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


%d bloggers like this: