May 27, 2003

philosophy as a way of life

When you leave the academy to pursue a non-academic career it is assumed by the faculty staff still hanging on that you are chucking in the discipline of philosophy. You have left the university and so are no longer doing philosophy.

If they are in a generous frame of mind they will concede, that maybe you can do philosophy at home as a sort of hobby with a few friends interested in the same books. They will acknowledge that you do read a few books and have a chat about some of the ideas you came across in the books over a few wines and nibbles. It's called a reading group. But it has little resemblence to a reading group inside the academy.

If pressed on the point they will say that you are no longer a professional philosopher. They are the professionals, the proper philosophers. You are not, nor can you be. The tacit judgement is that those doing it outside the academy are just not up to doing philosophy in the proper way. .

What they--both analytic and continental philosophers in academia--- will not grant is that their conception of philosophy is just that: a particular conception of philosophy. Philosophy as practiced as a theoretical discipline in the academy is philosophy. There are no other kinds of philosophy that can be, or are, practised outside the confines of the philosophy. You nearly always the hear tone of ridicule in such academic judgements about philosophy practised outside the academy.

What these academic philosophers actually refuse to grant is the possiblity that as the teachers and guardians of academic philosophy they talk the talk but they do not walk the walk.Their whole identity as professionals depends the refusal.

This academic stance is a grotesque misreading of the philosophical tradition. An alternative kind of is philosophy as a way of life and it was a common conception of philosophy in classsical Greece or Rome. It is generally accepted that Socrates is the common placeholder for a life of examination---both of one's own life and an examination of the culture in which one lives.

Philosophy as a way of life is a life of lived experience, and not a set of doctrines organized in disciplinary terms; a way of being-in-the-world that is communcated through dialogue. In this conception of philosophy it is daily life that provides us with an opportunity to do philosophy not academic disputes about this or that doctrine (eg., metaphysical realism).

Ironically, the tradition of this alternative conception of philosophy is being recovered by those working in the academy. There are different ways of doing it. Its most popular contemporary expression is here

The names most associated with philosophy as way of living are Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault. In postmodernity this conception of living is generally given an aesthetic stress as a shaping or creating of one's life. It is a literary interpretation.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at May 27, 2003 04:10 PM | TrackBack

As you might have expected, I strongly agree with you here. My blogging is an attempt to do what you are talking about, although I would only claim it as a mixed success so far.

Part of the difficulty is that it is hard to not have "popular" philosophy just turn into another forum for the professionals to gather together. I try to attract a broader crowd, but it is so easy and reassuring to fall back on what is comfortable.

Posted by: Eddie Thomas on May 27, 2003 11:39 PM

I gather that it would be next to impossible trying to get published unless you could coat your paper in a veneer of institutionalized philosophy, then?

What do you think of Nozick's The Examined Life?

Posted by: Walter on May 28, 2003 02:07 AM

I completely agree, and the problems are major. I think that it has to do with the professionalization of the humanities on a positivistic basis (enforcing the paradigm, etc.). Philosophers (and other scholars) demand a very high technical standard within a very limited paradigm (analytic philosophy is the best example). And it is assumed that writings are chips in the career advancement game.

Intellectually it doesn't work because the value of the humanities comes from its differences from formalized sciences, and making them seem the same is a loser since, e.g., analytic philosophy never approaches the power of science. It's just mimicry. (Enforcing narrow non-positivist paradigms has equal but different negative effects, e.g. postmodernism).

Many academics seem to be proud to define themselves by what they do NOT think about (e.g. economists who ignore political economy or economic history). Methodologism is better at excluding than it is at including.

My life has been a sort of natural experiment. As an amateur I've actually published 2 papers in refereed journals (albeit in Chinese philosophy). But really becoming part of the ball game requires more; I'm not sure it's possible.

And simultaneously, the message I'm getting from the blogs of young scholars is not encouraging about life within the academic system; seemingly the tenured profs are willing to let the next generation of scholars die on the vine. So theoretically they should be more open to non-professionals, but they aren't.

Read what Rabelais and Montaigne say about the professors at the Sorbonne and you will have a pretty good idea of where I'm at.

Posted by: zizka on May 30, 2003 02:59 AM

"And simultaneously, the message I'm getting from the blogs of young scholars is not encouraging about life within the academic system; seemingly the tenured profs are willing to let the next generation of scholars die on the vine. So theoretically they should be more open to non-professionals, but they aren't."

Young scholars are too insecure and fearful to support such openness.

Gary, a question I've been meaning to ask you (and I'll use this thread as an opportunity): given your concern to integrate philosophy and politics, intellectual and public life, why do you keep separate blogs with different themes?

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on May 31, 2003 08:59 PM


It all happened like this: there was this event, then this event, then this event. One dam thing after another as it were.

How do we interpret this? Well, on each occasion it seemed like a good idea at the time. And now? well it is just texts playing off against one another cos I'm just another postmodernist ensnarred in relativism.

And now? Well to cut a long story short, in Australia there is a huge divide between the public policy world in which public opinion is located and the more academic/intellectual concerns that delve behind the events of the day in which is located. There are few bridges between the political world and the academic one. So philosophy must stand on its two feet within the world of public policy.

The readership of the two weblogs is quite different. Very few Australians ever read I would like it to become more collaborative but my ex-academic colleagues (in the academy or out) are just interested in helping run it.

And junk for code? Its more me. I can say things on it that are not relevent to the public policy stuff. Its meant to be more me as the photographer, but I do not have the tech stuff (scanners and skills re photoshop) to upload the photos I take----I'm working on it. In the meantime I keep it going as best I can.

A Nietzschean interpretation would give an account in terms of masks. The interplay of weblogs provide me with a public mask (just like IA) that who I am and where I am located in public life. Just an old lefty ex-scholar and academic trying get along as best as I can in the brave new world governed by neo-liberalism.


Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson on June 1, 2003 01:33 PM


no to the professional coating. It has to stand on its own two feet. I have not read Nozick. Sounds interesting.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson on June 1, 2003 02:31 PM

good points. Stick with what you are doing. Where do I find what Rablelais and Montaigne say about the Sorbonne professors?

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson on June 1, 2003 02:35 PM

The stuff I'm thinking of came from vol. II of Gargantua and Pantagruel".

Rabelais mostly heaps Sorbonne professors with coarse abuse. In one place he string together a string of words derived from Sorbonne, along the lines of Sorbonnifuc, Sorbonnifart, etc. He also has a 3 page list of parody titles of scholastic and devotional works: "The Theologian's nest-egg", "Syphilitic's Almanac", "The Gym Shoe of Humility". Old and foreign humor doesn't usually translate well, but you can see what he's trying to do. For me it's fun to imagine a similiar list of parodies of analytic philosophy, economics, sociology, and psychology.

At that time the universities were dominated by fossilized forms of very abstruse and predictable scholastic philosophy. Duns Scotus (died ca. 1300) was one of the masters, and the word "dunce" comes from his name. Rabelais and the other humanists hated the scholastics.

Montaigne's critique is more thoughtful but I can't give a specific source right now.

Posted by: zizka on June 2, 2003 05:13 AM
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