Performance Philosophy, Public Philosophy, and Borderless Philosophy.

Two New Movements in Contemporary Philosophy

Two extremely interesting movements in contemporary philosophy have emerged simultaneously, but also almost entirely independently of one another, within the past five years: performance philosophy and public philosophy.

I think that both performance philosophy and public philosophy are not only extremely interesting, but also extremely important.

That is because each movement represents an authentic, spontaneous impulse towards liberation from certain vitiating constraints on philosophical content, its presentational form or style, and philosophical activity, that hold sway in contemporary professional academic philosophy.[1]

Indeed, it is not going too far to say that these constraints on philosophical content, philosophical presentational form/style, and philosophical activity are experienced by many contemporary professional academic philosophers, especially younger ones, as theoretical and practical straitjackets.

Or to borrow a handy term from the Marxist tradition, these constraints are experienced by many contemporary professional academic philosophers, especially younger ones, as hegemonic.

Correspondingly, this authentic, spontaneous impulse towards liberation from the hegemonic constraints of contemporary professional academic philosophy is clearly in the direction of early Marx’s famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, to the effect that philosophers should no longer (merely) interpret the world, but should instead (or also) change it.[2]

Nevertheless, even despite this authentic, spontaneous liberationist tendency away from the theoretical and practical straitjackets of contemporary professional academic philosophy and towards releasing philosophy into the larger real world, there are some prima facie problems about the two new movements.

First, neither performance philosophy nor public philosophy is either (i) conceptually well-defined or (ii) consensually unified as to its basic aims.

Let’s call this the coherence problem.

Second, performance philosophy and public philosophy, as they are currently constituted, have little or no direct contact or interaction with one another, and to some extent are even alienated from one another, despite their sharing essentially the same liberationist impulses.

Let’s call this the two solitudes problem.

My goal in this essay is to make some headway towards solving these two prima facie problems, first, by briefly describing ways of conceptually clarifying and purposively unifying performance philosophy and public philosophy individually; second, by briefly presenting a mediating theoretical and practical framework that could solve the incoherence problem and the two solitudes problem, and also directly and reciprocally connect performance philosophy and public philosophy: a framework I call borderless philosophy; and third and finally, against the backdrop of that mediating framework, in response to a possible objection to my argument, by briefly proposing a way in which performance philosophy, via borderless philosophy, could significantly enrich public philosophy.

***

What Are Performance Philosophy and Public Philosophy? What Are Their Basic Aims? And Why Are They So Disconnected From One Another?

What are performance philosophy and public philosophy?

Here is what it says on the Performance Philosophy Network website:[3]

About Performance Philosophy

Performance Philosophy is an international research network for the field of Performance Philosophy. The network is open to all researchers concerned with the relationship between performance & philosophy.

The network was founded by 11 core conveners in the summer of 2012 and was formally launched on the 3rd September 2012. 11 new conveners were appointed in September 2017, with 2 of the founding conveners stepping down.

Aims

The core aims of Performance Philosophy are:

  • To nurture and develop the emerging field of Performance Philosophy internationally;
  • To facilitate the exchange of ideas and practices related to Performance Philosophy between international researchers including students, emerging scholars, established scholars and practitioners.

Activities

The core activities of Performance Philosophy are:

  • To establish and maintain an international network of Performance Philosophy researchers
  • To facilitate communication in the field of Performance Philosophy through a website and mailing list
  • To create and maintain a high-quality peer-reviewed journal with an esteemed publisher and to use the journal as a platform to showcase the best original research in the field of Performance Philosophy, including practice-based research 
  • To initiate and develop a high-quality book series with an esteemed publisher and to publish monographs and edited collections that make an original and important contributions to the field of Performance Philosophy 
  • To host and to support network members to host high-quality research events on Performance Philosophy, such as symposia, conference, festivals, seminars, and summer schools.

Values

Performance Philosophy takes an inclusive, interdisciplinary and pluralist approach to the field. The network welcomes members concerned with any aspect of philosophy, whether from the Continental or Analytic traditions, and with any discipline or definition of performance, including but not limited to drama, theatre, dance, performance art, live art, and music. The only criteria for membership and participation is an interest in the field and an openness to the breadth and variety of different approaches to Performance Philosophy that the field encompasses.

Performance Philosophy also aims to be financially inclusive. Performance Philosophy is not a profit-making organization, and it is free to become a member of Performance Philosophy, including access to the network website and mailing list. By the same token, Performance Philosophy cannot offer funding support to network members or research groups within the network. All Performance Philosophy events must be self-funded.

Structure

Performance Philosophy is structured as a network, made up of: 

  • self-organizing research groups, and
  • a committee of core convenors.                 

The research groups within the network can either be geographic or institution based (eg. the Brown group) and/or thematic or based on the work of a particular performance philosopher (eg. the Deleuze and Performance group). Any member or group of members can apply to create a new research group via the website.

The role of the convenors is to oversee the functioning of the network as a whole and to lead on the development of Performance Philosophy projects such as the website, journal, book series and events. 

And here are “ten theses of performative philosophy,” as formulated by Eva Maria Gauss and Rainer Totzke in the first issue of the journal Performance Philosophy:[4]

  1. Philosophy is an embodying practice. Philosophy performances capture the vitality of thinking.
  2. Philosophical practice gains an epistemic surplus through both media changes (sequential use of media) and the simultaneous use of different channels of expression (simultaneous use of media).
  3. Due to the process character of knowledge acquisition in philosophy performances, they render transparent the provisional nature of truth.
  4. Philosophical performances explore the contextual criteria of meaningfulness for philosophical theories.
  5. Philosophical performances render transparent how philosophy is done and open up new perspectives for the broadening of philosophical practice within and outside of institutions.
  6. Philosophical performances show and insist that philosophy must continually reinvent itself, which means it has to find contemporary forms.
  7. Philosophical performances allow the ludic and enigmatic character of philosophy to manifest itself.
  8. Through philosophical performances the old battle between (the roles of) logic and rhetoric in philosophy is revived.
  9. Philosophical performances stand in an intimate relation to art. They use art’s ludic strategies of confusion and dislocation.
  10. Philosophical performances can only be realised in interaction with the observer, the participant, the spectator. When they work, they embrace both my thoughts and the public’s.

Now what about public philosophy?

Here are selections from the Executive Summary and Introduction of the founding report of the Public Philosophy Network, “Practicing Public Philosophy”:[5]

Executive Summary

What is the value of public philosophy? In what ways is philosophy, when engaged with various publics, transformative, i.e., how can or does philosophy improve public life? In what ways is philosophy transformed when engaged with various publics, i.e., how does/might public engagement inform philosophical concepts and understanding and/or alter disciplinary boundaries?

And, if public philosophy is valuable—then how might we promote and sustain its practice? How can we insure the highest quality and most ethical practices?

To discuss these and related questions, the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on Public Philosophy and George Mason University’s Center for Global Ethics convened a day-long meeting in conjunction with the 2010 Pacific Division meetings on “Practicing Public Philosophy.” The objective of these sessions was to extend the conversations begun by the APA Committee on Public Philosophy and to lay the groundwork for development of wider-ranging projects and increased collaboration.

The specific objectives of the mini-conference were therefore twofold: 1) to create a democratized space where reflection on public philosophy could take place, that is, a space of mutual learning and support for publically engaged philosophers and those who wish to do publically engaged work in the field; and 2) to support philosophers, especially junior scholars, who do publically engaged work by providing them with the opportunity to cultivate networks of mentors of senior scholars engaged in work identifiable as public philosophy and of peers with whom to develop this work.

The meeting participants—who ranged from distinguished senior professors well-known as public philosophers to undergraduate students—worked to think about how philosophical engagement with various publics has been—and can be—valuable. Three positions were advocated by discussants; they are not mutually exclusive:

Philosophical practice is a public good and should therefore be practiced in and with various publics.

Public philosophy is philosophy that has the explicit aim of benefiting public life

Public philosophy should be liberatory, i.e., it should assist and empower those who are most vulnerable and suffer injustice, particularly through a critical analysis of power structures.

After discussion of other related concerns, including varying definitions of “public” and the challenges to practicing public philosophy, we worked to address those challenges.

Ultimately the group both made recommendations to the APA’s Committee on Public Philosophy and agreed that there was a need for a Public Philosophy Network

Introduction: the intellectual context and rationale for the meeting

Despite the public perception that continues to share Aristophanes’ view that philosophers remain “in the clouds,” incapable of doing publically relevant work, at least some philosophers have remained committed to a Socratic model of philosophy that is engaged with public life. Some key philosophical traditions, notably the American Pragmatist tradition and, in Europe, the Frankfurt School, remain vibrant and have embraced a commitment to publically engaged scholarship. Admittedly many other philosophers (including some adherents to these traditions) have lost sight of this model and rarely engage the public. Yet as the discipline of philosophy has been transformed—by the concern for (and growing legitimacy of) practical and applied ethics, feminist and critical race theories, and other new sub-disciplines—a new generation of publically engaged philosophers has emerged. This is a development that has been promoted by the changing demographics of the discipline: As more women of all ethnicities and races, more men of color, and more working class persons have entered the discipline, they have insisted that philosophy be practiced in ways that address the questions salient to their experiences and their histories. Together with the allies they have cultivated, these thinkers have transformed the discipline in multiple ways to insure its relevance.

We live in a time when a growing number of philosophers are doing what may be called “public philosophy,” but it is not always recognized as “legitimate” philosophy by all within the discipline and also goes largely unnoticed by the general public. In response, the American Philosophical Association created the Committee on Public Philosophy, an initiative that mirrored initiatives of its sister academic associations in fields such as history and anthropology. While the changes in the discipline itself demand that we engage in philosophical reflection on the public value of our work, the establishment of a committee on public philosophy is particularly timely; in difficult economic times, academics are likely to face greater scrutiny as the wider public wonders why investing in the humanities is a worthwhile thing to do. They ask what the public significance of our work is, or what bearing our work has on the crises of the day.

Taken from the same founding report, here are selections from a summary of a general discussion on the nature of public philosophy:[6]

Philosophical Discussion on the Nature of Public Philosophy (pp. 9-11)

Philosophers have not had sufficient opportunity to reflect on the nature of public philosophy, and to discuss with one another what public engagement entails. For these reasons, it is important to devote time to engage this question philosophically within the profession, to ask what “public philosophy” is, and to examine ways that individual philosophers are already engaged in efforts to put philosophy to work in public. The morning discussion was devoted to these questions, asking what is the value of public philosophy?

The questions we raised for discussion were as follows:

  1. What is “public philosophy”? (how should we define it? Or should we avoid defining it?) How should we define “public” as it modifies “philosophy”? Is there or are there public roles for philosophy? Is there or are there philosophical work(s) that take(s) the public realm seriously?
  2. In what sense(s) do you practice public philosophy? Or, do you identify as a public philosopher?
  3. How has Western philosophy developed in ways that help or hinder publically engaged philosophical work? Which traditions/figures/trends seem most supportive? Which traditions/figures/trends have undermined or deterred philosophers from public engagement?
  4. [Are] applied philosophy and public philosophy the same thing?
  5. Is engaging in public philosophy identical with being a public intellectual?

A consensus quickly emerged that we should not aim to define the term in ways that provided some sort of litmus test on whether someone was engaged in public philosophy or some project could claim the label. Rather, we worked to think about how philosophical engagement with various publics has been—and can be—valuable. Three key positions emerged; these views are not mutually exclusive, and many participants endorsed all three views. Others argued for one view over another. All three positions suggest further directions for investigation, analysis, and proposals for work in this reemerging area of philosophical engagement.

The value of public philosophy

Some argued that philosophy is itself a public good, and that various publics benefit when philosophers work with non-academics in public domains, introducing philosophical concepts and methodology. Examples of such public work include conducting organized philosophical discussions in bookstores, cafes and bars, or teaching philosophy in non-traditional locations such as prisons. Public philosophy in this sense entails doing philosophy in public spaces and/or engaging the public in the practices of philosophy. Historically, philosophy has played an important role in fostering inter- and multi-disciplinary problem-solving, and participants argue that it is important to maintain this role.

Some argued that public philosophy is philosophy that has the explicit aim of benefiting public life. In this sense, public philosophy is not simply any philosophy conducted outside the “ivory tower,” but rather is directed toward specific improvements. In this sense public philosophy is philosophical engagement with respect to public concerns. The philosopher may be called upon as a public intellectual, a commentator on public issues. Or the philosopher may simply write in ways help makes sense of jumbled conversations. In this context, some invoked John Dewey’s idea of the philosopher’s task in finding meaning; others cited Hannah Arendt’s metaphor of the philosopher as “pearl diver” who brings sedimented meanings to the surface.

Some argued that public philosophy is philosophy that is liberatory, i.e., it should assist and empower those who are most vulnerable and suffer injustice, particularly through a critical analysis of power structures. One participant noted that philosophical practices can work to create publics, and that such practices can be empowering when directed toward the recognition of previously marginalized persons as members of a public. Philosophers can and should create discursive spaces where persons can become subjects/agents. Another liberatory aspect invoked was the idea of philosopher as fearless truth teller, speaking truth to power. Meeting participants who favored this view tended to define the public philosopher as a “scholar-activist.”

Those who emphasized the liberatory potential of philosophers were most likely to call for a transformation of the discipline of philosophy, arguing that participatory philosophy, a philosophy that is embedded in social and public practices, must be critical and self-reflexive. In this sense, public engagement transforms the discipline of philosophy. Several participants argued that the public philosopher can and must resist the “disciplining” of philosophy, that is, the narrowing of what counts as legitimate philosophy to debates internal to the discipline and/or the academy.

The concept of “public”

Discussants noted that any discussion of “public philosophy” necessitates that we think about what we mean by “public.” We agreed that the “public” is not a static form; publics are brought into being through discourse and various practices. Some participants tended to work from the Deweyan idea that publics emerge when a sufficiently large group of persons are indirectly affected by a particular social transaction and come together out of their common interest in solving the problem. Social movements (and the philosophers who work with them) often invoke this sense of “public.” On the other hand, those philosophers who are more directly engaged with public policy often define “public” in terms of the institutionalization of modes of public discourse.

Obstacles to the practice of public philosophy

We worked to identify challenges to engaging in public philosophy at the level of our discipline, the academy, and within society. Many noted that philosophy is not valued in society, particularly in the United States. The language of values in Washington, DC is driven by economists. Anti-intellectualism renders philosophy suspect. Philosophy departments are being cut or eliminated. There are questions about the value or purpose of philosophy. Part of the problem is how philosophers see themselves; most do not see themselves as affected by larger social forces or as called to respond to larger social and political concerns. But another problem is a failure to recognize areas of thought that our discipline can help to illuminate beyond its bounds. Social scientists and the policy their work informs often fail to recognize or reckon with the non-rational aspect of our lives. There also has been a confusion of precision with accuracy in these realms, as well as within the discipline. Philosophy needs to find ways to be meaningful as well as valid. Many discussants argued that there have always been some philosophical schools or traditions that bucked the tendencies toward provincialism. Nevertheless, institutional norms of evaluation of philosophical scholarship have tended to devalue work that aims to engage beyond the narrowing bounds of the discipline.

What can we glean from all this?

As befits their anti-hegemonic, liberationist motivations, both performance philosophy and public philosophy are at pains to disavow any single, comprehensive characterization of their nature or basic aims.

Here is the core of what performance philosophy says:

Performance Philosophy takes an inclusive, interdisciplinary and pluralist approach to the field. The network welcomes members concerned with any aspect of philosophy, whether from the Continental or Analytic traditions, and with any discipline or definition of performance….

Aims

The core aims of Performance Philosophy are:

  • To nurture and develop the emerging field of Performance Philosophy internationally;
  • To facilitate the exchange of ideas and practices related to Performance Philosophy between international researchers including students, emerging scholars, established scholars and practitioners.
  1. Philosophy is an embodying practice. Philosophy performances capture the vitality of thinking.
  2. Philosophical practice gains an epistemic surplus through both media changes (sequential use of media) and the simultaneous use of different channels of expression (simultaneous use of media).
  3. Due to the process character of knowledge acquisition in philosophy performances, they render transparent the provisional nature of truth.
  4. Philosophical performances explore the contextual criteria of meaningfulness for philosophical theories.
  5. Philosophical performances render transparent how philosophy is done and open up new perspectives for the broadening of philosophical practice within and outside of institutions.
  6. Philosophical performances show and insist that philosophy must continually reinvent itself, which means it has to find contemporary forms.
  7. Philosophical performances allow the ludic and enigmatic character of philosophy to manifest itself.
  8. Through philosophical performances the old battle between (the roles of) logic and rhetoric in philosophy is revived.
  9. Philosophical performances stand in an intimate relation to art. They use art’s ludic strategies of confusion and dislocation.
  10. Philosophical performances can only be realised in interaction with the observer, the participant, the spectator. When they work, they embrace both my thoughts and the public’s.

And here is the core of what public philosophy says:

A consensus quickly emerged that we should not aim to define the term [“public philosophy”] in ways that provided some sort of litmus test on whether someone was engaged in public philosophy or some project could claim the label.

Three positions [about the basic aims of public philosophy] were advocated by discussants; they are not mutually exclusive:

Philosophical practice is a public good and should therefore be practiced in and with various publics

Public philosophy is philosophy that has the explicit aim of benefiting public life

Public philosophy should be liberatory, i.e., it should assist and empower those who are most vulnerable and suffer injustice, particularly through a critical analysis of power structures.

But of course this otherwise laudable anti-dogmatism and open texture have the somewhat unhappy effect of if not causing, then at least priming, the incoherence problem.

So I’ll try to overcome that intellectual reticence, and make positive proposals about the core features and basic aims of performance philosophy and public alike.

To that end, it seems to me that the core features of performance philosophy are these:

(i) that the central topic of its theoretical and practical reflections is embodied human minds engaged in all kinds of acting, feeling, and thinking, and

(ii) that it is is trying to fuse classical and contemporary methods of philosophy with the presentational forms and styles of the arts—“including but not limited to drama, theatre, dance, performance art, live art, and music.”

And it seems to me that performance philosophy’s basic aims are:

to revolutionize contemporary professional academic philosophy by making it more theoretically and practically focused on embodied human minds engaged in all kinds of acting, feeling, and thinking, and more methodologically like the arts.

This is clear from the first and ninth theses of performative philosophy:

1.Philosophy is an embodying practice. Philosophy performances capture the vitality of thinking.

9.Philosophical performances stand in an intimate relation to art. They use art’s ludic strategies of confusion and dislocation.

Correspondingly, it seems to me that the core features of public philosophy are:

(i) that the central topic of its theoretical and practical reflections is human agents engaged with social institutions (in the widest sense of the term “social institutions,” applying to any group of people whatsoever, insofar as they act, feel, and think under intersubjectively shared norms), and

(ii) that it is trying to fuse classical and contemporary methods of philosophy with the presentational forms and styles of the mass media (including advertising, informational media, and journalism), social media, and political life (including political organizing, political commentary, and political communication aka propaganda).

 And it also seems to me that the basic aims of public philosophy are:

to revolutionize professional academic philosophy by making it more theoretically and practically focused on human agents engaged with social institutions and more methodologically like the mass media, social media, and political life.

This commitment of public philosophy to revolutionary meta-philosophical humanism is clear from the opening lines of the Introduction to “Practicing Public Philosophy”:

Despite the public perception that continues to share Aristophanes’ view that philosophers remain “in the clouds,” incapable of doing publically relevant work, at least some philosophers have remained committed to a Socratic model of philosophy that is engaged with public life. Some key philosophical traditions, notably the American Pragmatist tradition and, in Europe, the Frankfurt School, remain vibrant and have embraced a commitment to publically engaged scholarship. Admittedly many other philosophers (including some adherents to these traditions) have lost sight of this model and rarely engage the public. Yet as the discipline of philosophy has been transformed—by the concern for (and growing legitimacy of) practical and applied ethics, feminist and critical race theories, and other new sub-disciplines—a new generation of publically engaged philosophers has emerged.

If I’m correct about this, then, for example, it becomes very easy to answer questions 4 and 5 in “Practicing Public Philosophy”:

  1. [Are] applied philosophy and public philosophy the same thing?
  2. Is engaging in public philosophy identical with being a public intellectual?

In answer to question 4, we can say: clearly, applied philosophy and public philosophy are not the same thing, because it is obviously the case that philosophy, as applied philosophy, can be directly or indirectly effectively used in the real world without to trying to revolutionize professional academic philosophy by making it more theoretically and practically focused on human agents engaged with social institutions and more methodologically like the mass media, social media, and political life.

For example, philosophers who are scientific naturalists and receive funding from, say, the NSF or the NIH, often contribute directly or indirectly to research in basic natural science or cognitive neuroscience that have real-world industrial or military applications: hence they are certainly not trying to revolutionize professional academic philosophy by making it more theoretically and practically focused on human agents engaged with social institutions and more methodologically like the mass media, social media, and political life.

In other words, scientism is not revolutionary meta-philosophical humanism; and one could easily be an applied philosopher and also committed to scientism.

So even if all public philosophy is applied philosophy, not all applied philosophy is public philosophy.

Correspondingly, in answer to question 5, we can say: clearly, engaging in public philosophy and being a public intellectual are not identical, because it is obviously the case that someone, as a public intellectual, can contribute significantly to public debate about matters of economic, scientific, moral, or social-political importance without to trying to revolutionize professional academic philosophy by making it more theoretically and practically focused on human agents engaged with social institutions and more methodologically like the mass media, social media, and political life.

Think, for example, of Sam Harris, who, for better or worse, is indeed a public intellectual, but most certainly not a revolutionary meta-philosophical humanist.

Therefore, even if some public intellectuals are also, clearly, public philosophers (say, Richard Rorty after 1982, when, having been projected into the national limelight by his MacArthur fellowship in 1981, he became a professor of humanities at the University of Virginia), and some public philosophers are also, clearly, public intellectuals (say, Martha Nussbaum or Peter Singer), they are obviously logically independent classes.

Thus characterized as to their natures and basic aims, it is evident that performance philosophy and public philosophy have a great deal in common: namely, their collective attempt to bring about what might be called a turn towards real human experience and social life or an anthropocentric turn, in contemporary professional academic philosophy.

Why, then, are performance philosophy and public philosophy so disconnected from one another?

I think that there are two main reasons.

First, there is a more-or-less simple, contingent cultural-geographical reason: performance philosophy was originally founded by European professional academic philosophers and artists, and remains centrally located in Europe, whereas public philosophy was originally founded by American professional academic philosophers and social activists, and remains centrally located in the USA.

I especially emphasize that this is only a “more-or-less simple, contingent cultural-geographic reason,” however, since in the age of globalization and the world wide web, it is still a rather stunning fact that two such highly-educated, technologically sophisticated, broad-minded, well-travelled, sophisticated, and therefore (presumably) cosmopolitan groups of philosophically-minded people should exist in two solitudes.

Second, this rather stunning fact, in turn, points to what I think is another and deeper reason for the mutual “disconnect” between performance philosophy and public philosophy: namely, that even despite their shared anthropocentric turn, neither philosophical network has yet figured out a way to bridge or mediate between them, and overcome the prima facie differences between their central topics and methodological commitments: human embodiment together with the methods of the arts on the one hand (performance philosophy); and human engagement with social institutions together with the methods of mass/social media and political life on the other (public philosophy).

I think that these prima facie differences are indeed superficial, however, and that in fact there is a mediating theoretical and practical framework that could, at least in principle, directly and reciprocally connect performance philosophy and public philosophy in the immediate future: what I call borderless philosophy.

So that will be my topic in the next section.

***

Borderless Philosophy as a Mediating Framework for Connecting Performance Philosophy and Public Philosophy

What do I mean by “borderless philosophy”?

In order to answer that question, I’ll need to define some terminology.

What is nowadays called collective intelligence–see, e.g., this and this–is an emergent property of human or otherwise animal mindedness, that is constituted by the cognitive capacities and cognitive activities of a group of (e.g.) people as a group, especially including group-reasoning, group brain-storming and innovation, the social production of written texts and other kinds of social media, group deliberation, and participatory decision-making.

Recent work in cognitive psychology, social psychology, and organizational studies shows that what is called collective wisdom, or a relatively high level of group coordination, creativity, problem-solving, and productivity (aka constructive Gemeinschaft), is determined by high levels of socially-open, non-hierarchical, free-thinking, and non-conformist, but at the same time also mutually comfortable, mutually communicative, mutually respectful/principled, relaxed, mutually sensitive, mutually supportive, and highly dialogical collaborative activities within groups, and is not a function of high average IQ levels among the group’s individual members.

On the other hand, however, what I will call collective stupidity, or a relatively low level of group coordination, creativity, problem-solving, and productivity, and correspondingly a relatively high level of group dysfunctionality (aka destructive Gemeinschaft), is determined by high levels of socially-closed, top-down organized, conformist, but at the same time mutually antagonistic and competitive, coercive, arrogant, non-collaborative, zero-sum, winner-takes-all, debating-society-style, gaming-the-system-style activities within groups, independently of high average IQ levels amongst the group’s individual members.

In other words, groups made up entirely of people with very high IQs can manifest very high levels of collective stupidity.

An aggravated, extreme manifestation of collective stupidity is what I’ll call institutional sociopathy.

This is when groups of people working inside State institutions or state-like institutions, including bureaucracies of all kinds, gangs, and cults, stop asking whether what they are doing is morally right or wrong, and concentrate entirely on efficient ways of implementing group policies and imposing the directives of the group’s governing elite on people who cannot fight back or push back.

At the same time, however, the individuals who belong to institutionally sociopathic groups, as individuals, may be otherwise quite normal, sane, and socially well-adjusted. They love their partners, their children, and their dogs, etc.

Classic examples of this, taken from fiction, are Kafka’s The Trial and Orwell’s 1984.

But the real-life, catastrophic paradigm, of course, was the Nazi bureaucracy’s increasingly effective, increasingly satanic “solutions” to the “Jewish question.”

Eichmann, at least as portrayed by Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem, was the perfect “company man” and “good little do-bee,” in the modern world’s most evil, murderous example of institutional sociopathy.

But in a more mundane sense, virtually all college and university administrations  and academic departments operate on the assumption that effectively implementing various higher-administration-mandated, state-mandated, or Federally-mandated policies and directives, without any critical reflection whatsoever on the rational justifiability or moral permissibility of those policies and directives, as applied to the members of their academic communities, is their be-all and end-all.

So in that sense, they also manifest institutional sociopathy, and at the very least, high levels of collective stupidity

That brings us to professional academia, the brain-trust arm of the military-industrial-university complex that drives contemporary neoliberal democratic states.

In turn, it is obvious enough that professional academics, taken one-by-one, and in general, are highly intelligent people, the smartest kids in class all the way from kindergarten to graduate school.

And, judging by average GRE scores across all disciplines, physicists and philosophers are the most intelligent professional academics: physicists top out the quantitative scores across all disciplines and also have relatively high analytical/verbal scores; whereas philosophers top out the analytical/verbal scores across all disciplines and also have relatively high quantitative scores.

But as Jeff Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds clearly shows, and as longstanding personal experience in professional academic philosophy fully confirms, to the extent that a group is more and more “professionalized,” and therefore has increasingly levels of what Schmidt calls ideological discipline, the more they are, collectively, stupid, and even institutionally sociopathic, endlessly contributing to a downwards spiral of destructive Gemeinschaft, while, at the same time, all-too-busily promoting their own professional careers, slithering up the greasy pole of professorial and/or administrative promotion, reward, and status, mainlining The Spirit of the Hive.

Since, as I have argued, professional academic philosophers are now hyper-disciplined minds it follows that they are, as regards their collective intelligence, hyper-stupid, not only endlessly contributing to the downwards spiral of philosophically destructive Gemeinschaft, but also operating under the banners of vocationally self-defining elite-group images, especially at the top-ranked 25 or 30 departments, aka The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, according to which they are either scientistic Masters of the Universe or moralistic Social Justice Samurai—or both.

This hyper-disciplined Night of the Living Dead in contemporary professional academic philosophy, especially in The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, has been clearly demonstrated in earlier APP edgy essays on the publishing racket, coercive moralism, the hyper-disciplined character of professional philosophy, the institutional structure of hard philosophical problems, philosophical dialogue vs. philosophical debate, and the failure of professional academic philosophy to produce any important ideas in the last 40 years.

 The most urgent questions before us, therefore, are:

(i) how can this catastrophic trend towards professional academic philosophical collective stupidity be reversed?, and

(ii) how can contemporary philosophers move towards the kinds of collective wisdom variously imagined, e.g., in Diogenes’s radical free-thinking and what I’ve called his “promethean philosophical failure”;[7] in Plato’s Socratic dialogues; in Kant’s conception of enlightenment, fully realized as the “ethical community” of his later religious writings; in Schiller’s aesthetic and artistic extension of Kant’s conception of enlightenment,[8] yielding  a fusion of an ideal of aesthetically and artistically creative, fully embodied, freely self-realizing, productive human activity with the ideal of an ethical community; in Marx’s early writings, with their emphasis on emancipation from the mechanistic, self-interested, alienating system of capitalism and on the ideal of free social production; in Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid; or in the early Russell’s vision of “the world as it could be made”?

 Or otherwise put:

(iii) how can contemporary philosophers move from where they are now, in a downward-spiralling condition of destructive Gemeinschaft, to a radically different condition in which they begin to achieve high levels of socially-open, non-hierarchical, free-thinking, and non-conformist, but at the same time also mutually comfortable, mutually communicative, mutually respectful/principled, relaxed, mutually sensitive, mutually supportive, highly dialogical and collaborative, aesthetically and artistically creative, fully embodied, freely self-realizing, productive human philosophical activities within groups?

Here are two ideas, simple distillations of the many themes and topics explored so far by APP.

First, get rid of graduate schools, MA and PhD degrees, and philosophy departments altogether, and replace them with a network of interlinked borderless philosophy communities, each one created and sustained by voluntary association, team-spirit, and a shared sense of real, serious philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling and mission, that combine dialogue, research, writing, publishing, the creation and sharing of original works of philosophy in any presentational format whatsoever, teaching, and grassroots social activism, whose members are widely distributed spatiotemporally, in many different countries, continents, and time-zones, and who are therefore also fully cosmopolitan thinkers, doing real, serious philosophy without borders.

Second, get rid of professional academic philosophy journals, presses, and the rest of the professional academic publishing racket altogether, and replace them with a cosmopolitan, border-less, worldwide network of interlinked borderless philosophy online sites and platforms for dialogue, research, writing, publishing, the creation and sharing of original works of philosophy in any presentational format whatsoever, teaching, and grassroots social activism, that are severally and collectively organized and run by the worldwide network of borderless philosophy communities.

The  conjunction of these two ideas is what I’ll call borderless philosophy.

Admittedly, in the face of the institutional juggernaut that is professional academic philosophy, borderless philosophy is pretty radical, and, to the most successful, high-status inhabitants of the Hive, pretty scary and threatening.

So is borderless philosophy really possible?

In all honesty, I don’t know.

But I do know this:

If and only if borderless philosophy can be implemented by contemporary philosophers, and precisely to the extent that borderless philosophy actually is implemented by contemporary philosophers, will they (and we) exit their (and our) current condition of philosophical collective stupidity and destructive Gemeinschaft, including institutional sociopathy, in The Spirit of the Hive, and finally begin to achieve a condition of philosophical collective wisdom and constructive Gemeinschaft, in the spirit of Diogenes, Socrates, Kant, Schiller, early Marx, Kropotkin, and early Russell.

Moreover, a prototype project in borderless philosophy, called Philosophy Without Borders, was in fact launched in May 2017 and now actually exists, here.

Let us suppose now, for the purposes of argument, that borderless philosophy is rationally intelligible and defensible.

Then insofar as performance philosophy is focused on human embodiment together with the methods of the arts,it falls fully within the scope of borderless philosophy; and insofar as public philosophy is focused on human engagement with social institutions together with the methods of mass/social media and political life on the other, it also falls fully within the scope of borderless philosophy.

Therefore, if one were to adopt the basic aims of borderless philosophy, with its concentration on collective wisdom and constructive Gemeinschaft, in the spirit of Diogenes, Socrates, Kant, Schiller, early Marx, Kropotkin, and early Russell, then performance philosophy would naturally lead to public philosophy, and public philosophy would naturally lead to performance philosophy.

It is crucial to recognize, moreover, that if one were to adopt the basic aims of borderless philosophy, then this would also provide a definite, effective way of unifying the three “basic positions” on the value of public philosophy described in “Practicing Public Philosophy”:

Philosophical practice is a public good and should therefore be practiced in and with various publics.

Public philosophy is philosophy that has the explicit aim of benefiting public life.

Public philosophy should be liberatory, i.e., it should assist and empower those who are most vulnerable and suffer injustice, particularly through a critical analysis of power structures.

More precisely, if one were to take the third or “liberatory” basic position on the value of public philosophy as fundamental, and the other two positions as derivative from it, then that would also fall fully with the scope of borderless philosophy.

So borderless philosophy provides a mediating framework for definitely and effectively connecting performance philosophy and public philosophy, insofar as one take the third or “liberatory” basic position on the value of public philosophy as fundamental, and the other two positions as derivative from it.

***

How Performance Philosophy, Via Borderless Philosophy, Could Enrich Public Philosophy

Science does not concern itself with those properties of existence to which ridiculousness belongs. Science explains the world, but only Art can reconcile us to it.

–S. Lem[9]

Here is a worry that someone might have about my proposed solutions to the incoherence problem and the two solitudes problem, via borderless philosophy:

If one’s conception of the value of public philosophy rejects the idea that the third or liberatory basic position on the value of public philosophy is foundational for the other two positions, then the solutions to the incoherence problem and the two solitudes problem offered by borderless philosophy would fail.

For example, if one held that the value of public philosophy consisted

(i) EITHER exclusively in effectively presenting professional academic philosophy to non-academics and non-philosophers—i.e., exclusively in good PR,

(ii) OR exclusively in using professional academic philosophy to bring about some benefits for non-academics and non-philosophers—i.e., exclusively in “baking bread” for someone, anyone, including, e.g., scientists, the military-industrial complex, global corporate capitalists, etc.,

then the solutions to the incoherence problem and two solitudes problem offered by borderless philosophy would fail.

How could the borderless philosopher reply to the public-philosophy-exclusivists’ worries?

One way that seems very fruitful to me is to draw on a core element of performance philosophy—what I’ll call the expansive-ludic-and-reconciliatory character of performance philosophy—as best expressed in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth theses of performative philosophy:

  1. Philosophical performances render transparent how philosophy is done and open up new perspectives for the broadening of philosophical practice within and outside of institutions.
  2. Philosophical performances show and insist that philosophy must continually reinvent itself, which means it has to find contemporary forms.
  3. Philosophical performances allow the ludic and enigmatic character of philosophy to manifest itself.
  4. ….
  5. Philosophical performances stand in an intimate relation to art. They use art’s ludic strategies of confusion and dislocation.

In other words, just as the arts expand our capacities for feeling, acting, and thinking, and just as the arts at their best, to use Stanislaw Lem’s formulation, are ludic or inherently open to the absurd, humorous, ironic, and ridiculous aspects of human existence, and also reconcile us to our finite “human, all-too-human” existence in a thoroughly nonideal world, then performance philosophy shows us that public-philosophy-exclusivism over-narrowly leaves out too much that a smooth fusion of performance philosophy and public philosophy could bring to contemporary and future philosophy.

This expansive, ludic, and reconciliatory aim for philosophy, introduced by performance philosophy, in turn, would by no means rule out either public philosophy that is merely good PR, or public philosophy that merely bakes bread for someone: rather it would only insist that public-philosophy-exclusivism is mistaken because it does not allow philosophy to be all that it can be.

But at the same time, the expansive, ludic, and reconciliatory aim for philosophy that is introduced by performance philosophy is fully accommodated and comprehended by borderless philosophy.

So again, it seems to me that using borderless philosophy to mediate between performance philosophy and public philosophy is the right way to go from here.

NOTES

[1] See, e.g., Against Professional Philosophy, available online at URL = <http://againstprofphil.org/>.

[2] See, e.g., K. Marx, Selected Writings in Sociology & Social Philosophy, trans. T. Bottomore (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p. 69.

[3] URL = <http://performancephilosophy.ning.com/>.

[4] E.M. Gauss and R. Totzke, “On Performative Philosophy – 10 impulses for discussion from [soundcheck philosophie],” Performance Philosophy 1 (2015):74-94, p. 88, also available online at URL = <http://www.performancephilosophy.org/journal/article/view/30>.

[5] S.M. Meagher and E.K. Feder, “Practicing Public Philosophy,” pp. 4-6, available online at URL = <http://publicphilosophynetwork.ning.com/page/history-of-the-ppn>.

[6] Meagher and Feder, “Practicing Public Philosophy,” pp. 9-11.

[7] See Z, “On Philosophical Failures,” Against Professional Philosophy (4 October 2017), available online at URL = < http://againstprofphil.org/on-philosophical-failures/>.

[8] See F. Schiller, “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Humanity,” (trans. of the title modified slightly) available online at URL = <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6798/6798-h/6798-h.htm>.

[9] S. Lem, “King Globares and the Sages,” in S. Lem, Mortal Engines, trans. M. Kandel (New York: Harcourt Books, 1992), pp. 101-113, at p. 113.


 

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Z

About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.