Wednesday, 21 April 2010

What is the role of philosophy?

Zizek suggests during a dialogue with Alain Badiou, that 'philosophy hardly ever, and least of all in its most creative periods, plays a normal role in the sense that it is merely philosophy... Perhaps philosophy is abnormality par by definition excessive; that it literally exists only through the excessive connection to external conditions, which are of either amorous, political, scientific , or artistic nature' [Badiou & Zizek, Philosophy in the Present]
In turn, Badiou responds that since Plato, 'philosophy has been faced with the inhuman, and that it is there that its vocation lies. Each time that philosophy confines itself to humanity as it has been historically constituted and defined, it diminishes itself, and in the end, suppresses itself...a capacity for the inhuman is ultimately what philosophy is concerned with? [ditto]
Deleuze, meanwhile, suggests that philosophy should be concerned with the creation of new concepts rather than applying itself to pre-existent thought and the "big questions" such as scepticism, for example,
So, how should we define the role of philosophy today? And, correspondingly, where does this leave the role of the philosopher?


  1. A thought from John Mullarkey--that philosophers are, by their very nature, required to be a jack of all trades and master of none, since their role by its very nature is to potentially interact with a range of subjects, eg maths, science and so on. Of course, one may be more qualified to comment on some areas than others, and this doesn't preclude being an expert on, say, mathematics (as in Badiou's case). Nonetheless, in this view, philosophy is essentially parasitic on other subjects (contra Deleuze's previously mentioned assertion that while this may be true of philosophy as it is often practiced, nonetheless it ought to be concerned with the creation of new concepts)

  2. I like that a jack of all trades and master of none! I think that philosophy is the basis of all knowledge, and it is important to have a well balanced state of mind, and to be able to look at every situation from a multi-dimensional view and not just limited to the views of one person/profession. Although a master of none, after philosophy the doors are opened to become the master of everything.
    I also like the role of philosophy as an enjoyment, similar to the ancient greek philosophers who would spend there saturday nights philosophising with friends, I Think that the persuit of a question, and gaining understanding between friends is an amazing thing, which everyone surely must enjoy once in a while. I may not be able to leave uni and be guarenteed a 20k job but the knowledge and understanding which i have gained will keep me happy :)

  3. A yes, the old non-philosophy agenda a la Badiou/Laruelle etc. Only maths and science can think the infinite as immanent and not trascedent etc etc. We need to bracket out all ideas of transcendence and thus all philosophical ideas as classically conceived (as the world is an immanent plenitude replete in itself). Maths/science replace philosophy as the language of being-qua-being etc etc. Philosophy must speak for maths and science and cannot stand opposed to them etc etc.

    This sounds like postivism in fancy dress to me (and of course the positivists believed that philosophy as traditionally conceived was stricttly meaningless). Also, as a discourse in its own right this discourse is profoundly philosophy, especially in the way that it engages with the western philosophical tradition.

    So non-philosophy is philosophy after all!! And we shouldn't be surprised - for isn't 'everything philosophical' given that there is a philosophy of everything, even itself? And isn't this because at the root of everything lies the human effort to understand. As far as know there isn't a science of science, and if there is I bet that it looks rather like philosophy!

    Neil Turnbull

  4. To coin a phrase, I agree with you Neil! Though granted, this doesn't make for very interesting philosophical debate...

  5. I've been reading some Lyotard and I think he seems to have said the same thing, unless I've misunderstood. In the contemporary world Philosophy is reduced to critiquing/governing the discourses of other epistemologies, ie. scientific or narrative but only in so far as they legitimate those discourses pragmatically.

    It seems a dim future indeed for the Philosopher if his only job will be the narrative legitimation of scientific knowledge.

    How do we escape this unfortunate end?