The Jewelled Tent

26 Apr 2015

The supposed death of philosophy is always said to be the eternally upon us tomorrow – and if not outright death, then merely its inability to cohere within the contemporary world (which amounts to much the same): “It is near. If not now, then soon!”. We, that is to speak of us who I suppose must be considered not-philosophers, merely dance at the precipice of thought, rather than engage in it as true philosophers would (do? did?). To think about (and through) what we are doing – whether in fine detail or broad strokes – has been lost (or is being left behind or in danger of such) in the contemporary world. Yet even this entirely reasonable articulation seems laughably absurd, like the old scholar frantically wandering about the office proclaiming that they cannot find their glasses and so they must be lost – when all along their spectacles have rested upon their nose. This is made the realm of fools and scholars alike when Michèle Le Dœuff allows Shakespeare, that “distant heir[] of Socrates”, to rear his ugly head. If one takes offense at being said to resemble the noble fool, then perhaps it would be more befitting of our stature to say that we are heirs to the madman. All of us not-philosophers proudly living in the shadow of a reformulated Nietzsche: no longer is it God but philosophy that is dead and we have killed it (and Tonto replies, “what ‘we’, white man?” – or, as Le Dœuff might reply, “what ‘we’, great philosophers?”).

That death of philosophy is nothing more than the bitter taste of wisdom left in our mouths once the realization sets in the sage and fool will be themselves equals in the grave. The answer to the question “why philosophize?” cannot be found outside of mythopoesis.1 That is to say there can be no answer more satisfying than Albert Camus’ suggestion that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”. The value of philosophy is not that it can make gods and masters of us – indeed one of the stark lessons of the twentieth century seems to be that the examined life carries with it no superior access whatsoever to the good – so then it must then be found in the doing rather than in philosophical principles themselves. This serves to directly contradict the model of philosophy that is a mirror to the progressive sciences. It is philosophy as a mode of politicking, a form of ‘puzzle-solving’ . Instances in the history of philosophy are juxtaposed against the now for a purpose – not merely the pursuit of truth as truth, but rather towards an end that justifies the inquiry itself. We speak with the dead in order to help us find our own voices.

The intellectual heresy of this kind of philosophy – of which feminist, critical race theorists, and post-modernists are all heirs to – is that it dares advocate the use of philosophical investigation as a means towards their political, social, and otherwise worldly ends: philosophy as political action, as an instrument to be used in opposition to long-entrenched values and ideas. While the old guard are mourning the loss of wisdom, we, again us not-philosophers, should – and there is certainly a prescriptive element here – take the death of philosophy as an opening for a revaluation of philosophy itself.

  1. J.R.R. Tolkein: “There is no firmament / only a void, unless a jewelled tent / myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth / unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth”.