The Gadfly and the Spider: Six Types of Philosophy

The Nation ran a review of Justin E.H. Smith’s book The Philosopher: A History in Six Types.

Our work gets a mention: “ Is academic philosophy in danger of withdrawing ever further into itself? Or is philosophy, in daily practice and in the academy, at a high point—accessible to more people than ever, and spilling over its disciplinary boundaries? The answer to this question, it seems, has a great deal to do with how you think about the role of philosophy historically. “The Stone” recently featured an exchange tackling this problem (too recent to be included in the Reader). In January, Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle, authors of the forthcoming Socrates Tenured, described philosophy as being quarantined, having split off from the larger society through the process of modernization; the pursuit of wisdom was “purified,” they argue, and with the rise of modern science, “knowledge and goodness were divorced.” Frodeman and Briggle are opposed to specialization and the ways in which philosophy “aped the sciences by fostering a culture that might be called ‘the genius contest.’” Their argument is in keeping with a common account of philosophy, among the other humanities, as a victim of modern science and the Enlightenment, always in defense of its existence. Smith is in this camp as well: His essay in The Stone Reader is about philosophy’s Western bias, which he locates in the connection between its elitism and its identification with modern science. ”

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Are we really so modern?

“One of Gottlieb’s central insights is that, as he wrote in his previous volume, “The Dream of Reason,” which covered thought from the Greeks to the Renaissance, “the history of philosophy is more the history of a sharply inquisitive cast of mind than the history of a sharply defined discipline.” You might say that philosophy is what we call thought in its first, molten state, before it has had a chance to solidify into a scientific discipline, like psychology or cosmology. When scientists ask how people think or how the universe was created, they are addressing the same questions posed by philosophy hundreds or even thousands of years earlier. This is why, Gottlieb observes, people complain that philosophy never seems to be making progress: “Any corner of it that comes generally to be regarded as useful soon ceases to be called philosophy.””

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At 79 years of age the philosopher Alain Badiou surveys the youth: the youth whom liberalism has left without a compass, the youth tempted by Daesh, and so, too, his own youth, marked by communism, to which he remains faithful. Interview by Juliette Cerf for Télérama. Translation by David Broder Photo by Jean-François Gornet. Via Flickr.  In Alain Badiou’s essay published in the wake of the 13 November Paris killings, “Notre mal vient de plus loin,” he puts things directly: “Our ills today come from the historic failure of communism.”  Faithful at whatever cost to the Maoist ideals of his youth, applauded by some and jeered by others, this politically-committed philosopher is the author of a multi-faceted oeuvre that has been translated worldwide. It ranges from metaphysical tomes based on mathematics like Being and Event and Logics of Worlds — soon to be followed by a third volume, L’Immanence des vérités — to a series of political interventions named Circonstances, via plays for the stage, seminars on the great thinkers of the philosophical tradition, books for the wider public like In Praise of Love, and his translation of Plato’s Republic. This abundant output is reflected in three of his essays published this summer: La Vraie Vie. Appel à la corruption de la jeunesse (Fayard), Un parcours grec. Circonstances 8 (Lignes) and Que pense le poème? (Éditions Nous). Here we meet a fierce critic of capitalism, faithfully radical as he is radically faithful.  Why did you want to address youth in this new book, La Vraie Vie? A number of different factors came together. Firstly, personal factors put me face-to-face with the great disorientation that the youth is today experiencing. Since the 1980s it has gradually seen the horizon of the possible closing down. I have seen the difficulties my children and their friends have had in traversing the world such as it is, and finding their place within it. I’ve seen young people’s growing tendency toward self-depreciation. Moreover, I have been surrounded by students, and having long been politically active in migrant hostels and factories where I was frequently in contact with a nomadic working-class youth bearing a rich experience drawn from extraordinarily diverse situations. And then there’s the fact that one of my great sources, Plato’s dialogues, is made up of discussions between Socrates and young people. For the tradition I set myself in, youth is simultaneously both the very question of philosophy and its destination. The philosopher tries to transmit something that might still be of value in the future, and in this sense, his audience is always the youth… To philosophise is to research the question of truth in the conditions of one’s own time. But the youth also enters into a world that is in becoming; it is also seeking its bearings and points of fixture. That is its very process. Youth’s problem is exactly the same as the philosopher’s, though it doesn’t know it!   Like Plato you call for the “corruption” of youth. But how does wanting to help young people to orient themselves, to find truth, constitute a form of corruption? What were Socrates’s judges reproaching him with when they accused him of corrupting the youth, and condemned him to death for doing so? They reproached him with putting in doubt certain aspects of tradition, of openly flaunting his impiety with regard to the gods of the city, of turning the youth away from its familial and civic duty. If philosophy “corrupts,” that is because its function is more critical than conservative. However, in this regard the current situation is more complex than the situation in Plato’s time. Today the great landmarks of tradition have been destroyed, but without society proposing new ones in their place. There are new pleasures [jouissances], yes, but not new values. Everything has dissolved in the fascination for the commodity, in what Marx called the “icy waters of egotistical calculation.” Young people are wedged between, on the one hand, the mortifying possibility of a return to tradition — which is always a matter of resuscitating a corpse and bringing ghosts to life — and, on the other hand, the possibility of taking a place in the general competition and struggling for their own survival therein, to the sole end of not being a loser. What I, following Rimbaud, call the “true life” is a third way: neither the return to defunct traditions nor the adoption of the rules of globalised capitalism, which whatever their semblance of civilisation are in reality brutal and savage. At an extremely young age Rimbaud was acutely conscious of the disorientation that was on its way. He saw very clearly that the old Christ had abandoned the Earth. He roamed through the world, where he did a little of everything, including poetry, one of his ‘follies’. He burned through life before concluding that the modern world is money and success. He then beca


Blue Cities Battle Red States

“When Denton, Texas, passed a fracking ban in November 2014, it was national news. The story seemed out of a movie, a David-and-Goliath tale in which a scrappy band of citizens goes up against big industry and wins. Located in the heart of oil and gas territory, the town is hardly a liberal bastion; its state representative is a staunch conservative, and among its biggest annual events is the North Texas State Fair and Rodeo.

But residents were watching gas drills come closer and closer to their parks and schools. Adam Briggle, a professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, found himself attending more and more meetings as he tried to understand the environmental impact of fracking, a process used to extract oil and natural gas from the ground…”

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Save our Public Universities

Marilynne Robinson has a beautiful essay on the power and purpose of public higher education and the humanities in the March issue of Harpers:

“The Citizen had a country, a community, children and grandchildren, even — a word we no longer hear — posterity. The Taxpayer has a 401(k). It is no mystery that the former could be glad to endow monumental libraries, excellent laboratories, concert halls, arboretums, and baseball fields, while the latter simply can’t see the profit in it for himself.”

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Controversial Philosopher Says Man and Machine Will Fuse into one Being

“So-called “new tribalism” is a virtually inevitable reaction to the progressive individualization of modernity. It tries to generate synthetic social bonds where the natural ones have been broken. Only future historical experience can show whether such bonds can be produced without regressive fictions.”

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Le séminaire Ilya Prigogine « Penser la science » est organisé par lâ€â„¢Université Libre de Bruxelles afin de promouvoir échanges et débats appelés à nourrir une culture des sciences – de toutes les sciences, dans leur diversité vivante.