Philosophical scholarship defuses new ways of thinking

July 28, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogWhat is called “philosophy” is pursued today mostly by scholars who study philosophical authors and texts, and who learn to produce certain types of comments on philosophical ideas and concepts. Such study is interesting and important, and can be compared with literary scholarship.

A problem that I highlighted in my latest post, however, is a tendency to conflate the scholarly study of philosophy with… philosophy. Today, I want to exemplify three consequences of such conflation.

A first consequence is a taboo against thinking for oneself, like the canonized philosophers of the past, who legitimize the study of philosophy, once did. Only “great” philosophers, whose names can be found as entries in philosophical encyclopedias, can be excused for having philosophized for themselves, and without proper citation methods.

A related consequence is a sense of scandalous arrogance when philosophy is carried out as once upon a time. Since only great and already canonized philosophers are allowed to think for themselves, people who tenaciously pursue thinking will appear like pretentious bastards who believe they already have a name in the history of philosophy and, worst of all, claim to be studied!

A third and more serious consequence is that philosophical scholarship, if it is conflated with philosophy, defuses new ways of thinking. New ways of thinking are primarily meant to be adopted, or to provoke people to think better. Learned commentaries on new and original ways of thinking are interesting and important. However, if the scholarly comments are developed as if they brought out the real philosophical content of the proposed thoughts, the new thinking will be reduced to just another occasion to develop the study of philosophy… as if one did the thoughts a favor by bringing them safely home to “the history of philosophy.”

You don’t have to be great, canonized or dead to think. That is fortunate, since thinking is needed right now, in the midst of life. It just appears essentially homeless, or at home wherever it is.

Pär Segerdahl

We transgress disciplinary borders - the Ethics Blog


Doing philosophy and studying philosophy

July 14, 2014

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogLiterary scholars don’t claim that they became novelists or poets because they studied such authors and such literature. They know what they became: they became scholars who learned to produce certain kinds of commentaries on literary works. The distinction between the works they produce and the works they study is salient and most often impossible to overlook.

Things are not that obvious in what is called philosophy. Typically, people who study philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts and who receive a doctor’s degree in philosophy will call themselves philosophers.

They could also, and in most cases more appropriately, be called philosophical scholars who learned to produce certain types of commentaries on philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts.

Has philosophy been eaten up by the study of it? There seems to be a belief that philosophy exists in the scholarly format of commentaries on philosophical authors, texts, ideas and concepts, and that philosophy thrives and develops through the development of such comments.

A problem with this learned “façade conception” of philosophy is that the great canonized thinkers, who legitimize the study of philosophy, never produced that kind of scholarly literature when they philosophized.

An even greater problem is that if you try to philosophize and think for yourself today, as they did, the work you produce will be deemed “unphilosophical” or “lacking philosophically interesting thoughts,” because it isn’t written in the scholarly format of a commentary on canonized authors, texts, ideas and concepts.

Thank God literature isn’t that easily eaten up by the study of it. No one would call a novel “unliterary” because it wasn’t produced according to the canons of literary scholarship.

Pär Segerdahl

The Ethics Blog - Thinking about thinking


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