions of philosophical inquiry. It also excludes the diagnosis of a philosopher's relation to his times, and it similarly excludes any philosophies which consist of an account of some historical particularities in the past, such as the philosophies of Marx, Nietzsche or Foucault.
For scientific philosophy, the history of thought is not an object of thought, but at most a medium of ahistorical thought. Yet it is the history of philosophy that usually produces much more interesting metaphilosophical results than any ahistorical metaphilosophy. For example, in Oxonian linguistic philosophy, especially that of Austin, we find the same sombre middle-class comedy of manners as in Kierkegaard and Kafka (Borges, p. 107; Leiber, p. 22-25; see also Griffiths, passim). And surely the point of knowing the facts of Wittgenstein's life is not an interest in his quaint eccentricisms, which are completely contingent. The point is getting to know his exceptional outlook on life itself.
But a very interesting thing about this is that the facts of the lives of continental philosophers are universally considered relevant in the assessment of their philosophy, while the facts of the lives of analytic philosophers are not. For some reason, the history of philosophy knows all about the insane Nietzsche, but not about the insane Gödel; it problematicizes the fascist Heidegger, but not the fascist Frege; it beefs about the wife-killing Althusser, but hushes up the wife-beating Peirce.
But to those outside the prevalent conception of philosophy, like us, it is even more shocking and scandalous that the impact of a philosopher's practice on himself as a person is no longer a philosophical problem. Philosophers are no longer in touch with the contingent historical fact of their being philosophers. For a philosopher who claims eternal truth for his conclusions, how does he claim to have transcended history, and how does he explain his own historicity? Usually in no way whatsoever. Do philosophers perhaps fear that the recognition of causes for a belief would prevent the recognition of reasons for that belief? If so, they are clearly ideologists, not scientists.
Socrates thought that an examined life was the only one worth living, and we agree with him. But today it is possible to do a full and acclaimed career in academic philosophy without living for a minute a life that is examined in the Socratic sense. How could philosophers then be expected to teach others how to examine their lives? As John Stuart Mill saw reason to intimate nearly 150 years ago in On Liberty, the vanishing of examined lives means nothing less than that the vast majority of different ways to live a human life is lost. It is worth repeating this: the vast majority of different ways to live a human life is lost. Ultimately, it is to this human tragedy of earthshakingly vast proportions that philosophy is supposedly the cure in our metaphilosophy.
As we have demonstrated (as opposed to proven), philosophy is not a thing, but a way of doing various things that are not exceptionally philosophical in themselves; "not a body of doctrine but an activity" (Wittgenstein, Tractatus, § 4.112). This means that no individual, school or outlook can claim to own philosophy. Among the papers Austin left behind was a sketch for a lecture on his own methods. Characteristically, it was titled "Something About One Way of Possibly Doing One Part of Philosophy" (Hacker, p. 175). Many of today's exclusively scientific philosophers would think that Austin never got very far if he had to use a title like that. In our view, Austin got further than most philosophers with the mere consideration of that title. The single thing philosophy absolutely must do is to realize all that it can do if it wants.
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T P Uschanov's Icy Frigid Aire