Philosophy as Discipline (suppliment to Philosophy as Sadism)

Philosophy as a discipline (that the irony of this word in this context has not been noticed shows how much I may be correct here) is the petty, violent sadism of last men who want to lord over the belief that they have already perfected knowledge, meanwhile convincing themselves that they are searching for it.

Just to expand a point I made in an earlier post. When I say that the discipline of philosophy is the belief that the last men have already perfected knowledge, one might think that this means that there is nothing left to know for these last men. Obviously, those doing philosophy understand themselves to be furthering knowledge. So, how can it be said that they have the belief that they have already ‘perfected knowledge’? When the procedures and technology of rationality are taken as a given, then there is nothing to add, philosophically, to how we go about knowing, to the underlying structure of thought, then yes, knowledge is perfected. All that is left is the clean up, the heavy lifting. Consequently, this conceit that we no longer need to challenge our basic assumptions (or more accurately, to determine where those assumptions lie) is covered over with the illusion that philosophers are still searching for new answers. But they are not. The answers are already there, at the end of the path laid out by the question. The task that remains is making that path more efficient: laying down the asphalt. The discipline of philosophy as a discipline tends towards this ossification when it polices itself with yeah-saying last men. The glee of the sadist petty tyrants is ambivalent though. Their ability to fully realize their sadistic rationality is curtailed by each other. In a warehouse bulging with sadists, no one sadist can dominate.  The ambivalence is tension between the will to express their rationality fully and their disappointment at being curtailed by other sadists.

Why express this view of the discipline as such? Professional philosophy, constrained by its institutional limitations, must be professional. That professionalism hardens it into a crystallized network. These institutional constraints on thought channel the discourse of philosophy in ways that constrain the limits of where one can push intellectually and still be funded, hired, accepted and not subject to exclusion, ridicule or just plain being ignored. In a discipline that prides itself on a history of challenging its predecessors, it is interesting that the complacency of professionalism for practical purposes curtails one’s ability to be challenging. Having spanned the divide between Anglo-American and Continental Philosophy, if we want to use those distinctions, it works in different ways for both sides. In a highly ironic turn, the most creative philosophers are those not even working in philosophy.

This is what I think was meant by the phrase “death of philosophy”. When philosophy becomes a discipline, and philosophizing becomes some language-game or history of philosophy within constrained methodological limits, where do we turn to for thought? If philosophy is the attempt to find the a priori conditions for knowing, or to understand the reasons why we think/do the things we do, then what does it mean when we cannot even glance at our shadows for fear of not being published or not getting the tenure track position?



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