Philosophical Works, Philosophical Theories, Real Philosophy, and REAL Philosophy. Anarcho-Philosophical Dialogues 2. By Boethius, L_E, OP, X1, Y, & Z.

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OP:  I hope you all feel ready for a new discussion! My question is:

What type of philosophical theories should real philosophy produce?

This has been on my mind since the discussion on APP that followed “The Pre-Structured Professional.”

In that discussion, the participants agreed that some or even many current philosophical theories don’t do justice to either A) their own subject matter or B) the practice of philosophy as such.

Examples of category A are current, scientistic theories that are overly materialist/reductionist, and that subsume philosophy once again as handmaiden of the sciences.

Together with these theories comes a broad commitment to political liberalism, egalitarianism and atheism amongst philosophers.

Examples of category B are attempts to put philosophical practice in a quite narrow (analytical?) box, thus pre-structuring the range of topics that can be investigated, and prescribing the means and methods for investigation.

For instance, Timothy Williamson might be in this category, given his emphasis on metaphysics as modal logic.

I think that we – as group – have a rather well-circumscribed view of what we dislike in the current academic climate, and more especially in philosophy.

However, I suppose it might be good to think and discuss what we could/should/would like to produce.

In what respects would the theories and products of real philosophy differ from those of professional academic philosophy in the negative sense of the word?

Historically, philosophical theories about subjects like the human condition, the role of science and the practice of philosophy have varied quite a bit, but mainstream philosophy seems to narrow down the range of “acceptable formats” unacceptably.

As for reading material, I’ve given you two texts.

The first one is a classic paper by Bernard Williams: “The Self and the Future.”

In it, Williams describes the same thought experiment in two different ways, to show that the method of thought experiments has to be applied carefully in order to obtain insight from the experiments.

This leads then to considerations of whether thought experiments have a place in real philosophy – and if they do, how could they be used?

The second text is the introduction of Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations. (p. 16-39)

I’ve always had a soft spot for this text, as it considers what the goal of philosophical activity is – in a rather productive way.

Nozick seems to imply that he is more in favour of a generalist, connective approach, instead of hyperspecialization and so-called coercive philosophy.

What do you think? Should real philosophy also opt for an explanatory approach, whether or not in conjunction with other approaches?

Also, I’d like us to talk about this dissenting letter that we recently received at APP, because it raises some interesting issues about our use of the term “real” in our important bit of technical terminology, “real philosophy”:

As far as I am concerned, [APP] is a very confused cause. There is a multiplicity of overlapping meanings for the word “philosophy”. What is done under the name of analytic philosophy has a history of over 2 millennia, you can find Plato and Aristotle doing detailed analysis of meanings, debating the merits of theories about predication, about definitions. One of the popular uses of the word “philosophy” is something not nerdy, dramatic, exciting, and of great moment, wisdom of the kind one might wait on with bated breath. There have been attempts to do that sort of stuff over the millennia too, often by the same people. But these are largely different enterprises. It might have been better if they had had different names. The whole topic is ridiculously neglected. But I am totally opposed to picking out any one use of the word “philosophy” and declaring that what the word stands for in that use is “real” philosophy, and none of the other things are “real” philosophy.

That’s just a PR stunt to try to gain the moral high ground, as if academic philosophers are imposters. They certainly are not, and what they do is practice a fascinating and difficult discipline with a long history. I am totally opposed to the inherently anti-intellectual attempts to belittle that discipline simply because, like a great range of academic disciplines, it doesn’t excite the romantic emotions or espouse “Grand Narratives” and normative ethical enterprises. Those things may be all very well but promoting them doesn’t require ignorant name-calling.

Yours with great sincerity,

Denis Robinson

This letter is not only dissenting and interesting.

It’s also highly notable for being one of the very few letters we receive from professional academic philosophers that actually presents arguments against us, and not simply abuse.

In fact, we receive two or three abusive letters per week, and letters like the above, only once a year.

That fact, in turn, says something in favor of our view of professional academic philosophy, and against Professor Robinson’s.

But he’s also raising some important worries about our use of “real” that we need to address.


Z:  OP’s framing discussion, and the very cool readings he sent us, starting me thinking again about philosophical theorizing in the analytic tradition, what’s right with it, and what’s wrong with it.

In the first half of the 20th century, the important philosophical programs were Logicism, platonic atomism, and then the “linguistic turn” initiated by Wittgenstein’s absolutely brilliant Tractatus, which yielded Logical Empiricism (LE).

LE produced a domestic reaction within linguistic philosophy, ordinary language philosophy.

Then Quine’s critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction took down LE, and his radical empiricism and scientism, and Sellars’s more rationalistic/intellectualist scientism, initiated scientific naturalism.

(Recent spins on scientific naturalism include Experimental Philosophy, aka X-Phi, and Penelople Maddy’s Second Philosophy.)

Ordinary language philosophy begat conceptual analysis, via Grice and Strawson.

And then Strawson created a new “connective” (coherentist, holistic) version of conceptual analysis, that also constituted a “descriptive metaphysics,” i.e., big picture connective analysis.

Strawsonian connective conceptual analysis gradually fused with Rawls’s method of reflective equilibrium and Chomsky’s intuitions-as-data/evidence-driven psycholinguistic theorizing, to become The Standard Picture of mainstream analytic philosophical methodology in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 00s, indeed right up to this morning at 8am.

Williams and Nozick were master-craftsmen of this kind of conceptual analysis. So too Strawson and Rawls. And especially Parfit.

But running alongside the Standard Picture were, and are,

(i) scientific naturalism and

(ii) modal metaphysics, driven by modal logic (Kripke, Lewis, Fine, Chalmers, Williamson, Hawthorne, Sider et al), aka “Analytic metaphysics.”

So the main philosophical theories in the recent/contemporary analytic tradition are:

(i) concept-driven theories (The Standard Picture=connective analysis + reflective equilibrium + intuitions as data/evidence),

(ii) natural science driven theories (basically Locke’s underlaborer conception + scientism/reductive or non-reductive materialism, side-constrained by logic), &

(iii) modal logic driven theories (modal logic + noumenal realism, usually side-constrained by natural science).

Soames’s vision of The Golden Age of Philosophy = (i) + (ii) + (iii), especially (iii), because he’s a Princeton product.

Chalmers and Jackson are the contemporary masters of Soames-style Golden Ageism.

(Putnam, who died in mid-March, is a very interesting “mixed” case.

At different times in his career, he practiced LE, the Standard Picture, scientific naturalism, AND modal metaphysics.

Not only that, his heavy duty socialist politics earlier in his life (up to 1970), and his later Kant-inflected, anti-functionalist, direct perceptual realist work, and criticisms of mainstream Analytic philosophy, all come very close to APP-style real philosophy.

And, like Rorty in the 80s, and Nagel more recently, Putnam was widely criticized for evolving as a philosopher and for changing his mind. So, generally speaking, he’s on my A-team.)

Now something that’s missing from ALL these theories is the standpoint of primitive, irreducible conscious human experience, and especially that of rational human consciousness.

In Chalmers, Jackson, and other Soames-style Golden Ageists interested in the philosophy of mind, human conscious experience gets totally flattened out into “epiphenomenal qualia” (=  causally inert sense data), with lots of lip-service paid to Nagel’s “what it’s like to be.”

But then they always completely forget to add Nagel’s FOR AN ORGANISM and that Nagel’s alternative characterization is “having a point of view,” and more generally they have highly strategic amnesia about the crucial fact that Nagel’s breakthrough work in “What It It Like to Be a Bat?”–when he, Frankfurt, Davidson, and Kripke were all at Rockefeller together for a few years in the 70s and early 80s, until the scientists and medical researchers kicked them out for being useless and irrelevant to their exceptionally well-funded scientific research and experimental work– grew out of Nagel’s triple interests in cognitive ethology, Existentialism, and panpsychism.

Anyhow, the Kantian and existential/phenomenological traditions start with human conscious experience, and essential embodiment, and agency/intentional action, that’s what I think all real philosophical theorizing in the philosophy of mind and metaphysics more generally, should start with too.

PLUS Kant’s transcendental dialectic, “the critique of pure reason,” which is mirrored by later Wittgenstein’s critique of philosophical confusions/bad grammar/bad pictures in the Investigations.

(The Investigations ALSO starts with the human experiential point of view, in an intersubjective communal setting = “forms of life,” and explores linguistic phenomenology in the second half of the book.

But Investigations overemphasizes language, I think, and also neglects consciousness because of the private language argument, which is really a radical self-critique of “solipsism” in the Tractatus, and goes too far, bordering on behaviorism….)

For what it’s worth!, my own view is that–

(i) there’s no deep difference between real philosophy and the history of philosophy,

(ii) real metaphysics is possible but should reverse-engineer theories of manifest reality from phenomenologically self-evident insights about essentially embodied conscious experience, especially rational human conscious experience, especially the experience of free intentional agents–where these insights can be either conceptual or essentially non-conceptual, but must be ultimately grounded on (=not reducible to, but primitively starting with, & inherently constrained by) the essentially non-conceptual/sensible side of human experience,

(iii) real philosophical explanation is philosophical abduction = philosophical inference to the best explanation, where the evidential base is given by self-evident phenomenology

(I also think that transcendental explanation & (iii) are necessarily equivalent, but that’s another story….), and

(iv) that all real philosophy is life-changing, hence all real philosophy is liberationist, with radical ethical, religious, and political aims (= heavy duty enlightenment).

If I’m right about reverse-engineered anthropocentric/agent-oriented metaphysics, then noumenal theorizing of any sort is deeply misguided.

It leads directly to dialectical disaster/PARNS, aka “postmodern anti-rational nihilist skepticism,” so Analytic metaphysics is out.

Scientific naturalism is out because it eliminates, reduces, or epiphenomenalizes consciousness and the human/agential point of view, and turns us into natural automata–how convenient for Scientistic Statism! and the military-industrial-university complex.

And The Standard Picture is out because it’s coherentist/holistic, not realistic, and committed to Conceptualism, hence to intellectualism, and ends up as nothing but generalized doxology:

a big network of reflectively equilibrated, politically-uncritical, shot-from-the-hip opinions, many or even most of them the result of ideological manipulation, hence cognitive illusions, re-packaged as coherence-truth.

E.g., Rawls’s theory of justice and Nozick’s libertarianism are completely locked into classical Hobbesian/neo-Hobbesian liberal/neoliberal political assumptions, cognitive illusions that basically mirror the post-WW II USA, with little or no sense of any serious alternatives.

And now The Standard Picture of philosophical methodology basically mirrors the post-Cold War USA.

Yankee big capitalist triumphalist nuke-wielding scientistic technocratic politically-correct/social justice egalitarian liberal descriptive metaphysics. God Bless America.

And finally, we get the Trump-tyrant we deserve,

our very own Immortal Joe—

So these mainstream Analytic philosophical theories are each highly problematic and wrong for different reasons, but ALSO because they all share one fundamental flaw: they totally leave out and are completely blind to the liberationist/radical political aims of real philosophy.

(Thinking about Putnam again: Why didn’t his radical politics ever get directly into his philosophical work?

Why, in the 60s and 70s, didn’t Putnam go the radical New Left route taken by Robert Paul Wolff and Chomsky?

I mean, content-externalism and “linguistic division of labor,” as interesting and socially-oriented as they are, aren’t exactly The Communist Manifesto or Kropotkin.)

OP:  Reading and re-reading Nozick’s Introduction to Philosophical Explanations, it struck me that I am in broad agreement with his objections to what he calls “coercive philosophy,” but I think that his solutions just repeat an older, ideological gesture.

Nozick asserts that philosophy should focus more on providing explanations.

His example is that there may be series of statements r1; r2; r3 etc. entailing that statement p cannot be true. The r-series thus excludes p holding true (p. 9).

He then goes on to say that philosophy should not only describe conditions for the possibility of statement p, but that it should also lead to an understanding of how p could be come about in the first place.

The idea seems to be to argue how p could be true.

It seems to me a bit telling that Nozick frames this argument in entirely in logical terms.

In a way, the task of anarcho-philosophy seems to me to make this explanatory move not only in the logical domain, but also in the ideological and philosophical domains – thus showing how ideology has set the boundaries for current mainstream philosophical practice.

In a way, the current PAS tries very hard to convince scientists and philosophers that they are the only game in town – that the possibility of resistance cannot be realized.

It may be up to real philosophy to “show that p is true,” as it were – that there is life outside institutions and that philosophy is not bound to regulations and departments.

In addition, it is a bit unclear what type of explanations or theories Nozick imagines philosophy to provide.

If these explanations are only causal, his position might fall in the same scientistic trap that many analytic philosophers fell for – for instance, resorting to modal logic as metaphysics.

If the explanations are functional (as in biology –trait A in an organism is to fulfill function B) or social, Nozick does not mention them.

While Nozick is against coercive philosophy, he does not mention how we should evaluate his proposed philosophical explanations.

If we have to do it by constructing and defending arguments for the explanations, Nozick might be back at square one: the defense of his explanations might rely on the philosophical practice he wants to avoid, unless there is an alternative.

That being said, I like Nozick’s dialectical remarks, where he mentions that philosophical understanding seeks for the harmony in tension and paradox (p. 10).

I am not sure that those paradoxes and tensions can be entirely removed, but they might be productive sites for philosophical activity – at least if I take a Hegelian view.

On the other hand, when Nozick says that philosophical understanding should search for “deeper” principles for understanding (p. 11), it seems to me that he borrowed again the model of physical reality from the natural sciences (notably physics) – to explain every phenomenon using more basic (“deeper”) principles.

And that, ironically, is precisely the stance he is trying to avoid, as he states in the opening pages of the Introduction.

Which brings me to two types of philosophical theories produced by mainstream (analytic) philosophy nowadays, as outlined by Z:

(ii) natural science driven theories (basically Locke’s underlaborer conception + scientism/reductive or non-reductive materialism, side-constrained by logic), &

(iii) modal logic driven theories (modal logic + noumenal realism, usually side-constrained by natural science).

The keywords in these two types of theories are science and (modal) logic.

These two disciplines are not negative in themselves, but I think they do not exhaust the domain of philosophical practice.

It might be good to think about the ways in which philosophical practice goes beyond this picture, and – I expect – makes it redundant.

L_E:  I was particularly amazed by Nozick’s introduction, which I will comment in more detail below.

I particularly like the idea of philosophy as aiming for understanding rather than for the truth.

I’ve entertained this thought for quite some time as an undergrad, but since I read everywhere that the main aim of philosophy is “truth”, I was just convinced that I was mistaken. Let me elaborate on this.

I don’t think that philosophy is supposed to be a “game of ideas”, where we simply play with some ideas to see what comes up.

I think that, as Nozick rightly points out, we should start with some commonly agreed ideas and develop them further in order to make sense of the world we live in.

Thus, philosophy should be primarily an attempt to understand things, regardless of whether this will lead us to the “truth.”

I think this is behind the idea of a “tentative philosophy.”

I like to think of this issue in the background of what I call the historical dimension of philosophy.

Roughly, the idea is that we are poor judges of the historical period we live in, and we cannot judge what is to count as philosophy in the future.

Moreover, we cannot be certain that what we hold to be true now will continue to be true in the future.

If this is the case, then philosophy should benefit best from aiming at understanding, rather than getting things right.

This need not be read as a relativist claim, for genuine attempts to understand things tend to lead us to some sort of agreement in the end (or at least that’s what I think from a pragmatist perspective).

Another thing in connection to Nozick essay is that the “knockdown argument” view of philosophy looks like a very powerful ideological tool to keep real philosophy always at the margins, excluded by professional academic mainstream Analytic philosophy.

I would say that the main motivation behind the “knockdown” attitude is not itself to improve or help someone’s else view, but rather to promote oneself in front of one’s peers.

Knockdown arguments are a very strong tool to make one look like a “super-smart” person and thus maintain one’s status inside professional academic philosophy.

To see this, even if you are no Robert Nozick, could you possibly think of a scenario where you would want to put forward some tentative philosophical ideas, knowing that there are “knockdowners” all around you, just waiting for the opportunity to promote themselves?

What I find more depressing in all of this is that this kind of attitude is explicitly encouraged in some graduate programs, especially in many of the top-ranked programs.

Now, a brief follow-up comment about Z’s last set of remarks.

When you say, Z, that (iv) real philosophy is liberationist and life-changing, do you mean that all real philosophy should be intentionally of this sort, or that there might be a real philosopher that doesn’t care for this, but that accidentally produces real philosophy?

I’m inclined to think that the latter is true, but then it is possible that even the most outspoken professional philosopher can produce really good real philosophy.

Z:  Ironically, in the 1980s, Nozick had the professional reputation of being super-smart, even amongst those who were already regarded as super-smart.

People said he was scary smart!

No doubt, many 1980s professional philosophers had nightmares in which Nozick came out of the woodwork at their talks and wiped the floor with them.

Peter Van Inwagen had that same reputation in the 90s and into the 00s, plus a further reputation—well-earned: I actually saw him doing it—of being an arrogant asshole to young philosophers, including graduate students, at their talks, wiping the floor with them.

I also confess to having had nightmares, after seeing him doing that, of PVI coming out of the woodwork at one of my talks, and wiping the floor with me.

Nowadays, it just makes me really angry.

Anyhow, Like OP amd L_E, I find Nozick’s critique of coercive philosophy and the method of “knockdown” arguments compelling.

And I also completely agree with OP that Nozick himself, even despite his really interesting remarks about philosophy as aimed at understanding and constructing conceptual structures like the Parthenon, is still too much in the grip of the idea that philosophy is modeled on natural science, mathematics, or logic.

I like the architectural metaphor!, but prefer the Bauhaus, classical Japanese architecture, and even Gothic architecture to Greek architecture.

What I mean is that we need to think about philosophy with aesthetic, artistic, and religious models in mind too, not just models drawn from the natural or formal sciences.

So I think it’s very helpful to draw a distinction between

(i) works of philosophy, and

(ii) philosophical theories,

such that the category of philosophical works is much wider and more inclusive than the category of philosophical theories: more generally, philosophical theorizing is only one way of creating philosophy, as important as theorizing is.

The aim of philosophical works would be to create or provide insights, with synoptic scope, and a priori/necessary character, tracking categorical normativity and our highest values, about the rational human condition and the larger world around us, with the ultimate goal of making heavy duty enlightenment/intellectual and practical liberation, really possible.

But this can be achieved even without concepts, propositions, arguments, or theories, simply by presenting imagery, pictures, structures, etc., that have universal/modal implications, or normative force.

These could all be called “truths,” if we use the term “truth” sufficiently broadly–as in, “the truth shall set you free.”

The point is changing your own life, and personal liberation, and helping others to see how to do it for themselves too.

Philosophy is then as much, or even more, aimed at being visionary, and inspiring, as it is/than it is argumentative and explanatory.

By sharp contrast, coercive philosophy, as “knockdown arguments,” has its philosophical-moral analogue in coercive moralism:

we’re going to MAKE you better and MAKE you free, even if we have to “nudge” you, threaten or punish you, put you in prison, torture you, or kill you, as in 1984 and the Nazi use of “Arbeit macht frei.”

I also wanted to say one quick thing by way of an answer to L_E’s query about whether ALL real philosophy has to be intentionally aimed at life-changing and heavy duty enlightenment.

I’d say no, not ALL, in part because I think that much visionary  enlightening real philosophy is nevertheless “escapist” in the sense that, often because of Schopenhauerian pessimism or Unamuno’s “tragic view of life,” it attempts to reach beyond the human, and the practical, and achieve a totally detached aesthetic/moral/religious sort of attitude towards the world and humanity.

Like what Kurosawa does in Ran–which is, in effect, Shakepearean tragedy written and directed by a detached, uncaring visitor from another planet.

There are also real philosophers who think that the ultimate and best kind of philosophy overcomes philosophy itself–Nietzsche and Wittgenstein would count here.

Finally, I also wanted to say something about real philosophical explanations, as transcendental explanations, and inferences to the best explanation.

I think that they’re basically driven by transcendental arguments that look for a priori presuppositions of what’s directly given in actual human experience (call it AHE), as presented phenomenologically, then start out from those a priori presuppositions (P1, P2, P3) & various factual truths (FT1, FT2, FT3, etc.), and proceed by subjunctive conditionals:

Necessarily, if (P1, P2, P3… Pn) & also (FT1, FT2, FT3…FTn) were true, then AHE would be true.

So basically, we start with the ACTUAL world of human experience, regress to a set of claims that provide a restricted total set of relevant possible worlds, and then explain by using subjunctive conditionals to narrow the set of worlds down to the actual one.

I think that Nozick was saying something quite similar, without the transcendental-argument or human-experiential elements.

So for me, the “necessarily” is synthetic a priori necessity, not conceptual/logical necessity.

Anyhow, transcendental explanations are synthetic a priori subjunctive conditionals from a priori presuppositions and factual truths to the actual world of human experience; and in looking for philosophical adequacy, we infer to the best such explanation, amongst all the alternative prima facie good explanations.

But again, philosophical theoretical explanation is only PART of what real philosophy is aiming at, hence formulating philosophical theories an explanations should be subsumed under the more comprehensive aim of creating insightful works, ultimately aimed of life-changing, liberating, heavy duty enlightenment.

This conception of philosophy, in effect, combines The Four Great Ks: Kant, Kierkegaard, Kropotkin, and Kurosawa….


OP:  I have some further thoughts about what L_E and Z just said.

Z: So I think it’s very helpful to draw a distinction between (i) works of philosophy, &

(ii) philosophical theories, such that the category of philosophical works is much wider & more inclusive than the category of philosophical theories: more generally, philosophical theorizing is only one way of creating philosophy, as important as it is.

Somehow this made me think about Peter Unger’s distinction between abstract and concrete reality.

While works of philosophy might deal with both abstract and concrete reality in a narrative, aesthetic or religious way, philosophical theories would as it were be more-or-less systematic expositions of this abstract and concrete reality.

Where works of philosophy could have a very informal character (and the author might not even know that he was actually practicing philosophy), theories could have a more formal, systematic character.

Some of the more interesting historical philosophical works intriguingly oscillate between being a philosophical work and being a philosophical theory.

To my mind, works by De Montaigne, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are quite hard to put into one category.

Maybe systematic-expository works like Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason or Hegel’s Philosophy of Right would belong more in the second category.

Nietzsche’s Gay Science, Montaigne’s Essays or Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation are more general and contain traces of:

(i) a philosophical theory or worldview,

(ii) a form of engagement with earlier or contemporary ideas – either in the negative or positive sense,

(iii) a philosophical method that is developed by practicing it,

(iv) a (tacit, implicit) commentary on the practice of philosophy as such and

(v) commentary on quite a broad range of topics: ethics, political theory, metaphysics, epistemology, religion

Let’s say (as a very rough and ready example), Hegel’s philosophical works do contain a worldview based on certain metaphysical assumptions/principles, leading Hegel to endorse a form of nontraditional teleology and participating fully in the German ‘historicist tradition’ – that would be (i).

Meanwhile, – that’s (ii) – Hegel reacts not only on Kant’s ideas, but to those of the Greeks and his contemporaries (notably Schelling).

Hegel’s dialectical method is, as it were, woven into his works, and matures over time – a form of philosophy that is in development through its practice – that would be (iii).

Then, (iv), Hegel constructs a commentary on about every philosopher that is contemporaneous with him or before him, commenting on their methods and the ways that they used to arrive at philosophical theories.

Finally, (v), Hegel thought on an impressive range of topics – sometimes giving rise to an impressive range of blunders.

Nonetheless, his philosophical works are:

(a)    Generalist in scope (now try this in an age of specialization).

(b)    Not exhausted by philosophical theories – the philosophical work extends far beyond the formal theories that one can derive from them, as Z already put it

(c)    Fully in touch with historical and new philosophical ideas.

Note that Hegel is just a quick example here – but the same thing could mutatis mutandis be said of Kant, Peirce, Gadamer, Deleuze….

If one compares this with contemporary (analytic) philosophy, it seems to me that:

First, the historical dimension is present, but cannot be mentioned (note that analytic philosophy as philosophical orientation is already one century old!).

Many analytic philosophers may refer to Kant now and then, but that is a far back as it goes.

Second, that – following the natural sciences – there is an urge to devise new theories or for once and all disprove a theorem.

However, thinking about actual human experience or transcendental conditions seems rather underestimated.

Third, the human condition and all the problems of the ’Eclipse of Reason’ or the dehumanizing effects of instrumental reason or oppression get very little attention.

This is obvious, I think, when one models philosophy on the natural sciences.

While scientific discoveries tell us about our physical origins and the cosmos, they are no substitute for moral theorizing.

Fourth,  bringing me to moral philosophy and political philosophy, where – as Z mentioned – thinking is locked in a set of presuppositions that derive largely from Enlightenment (and proto-scientific) thinking, as well as an attachment to the free market and instrumental reason.

Fifth, L_E’s earlier point that we maybe should start with some commonly agreed points to make sense of the world we live in is more or less excluded in the current situation I suspect.

The points that are presented as ‘commonly agreed’ might be just the current ideological framework that is presented as common sense.

Sixth, this would probably make us indeed poor judges of the philosophical period we live in: if the coordinates of our discussions are defined by the ‘ruling order’, they will use knockdown arguments all the time to keep the status quo intact – if one is to believe Machiavelli.

Reaching philosophical understanding would probably require two things: a) critical questioning of the existing order, and b) critically engaging with genuinely new problems in ways that do not reflect what mainstream philosophy already does.

Z:  Cool! I’m totally on board with everything OP said.

In particular, I really, really like his preliminary set of 5 criteria for what counts as a work of philosophy & had some further elaborating thoughts about them:

(i) a philosophical theory or worldview

–theories would be primarily concerned with conceptual/propositional truth, & explanation, whereas worldviews more generally could be aimed at “truth” in some larger sense, & inspiring or visionary rather than explanatory in any narrow theoretical sense

–this would also imply that philosophy would NOT be exclusively driven by conceptual content & logical reasoning, even if always governed by minimal consistency & minimal entailment constraints (otherwise it would be incoherent bullshit), but could also be adequately expressed by essentially non-conceptual content, including what Kant called “ideas of the imagination,” but also image-content & purely structural/schematic representations, etc., as well as direct representations of values

(ii) a form of engagement with earlier or contemporary ideas–either in the negative or positive sense

–this would be the historical dimension, & my own view is that this would conform to The No Deep Difference Thesis, such that the history or philosophy & real philosophy are totally continuous at the level of philosophical content

(iii) a philosophical method that is developed by practicing it

–this would also satisfy the theses of presentational hylomorphism & presentational polymorphism about works of philosophy (PHWP: the form & content of works must be essentially integrated & complementary; & PPWP: there are no constraints on mode-of-presentational format, provided that PHWP is also satisfied), & therefore be totally pluralistic as to presentational format

(iv) a (tacit, implicit) commentary on the practice of philosophy as such

–this would mean that all real philosophical works at least implicitly contain a metaphilosophy

(v) commentary on quite a broad range of topics: ethics, political theory, metaphysics, epistemology, religion

–indeed, I’d want to say that there’s nothing relevant to the rational human condition that couldn’t be the target of this commentary

As both OP and L_E have stressed, it’s self-evident that if philosophy were to be re-construed along these lines, with philosophical theories being only ONE important sub-dimension, then it follows the normal practices of mainstream analytic philosophy in the 20th and 21st centuries, and  above all the normal practices of contemporary professional academic philosophy, have been and are unbelievably narrow and restrictive.

Not only that, but the social pressures of coercive moralism/SJWs on these practices have been especially pernicious.

The good little professional do-bees sit around at philosophy talks looking for reasons to be offended, so that they can then complain to the administration & force everyone to obey Ms Pratte/Chalmers-style kindergarten rules.

Or even worse, they force everyone to attend “retreats,” so that they can undergo “sensitivity training,” i.e., maoist-style re-education.

Then obviously whatever remains of real philosophy in a professional academic context is being strangled to death by a killer-combination of

(i) Soames-style Golden Ageist analytic philosophy dogmatists and

(ii) the SJW-Furies,

both of whom, in turn, are $$-powered by the neoliberalization of higher education….

So, liberating contemporary philosophy from these malign, mortally-theatening forms of philosophical coercion (cf. Nozick on “coercive philosophy”) and oppression is essential for the survival of real philosophy.

But, looking on the brighter/upbeat side:

If the practices and practitioners of contemporary philosophy were liberated, then real philosophy powered by the thesis of Presentational Polymorphism in Works of Philosophy (PPWP) would release the creation of some amazingly exciting new real philosophy in the future, perhaps even in the near future….


L_E:  I’ll just raise one side question that has always bothered me in this discussion.

If one agrees with OP’s criteria (i) to (v) for any humanly-produced work’s being a “work of philosophy,” as I do, and one is willing to produce some real philosophical work, what should one do in order to get one’s work out there in the world?

Is there any way to make one’s real philosophy reach outside one’s philosophical circle?

I have raised this question in my offline conversations with Z a couple of times, but I’d like to see what you all think of it.

Assuming that it would be very hard to publish books, or even to produce articles that satisfy criteria (i) to (v), how should one make one’s real philosophical work public?

 Z:  Thanks so much, L_E, for raising that exceptionally hard question again.

Let me start with a philosophical bed-time story.

I’ve always been completely fascinated by the Tractatus.

Now I can clearly see that one reason why, is (i) that it’s a work of real philosophy that develops a completely original theory (in propositions 1-6.3).

But (ii) it ALSO contains, as a proper part, a poetic work of philosophy (in propositions 6.4-7) that explicitly shows the limits of philosophical theories.

Basically, in propositions 6.53 and 6.54, Wittgenstein is saying:

HERE is where I had to deny knowledge (Wissen) in order to make room for faith (Glauben).

The so-called “resolute reading” of the Tractatus almost recognizes this, but fucks it up.

So the Tractatus presents, at one and the same time, a brilliant, original philosophical theory AND a deeply inspiring, visionary philosophical work.

Now, not too surprisingly, give the professional academic philosophical situation in the early 20s, Wittgenstein had a really, really hard time getting the Tractatus published.

In fact, the only reason it WAS published was that Russell agreed to write an introduction in which he completely fucked up the interpretation of the Tractatus and intensely annoyed Wittgenstein.

Earlier, Wittgenstein had visited Frege and tried to explain his ideas to him, but Frege also completely misunderstood and (according to Wittgenstein) “wiped the floor” with him.

They fuck you up, your philosophical Mum (=Frege) and your philosophical Dad (=Russell).

At least Russell realized that it was a philosophical work of genius, but then Wittgenstein was Russell’s own (and only) student, and Russell was himself a philosophical genius.

The moral of this story is that, as L_E says or anyhow implies, it’s going to be really, really hard to get experimental works of real philosophy published, since they will fall outside the professional academic philosophy box, and therefore virtually all professional philosophers will completely misunderstand them.

Now obviously I’ve been thinking of APP as a place that would publish experimental works of philosophy, and the Philosoflicks have been and are my attempt to create some philosophy that’s altogether outside the box of contemporary professional philosophy.

E.g., Philosoflicks 6: Tractatus Spatio-Poeticus.

I must say that, so far, the philosoflicks have been a resounding failure: no one, except my daughter, is paying any fucking attention to them.

Now it may well be that the philosoflicks are all just crap, or “presumptuous, condescending, sophomoric twaddle” as the inimitable Professor Fanny Squeers put it.

BUT that would be my own fault, not a problem about experimental works of real philosophy per se.

So my complete answer to L_E’s question is: you can publish experimental works of real philosophy in APP.

Our circulation isn’t huge–nothing like, say, The Daily Arse, or The Stone–but actually, it’s a few thousand people a month, so reasonably good for real philosophy, in the grand scheme of things.

And our regular readership isn’t by any means wholly disposed to hate, on sight, experimental works of real philosophy.


And APP has the added advantage of being completely cool with pseudonyms, so that if you don’t want to damage your professional academic reputation by publishing stuff that might otherwise brand you as someone with “mental health issues,” then you can do so.

So I say, take another look at our amazing APP avatar–

Inline image 1

and then go for it….

L_E:  I do agree that, for the time being, APP is indeed the best way we have to reach out to other philosophers, and that it is the most strategically option in this respect.

However, I’d like to raise a somewhat related issue, that is, what should we do to reach other academics or even people from outside academia.

This relates to a more general question of where real philosophy belongs to, i.e., would it be okay for real philosophy to be a concern of academics publishing articles/books/whatever in an academic setting, or should we publish real philosophy in a completely revolutionary way, maybe by making use of technology, such as the Internet and all its resources?

This relates more or less to the Socratic idea that philosophy was the business of the agora or “marketplace.”

As for the Philosoflicks issue, I’ve been thinking more and more about this, and here’s some tentative reflection on why that might be the case.

This is drawn mostly from my personal experience, so it’d be nice to know if it reflects how the rest of you see these things.

I think that, in general, we tend to overlook the role that “professional habits” have in shaping how we deal with philosophy.

I’ve attempted!, and always failed, to produce unconventional works of philosophy.

One of the reasons why I find it so hard to keep going on with such enterprises is that something seems to be wrong or misguided, even if I can’t put a finger on it.

It looks like that, e.g., if you are writing metaphorically, or if you are inserting some personal reflection on a work, than you’re doing something wrong.

This also applies to the “tentative” philosophy idea: if you don’t provide enough reasons to justify your claim, or if you can’t connect it perfectly and clearly to the chain of reasoning, then you feel like there is a flaw in your work.

In this respect, I’d say that the same applies to reading unconventional works of philosophy.

I think it is difficult to engage with those works rightly because “professional habits” are so inculcated in us that we can’t avoid but to read anything that is supposed to be philosophy by applying the “professional” standards.

Once we do this, it is very hard to appreciate an unconventional work by its own standards.

I’m not sure about all of this (again, those are only tentative thoughts on the issue), but I see the issue as being like the case of someone trying to quit smoking: the person might want to quit, he/she might have good reasons to do so, but it’s extremely hard to break the habit.

 Z: I had two quick further thoughts about what L_E just said.

First, as to reaching other academics and people outside academia, and where real philosophy really belongs: the academy or the agora, both, or neither, i.e., the esoteric, insider option.

My answer is: all three = academy, agora, and esoteric/insider!

Taking the third option first, I think it’s essential for us to develop our own APP style, philosophical discourse, and ideas, safely away from the CCTVs of Big Brother 1 = professional academic philosophy, and Big Brother 2: the neoliberal big capitalist marketplace.

That means cognitively liberating ourselves from both Big Brothers, and epecially from their little Big Brother avatars inside us, that we’ve had non-voluntarily installed in us simply by virtue of our having been professional academic philosophers and American, Brazilian, Canadian, or German citizens.

It also means publishing our own stuff on the APP site, without having to submit ourselves to either the professional academic philosophy publishing racket or the commercial publishing racket..

Nevertheless, I do think that we should ALSO be trying to reach as many other professional academic philosopjhers and other non-philosopher academics as possible, and ALSO as many non-academics as possible.

So that means ALSO trying to publish and/orotherwise disseminate our work in ALL of those domains: (i) professional academic philosophy journals and presses, (ii)pan-academic venues, and (iii) in non-academic venues.

But at the same time, how?

As to (i), we should be publishing stuff that’s at the very limits of “safe” philosophy inside the professional academic publishing racket.

But at the same time, it’s amazingly hard to get published! in the higher-ranked professional academic philosophy journals and presses.

–Especially if you’re subtly or overtly blacklisted, e.g., for the dual sin of being me and being Z.

But even if you’re not blacklisted, the competition for publication at all the higher-ranked journals and presses is extremely intense.

And referees are generally overworked, often really arrogant and nasty, and almost always the unintentional or intentional vehicles of ideological hyper-disciplining, via the supposedly socially just, but actually intellectually deadly, “double-blind” refereeing system.

As to (ii), reaching other academics isn’t that easy!

Right now, publishing your own stuff on is the obvious way to do it.

But actually, is a highly noisy environment, with thousands and thousands of voices trying to be heard.

And lots of people are using it merely as a way of promoting their own hyper-specialized professional academic careers, inside their own hyper-narrow disciplinary frameworks.

As to (iii), reaching outside the PAS altogether, there are two obvious routes:

(1) the feuilleton section in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), and

(2) The Stone in the New York Times, The Professional’s Own Newspaper.

But of course you have to be fluent in German to publish in FAZ, and it reaches, basically, only German-speaking philosophers.

And no doubt it’s really, really difficult to be published there—you probably have to know someone, belong to the right Berlin/Frankfurt in-crowd, not have pissed off the editors, etc.

In any case, I know for a fact that it’s really, really difficult to be published in The Stone, having tried several times myself.

Even apart from the normal issue of the inherent quality or merit of your essay/post, there’s the NYC in-crowd issue, editorial non-piss-off issue, and covert/overt blacklisting to contend with.

So being rejected there can be massively over-determined.

Second, the Philosoflicks issue.

Yes!, I totally agree that it runs against all the cognitive habits and ideological disciplining we’ve absorbed as professional academic philosophers, to do, or even to “get the point of,”  experimental works in real philosophy.

So as real philosophers we need to be constantly engaging in anarcho-philosophical calisthenics, in order to break the grip of our ideological hyper-disciplining, liberate ourselves from the little Big Brothers inside us, then inspire the self-liberation of others.

And now I’m remembering that Plato said similar things about people being cognitively manipulated and enslaved by shadows on the walls of the Cave.

Also that Bacon talked about the eidola that enslaved people’s minds, and kept them locked inside philosophical Scholasticism and inside coercive moralist religion/theology, the Church.

Also Kant on his own “dogmatic slumbers” and transcendental illusion.

Also Goya on “the sleep of reason” that breeds monsters.

And obviously Marx, and the especially the Frankfurt School neo-Marxists, have said LOTS about the nature of ideology, ideological manipulation, hegemony, etc.

But I also think that, along with turning “the history of philosophy” into a completely insulated, eviscerated, antiquarian, irrelevant, hyper-specialized sub-discipline, basically all of this really dynamite stuff in Plato, Bacon, Kant, Goya, Marx, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, etc., has been almost COMPLETELY overlooked by recent/contemporary philosophers, especially from a philosophy of mind/cognitive science point of view. [link]

They’re totally happy just to put in earplugs, roll over so that they’re not facing us, take another Tylenol PM, and keep on sleeping.

And this heavy-sleeping stategy is pretty universal, even despite the current obsession with “error theory” and “debunking strategies.”

–Or more accurately, precisely because of the current obsession with “error theory” and “debunking strategies.”

In effect, it’s the paranoid schizophrenic madman accusing his own doctor of being crazy and malevolent!, as per, e.g., The Cabinet of Dr Caligari; and Plato made very similar remarks about mentally enslaved misologists and real-philosophy-haters.

They really hate you if you try to wake them up from their dogmatic slumbers/sleep of reason.

In any case, we need to keep banging away on our real-philosophical pots and pans, till other philosophers/non-philosophers start to wake the fuck up, even if they hate us….

OP:  A steady stream of thought-provoking thoughts!

I’ll add some more follow-ups to those:

L_E:  I think that, in general, we tend to overlook the role that “professional habits” have in shaping how we deal with philosophy. I have attempted, and failed all the times, to produce unconventional works of philosophy. One of the reasons why I find it so hard to keep going on with such enterprises is that something seems to be wrong or misguided, even if I can’t put a finger on it. It looks like that, e.g., if you are writing metaphorically, or if you are inserting some personal reflection on a work, than you’re doing something wrong. This also applies to the “tentative” philosophy idea: if you don’t provide enough reasons to justify your claim, or if you can’t connect it perfectly and clearly to the chain of reasoning, then you feel like there is a flaw in your work.

Extremely relevant point, I think. Probably this has to do with the “culture of justification” (see Kristie Dotson’s paper “How is This Paper Philosophy?” [link]) in contemporary philosophy (and science, and arts).

Either the idea is justified, or it is not – and whether it is justified is determined by commonly agreed norms and rules.

This seems to relate to Freire’s concept of “the banking system of education”–students are just seen as vessels to be filled with knowledge that’s commonly agreed upon, and are then expected to reproduce it.

Maybe the structure of the architectural design process is helpful here: between the final drawings of a building and the first sketch or ideas lies an immense process.

The sketches define as it were an experimental space, in which one can explore, play around, add and subtract ideas and does not have to feel constricted by norms, possibilities and requirements.

In the end, one or two of the sketches are chosen, worked out and detailed.

At that point, the norms, requirements etc. gradually come in again.

In the end, these norms do play an important role, since an architect and his client wish the building to be realized.

The point is that in some phases in the process, things are just not clear – and that is for the best, I suppose.

The end product may in some cases look conventional (or, again, it may not), but the thinking that is behind it might be very original.

If we try to see how this plays out in philosophy, we end up with papers/articles/books/essays/ dialogues/poems/other philosophical works that may LOOK conventional in format, but are actually very original in scope and thinking.

Z: But I also think that, along with turning “the history of philosophy” into a completely insulated, eviscerated, antiquarian, irrelevant, hyper-specialized sub-discipline, basically all of this really dynamite stuff in Plato, Bacon, Kant, Goya, Marx, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, etc., has been almost COMPLETELY overlooked by recent/contemporary philosophers, especially from a philosophy of mind/cognitive science point of view.

This hits the nail on the head, I think!

Given the continuity of history of philosophy with philosophical practice (aka The No Deep Difference Thesis) it seems to me that a form of real philosophy could do immensely important work on “connecting the dots,” as it were.

What makes for example the Frankfurt School philosophy so attractive is that it engages with contemporary issues in a way that is historically grounded, yet critical and eclectic in the selection of sources.

Then, as an extra ingredient, many authors add a dose of “interpretive freedom” by creatively establishing connections between the contemporary issue, historical precedents, the problem structure, and—importantly—their own perceptions, theoretical preferences etc.

I think that this is a good thing.

As long as it’s clear that someone works from an engaged position, the new connections and readings of theory that pop up are all the more interesting.

The results may be somewhat polemic products, but when grounded historically and theoretically, they run a very limited risk of getting outdated—again, see The No Deep Difference Thesis.

When one reads Hegel’s Preface to the Phenomenology, or Horkheimer’s Eclipse of Reason, or Kafka’s Metamorphosis, what stands out is how timely these works are, and how well they capture:

(a) their own time and its tendencies and problems,

(b) issues related to modernity and the condition of the modern subject, an

(c) trends, tendencies that are related to this human condition, and provide concepts and frameworks to interpret them.

I see a great role for generalist, interdisciplinary philosophical theory in a time when specialization is dominant, and where even a phenomenon that is clearly visible does not exist until a scientist or expert quantifies it.

In a way, some sociologists, like for example Ulrich Beck or Zygmunt Bauman may have done more philosophy in this style than professional academic philosophers themselves.

Their works are on the speculative side, but the very generality of their theories provides a “bird’s eye” point of view, one that seems increasingly marginalized in contemporary science and philosophy.

 Y:  What I find myself asking is:  are things really that bad, as far as “real philosophy” goes, within the Professional Academic State (PAS)?

I really like OP’s preliminary set of 5 criteria for what counts as a work of philosophy.

And I tend to agree that the normal practices of mainstream analytic philosophy and professional academic philosophy are very restrictive.

However, I also think that there is plenty of work being published in academic journals that meets OP’s 5 criteria.

As I’ve talked to people at various conferences over the years, I’ve gotten the sense that there are lots and lots of folks who probably agree with the thoughts expressed in this conversation.

I’ve definitely heard folks comment on the narrowness and restrictiveness of many of the articles they have seen in the journals.

But on the other hand, I’ve also read plenty of “real philosophy” in the journals.

To take just one example:  there’s a contemporary group of theorists actively working on issues in cognitive science and philosophy of psychiatry.

They’re making connections between past thinkers, such as Merleau-Ponty and Husserl, and developing contemporary ideas about how the mind is essentially embodied and enactive.

They’re drawing connections between analytic and continental traditions and also highlighting the central role phenomenology can play in understanding the mind.

They’re examining how these ideas have real-life implications for diagnosis and clinical practice.

And there are many people reading this stuff, and critically engaging with it.

So I wonder: is it really impossible to do real philosophy while remaining within the PAS?

Maybe “real philosophy” is not necessarily what will gain someone fame and prestige.

Maybe “real philosophy” of the experimental kind will tend to be overlooked or ignored.

Nevertheless, some of this “real philosophy” continues to be published, discussed at conferences and workshops, and debated over beers.

And most of the people publishing, discussing, and debating are philosophers with jobs inside the PAS.

So I wonder whether one form or “resistance” consists simply in

(i) refusing to give in to dominant trends,

(ii) continuing to write and think about what you think is worth writing and thinking about, and

(iii) telling anyone who will listen what utter crap the “not real” philosophy is, even if it’s written by some big shot philosopher and published in a well-known journal.

Nevertheless, this seems to me not a very radical form of resistance.

Z:  Greatly great stuff to think about.

First, I wanted noisily to three-cheer OP’s idea that using The No Deep Difference Thesis as a way of creating real philosophy, even unorthodox philosophy, is an excellent way to go.

Many or even most contemporary philosophers, especially Golden Ageist analytic philosophers, are simply amnesic, blind, hyper-blinkered, and hyper-smug about their own philosophical past.

So confronting them with it in a contemporary setting could be really fruitful, if they wake up and smell the coffee for a few minutes.

Second, I think that Y is totally right that it’s not impossible for real philosophy to be created and published inside the PAS, as her examples show.

Indeed, I explicitly followed up on that point in the Afterword to our recent Real Philosophy Re-Discovered post on Edith Stein.

Indeed, if we’re right then this sort of philosophical work inside the PAS is part of the beginning of the second and really decisive wave of the anti-mechanist/organicist revolution in philosophy.

But as to how radical being resistant and APP-ish has to be, I’m thinking that there’s room for an indefinitely large range of degrees of this.

As I mentioned earlier, I think we should all be trying to publish stuff that’s pushing the limits of “safe” philosophy, in mainstream journals and other publishing venues.

And I also think we should all be trying to publish in non-philosophical academic venues, and in the agora too, if we can.

In those ways, we can contribute to the emergent Organicist Revolution in philosophy.

–But if you also want to try something more experimental and radical, then APP is the go-to place.

Third, as Y’s remarks about “not real” philosophy and the philosophical bigshots imply, there really is a serious problem in contemporary professional academic philosophy.

In fact, the really serious problem is centered on The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, and on the folks who have the most professional power and status, and who are determined to hold onto it and protect it too, even if it means killing real philosophy.

I’m talking about the roughly 500 tenure track professional academic philosophers at the Ivies, at the rich NYC/NYC-orbit schools, at the rich Cali schools, at the other high-ranked state universities, at the rich liberal arts colleges, at the leading British universities, and at the ANU.

I’m talking about Soames’s Golden Ageists.

–OK: maybe it’s actually 1000 people, altogether. But the “Fortune 500” label is too rhetorically awesome to do without.

Anyhow, in what Ishmael so aptly called “the Semi-Professional Academic State,’ things are somewhat different!, generally much better, and much more conducive to real philosophy.

So obviously APP’s critique of professional academic is aimed essentially at the most powerful folks within the PAS, The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club.

A good historical analogy for targetting our critique in this way would be a similar critique directed to professional academic philosophy during the anti-Red/McCarthy/HUAC era in the USA, roughly 1950 to roughly 1960.

After Quine’s “Two Dogmas” was published in (I think) 1951, how much real philosophy was actually done for the next ten years?

Can you think, offhand, of any truly important philosophy published during that period?

I can–but it was almost all published in England! = the Philosophical Investigations in 1953, and  Strawson’s Individuals in (I think) 1959.

My point is simply that it can be true that the McCarthy era in the USA was really repressive and bad for intellectual life, and ALSO true that some brilliant real philosophy was being created and produced–but mostly outside the USA.

Ditto for movies: by far and away the best movies made in the 1950s were made outside the USA/Hollywood, in the UK, continental Europe and Japan.

Were there some exceptions?

Yes, of course.

E.g., Salt of the Earth, about a strike by Mexican-American mine workers, & their families, and especially their wives/daughters, and their collective resistance to the mine owners, from 1954.

But it was made by blacklisted artists, financed outside Hollywood, and blacklisted by Hollywood-controlled movie theater owners and distributors.

Also, to be historically accurate, some really excellent noir flicks were made during the “film gris” period (49-52), and some awesome, edgy sci-fi, and Hitchcock’s best and most original flicks—Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo , and Psycho.

And no doubt one could also think of some excellent novels, poetry, and plays from that period.

But the correct historical/sociological generalization is still that the McCarthy era was a really awful period for philosophy and art in the USA, especially at universities and in Hollywood.

So too, correspondingly, I think that, even despite the fact that some excellent real philosophy is being done by younger people working outside The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, and also by some famous older emeritus/emerita people now on the margins of The Club—e.g., Taylor, Dreyfus, Unger, Nagel, Frankfurt, Haack, Millikan, and Nussbaum–and even despite the early stirrings of the second wave of the Organicist Revolution in philosophy, it’s still a correct historical/sociological generalization that this is a really awful period for real philosophy inside the PAS.

Fifth, I was thinking again about the distinction between works of philosophy and philosophical theories, and also about his OP’s proposed criteria for works of philosophy,

(i) a philosophical theory or worldview,
(ii) a form of engagement with earlier or contemporary ideas–either in the negative or positive sense,
(iii) a philosophical method that is developed by practicing it,
(iv) a (tacit, implicit) commentary on the practice of philosophy as such,
(v) commentary on quite a broad range of topics: ethics, political theory, metaphysics, epistemology, religion,

also about L_E’s point about how difficult it is to write truly unconventional philosophy, especially as regards its non-standard presentational form, and in view of the philosopher’s demand for rational justification, and

also about OP’s point that creating philosophy is like an architectural design process in which the final product may have a fairly conventional format, although the philosophical creative process by which one arrives at it is highly unconventional and original.

One thing that occurred to me is that the demand for rational justification depends on assuming that ALL works of philosophy are philosophical theories–but if the category of works of philosophy is wider than the category of theories, then that demand is often misguided.

Another thing that occurred to me is that the notion of a “worldview,” as opposed to a “theory,” is really worth exploring more, especially in light of Otto’s five criteria.

Collingwood’s Essay on Metaphysics gives the worldview idea a historical interpretation, such that philosophers doing metaphysics look for worldviews that express general presuppositions of whole historical periods.

Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking gives the worldview idea an aesthetic/artistic slant.

So does Stephen Pepper’s World Hypotheses.

If I remember correctly, Pepper’s idea was that worldviews are driven by fundamental “root metaphors,that philosophers use to generate insights about whatever it is they are thinking about.

The other thing that occurred to me is about unconventional presentational formats and L_E’s remark that if you ever put anything personal or autobiographical into a philosophical essay, referees jump on you with both feet.

But that’s absurd and awful for all sorts of reasons.

Part of it may simply be the fallacious idea that all works of philosophy must be theories, or expressive of theories.

But actually, I’ve always found the autobiographical essays at the beginning of the Library of Living Philosophers volumes fascinating.

And some of the most interesting things I’ve read in recent professional academic philosophy over the last 5-10 years are those autobiographical lectures that senior big-shots in the profession are invited to present and publish, The Dewey Lectures.

Also I watched two really interesting autobiographical video interviews with Rorty and Nussbaum, called “Of Beauty and Consolation,” that X1 me linked me to.

Of course, the fact that it’s ONLY the Big Cheeses, i.e., ONLY philosophical superstars and specially-selected senior professional academic philosophy senior big-shots, who are permitted to get personal and autobiographical in their philosophical writing, is totally characteristic of the ideological hyper-disciplining and narrowness of professional academic philosophy.

But I for one found the recent autobiographical essay by then-Oxford-DPhil student, Nakul Krishna, “Add Your Own Egg,” fascinating too, which is why I re-posted it. [link]

Now, with his DPhil in hand, NK is a contingent faculty member/temporary lecturer at Cambridge—so I doubt he gets much chance to add many of his own eggs these days.

But anyhow, my suggestion is that personal and autobiographical works of philosophy, NOT just by Big Cheeses, would be extremely interesting to explore as an unconventional works of philosophy, expressing worldviews rather than theories.

And those Nakul Krishna-style essays also wouldn’t be TOO far from the professional “bog-standard” professional philosophy journal essay of 25-30 pages of theory, rationally justified and defended like a military fortress, that can be written according to a mechanical recipe.

Also, by the way, the new editorial staffs of both JAPA (Robert Audi et al) and MIND (Adrian Moore and Lucy O’Brien) officially claim that they’re looking for stuff that takes risks and is unconventional and unorthodox, etc., etc.

So sending them, e.g., personal/autobiographical philosophical essays might test that.

But, just in case it IS bullshit, then there’s always APP.

 Boethius:  My apologies! for not joining this conversation sooner.

But it’s partly from trying to keep my head above water during the all-too-familiar flood of end-of-semester PAS duties—how busy-bee they manage to keep us!, and how it saps the philosophical will-to-live!, but anyhow, now finally done for the academic year—and partly from my being flummoxed about several things.

One concerns the APP’s definition of real philosophy. The other concerns an application of it and OP’s criteria.

First, I should confess that I raised an eyebrow the very first time I read the APP’s definition of real philosophy (on the APP home page):

Z et al: By real philosophy, we mean synoptic, systematic, rational reflection on the individual and collective human condition, and on the natural world in which human and other conscious animals live, move, and have their being. Real philosophy fully includes the knowledge yielded by the natural and formal sciences; but, as we see it, real philosophy also goes significantly beneath and beyond the exact sciences, and non-reductively incorporates aesthetic, artistic, affective/emotional, ethical/moral, and, more generally, personal and practical insights that cannot be adequately captured or explained by the sciences. In a word, real philosophy is all about the nature, meaning, and value of individual and collective human existence in the natural cosmos, and how it is possible to know the philosophical limits of science, without also being anti-science.

My immediate thought was “OK, I do metaphysics as a primary area of interest, and in fact it’s analytic metaphysics that I do. Does that count as real philosophy?”

The “reflection on the natural world…” part seems to count, provided that metaphysical reflections have some bearing on the natural world, so I’m OK there.

Now, I happen not to be a reductionist. But what if I were? Are reductionists ruled out of real philosophy?

Also, I don’t exactly incorporate “affective/emotional…insights” into my work, or at least I don’t think I explicitly do.

So I wonder if I’m ruled out as doing real philosophy.

The last sentence has the same effect: OK, my work on concepts does concern the nature of something related to individual/collective existence.

But I don’t argue for or explore theses about our meaning and value in the cosmos.

And now the last conjunct: I lay claim to theses about our a priori access to conceptual connections, and thus to theses relevant to the philosophical limits of science.

But how that’s possible isn’t on my mind (well, sometimes it is, like right now as I write this).

So, many elements of my work don’t incorporate elements of our working definition of real philosophy.

Can an Analytic metaphysician be a real philosopher, or not?

My problem could be put in terms of our current thread too, and in two ways.

First, I think I generally fall into Z’s “concept-driven theories” category, and I’m thus guilty of ignoring theses about embodiment and the mind, Nagel’s “for an organism,” etc.

I’m aware of the claimed shortcomings of the concept-driven view, but if I haven’t bought into the alternative Z and Y have defended, and if I haven’t bought into the idea of having philosophy driven by reflection on the human condition, where do I fall?

Perhaps that I’m reflecting on what counts as philosophy helps out, and I’m thus sufficiently “real.”

But THEN maybe we need something about metaphilosophy in the definition.

Perhaps the first line incorporates this somehow, if we read our “condition” as including the capacity for philosophy and its capacity for being revised.

Or perhaps the “synoptic, systematic” language of the first line does it—perhaps synoptic, systematic reflection includes reflection on the tools used to do the reflecting.

OP’s (iv) puts it explicitly (“a (tacit, implicit) commentary on the practice of philosophy as such”), and that seems helpfully to build on the basic APP account.

But NOW I’m more aware of something everyone else on the thread is probably aware of already: our APP definition is of what real philosophy is.

OP’s account is of what good philosophy is (what it ought to produce).

It seems those don’t have to coincide.

My second item concerns this, together with a question about applying the APP/OP account to a test case. (I guess I was a test case above.)

Take Daniel Dennett. He’s a bigwig if anyone is, and I take it he falls into the Fortune 500 category.

He has scientistic foundations that drive much of what he argues in books like Elbow Room, Consciousness Explained, and Freedom Evolves.

This seems not to put him anywhere near real philosophy.

But it seems to me that DD has a real philosophy streak.

His work seems to satisfy many if not all of OP’s categories:

  • Perhaps the scientism is a worldview.
  • DD engages with the history of philosophy (though one might argue about how genuine the engagement is).
  • He speaks often of his methods (e.g., he loves analogies).
  • He comments on the practice of philosophy, and there’s engagement or application to a variety of topics (e.g., your usual application of theories about free will to ethics and even the human condition, it seems).
  • His philosophical technique doesn’t fetishize rigor.

As for his commentary on the practice of philosophy as such, since that’s important to the thread this week, I’ll give just one example.

DD’s “Higher-order truths about chmess” seems like a warning right out of the APP or Schmidt, though I suppose without the edgy-toned political element. Is this real philosophy?

Maybe to be a real philosopher, one has to have the political element in mind pretty often, and maybe Dennett doesn’t have that.

(I don’t know. I don’t know much about how Dennett operates within the PAS. Maybe he’s an asshole, maybe not.)

The APP definition doesn’t explicitly include a political motivation as part of being a real philosopher, but that opening statement goes on to say that given what real philosophy is, one ought to have serious complaints about the PAS.

The political stance arises from the stance on what philosophy is.

But it seem one could have the political stance to some lesser degree or not at all, yet still be a real philosopher. Is that right?

By the way, I’m not saying all this about Dennett because I agree with much of his work. I don’t.

But I tend to wind up reading it the way Nozick recommends, and I almost always learn something very good from it.

That presumably has something to do with me, but also with Dennett.

I’ll close with an autobiographical remark, since that’s in the conversational thread too.

I’ve been wondering about these two points for awhile now, but just today got it written out.

Last night I was thinking it over pretty hard while making dinner.

At one point, I had to look for a fresh roll of paper towels, one thought led to another, and somehow I wound up out in the driveway, looking at “the starry heavens above me.”

Now THAT’S a sign of real philosophy.

Z:  One quick thing before I forget: I think X1 reminded me about Dennett’s really excellent Chmess paper after I initially posted the long satirical edgy essay on “how to write a publishable paper without even having to think.”

So I updated it shortly after that with an afterword, and praised/linked DD’s paper, although I also criticized it for lacking political content.

I met DD once or twice upon a time.

He seemed like quite a nice guy and the opposite of a professional academic philosophy asshole.

E.g., I remember him admitting in an elevator, amusingly, that Consciousness Explained should have been entitled Consciousness Explained Away.

But more seriously, I think that Boethius is absolutely right that the definition of “real philosophy” that we originally wrote up for the home page of APP, and the closely-related Mainfesto, is or implies a really strong and high-bar definition.

This also relates directly to Professor Robinson’s criticism of our use of “real,” namely that it’s tendentious.

Admttedly, our use of “real”  priori excludes a lot of philosophy that I myself think is totally first-rate philosophy, even if I also think it’s deeply wrongheaded.

E.g., Parfit’s Reasons and Persons:  I think it’s deeply wrong-headed about persons, and should have been called Reasons Without Any Real Persons.

But at the same time, I also think that Reasons and Persons is an absolutely brilliant book, and a classic example–along with the work of Williams, Nozick, Rawls, and P.F. Strawson, and 4 or 5 other names that come to mind–of what philosophical analysis according to The Standard Picture can do.

Also obviously there’s work in the scientific naturalist/experimental philosophy/second philosophy tradition–Quine, Sellars, Dennett, Maddy, etc–that counts as brilliant, classic philosophical work, even if it’s deeply wrong.

Ditto the Analytic metaphysics tradition: e.g., Lewis’s work, Fine’s work, and Williamson’s work all does count as classic, brilliant stuff, even if, again, it’s deeply wrongheaded.

So now I’m in a bit of a quandary.

It seems obvious that there must also be a weak/low-bar definition of “real philosophy” that includes all these philosophical works, perhaps something along the lines of OP’s definition of a work of philosophy, as “real philosophy.”

But at the same time, that weak definition isn’t strong enough to serve the critical/polemical/ political purposes of APP, since I’m sure that almost everyone working in The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club thinks of him/herself as working fully within the tradition of either the Standard Conception, scientific naturalism, or Analytic metaphysics, hence thinks of him/herself as a real philosopher.

E.g., Soames and his Golden Age of Philosophy.

So I guess I’m inclined to make a classic exoteric doctrine vs. esoteric doctrine move, as per Plato’s Academy and Sidgwick in Methods of Ethics—although there’s an important twist here, since in the case of APP, the exoteric doctrine is actually more edgy and dangerous than the esoteric doctrine.

For the critical and polemical/political purposes of APP, and the outer world of professional academic philosophy inside the PAS, I think it’s crucial to be using the strong/high-bar definition of “real philosophy.”

Otherwise, it would be extremely difficult for anyone on the outside to be able to tell us sufficiently apart from Soames et al.

But esoterically, we can admit among ourselves that there are lots and lots of people, inside the PAS and outside it too, doing real philosophy, whose methodological commitments merely don’t satisfy the super-strong/high-bar definition that we’ve been using.

To exclude them from counting as real philosophers because of reasonable methodological disagreements with the strong/high bar definition, would be dogmatic and wrong.

So perhaps, among ourselves, we need to observe a careful terminological distinction between:

(i) real philosophy: philosophy that more or less fully meets the weak/low-bar definition according to OP’s criteria, and isn’t necessarily politically radical, but is also strongly AGAINST professional academic philosophical ideological hyper-disciplining, as per Schmidt’s critique, and

(ii) REAL philosophy: strong/high bar, with heavy duty/radical political implications.

Boethius:  Ha! I was trying to anticipate where Z might go with by way of cutting some kind of further distinction.

I was thinking of uncoupling the political dimension from the definition of “real philosophy,” with either something Kantian or virtue-theoretic for the attitudes of a real philosopher, where that would address the political focus, then reading the “real philosophy” definition as is (with a broad read on its terms to include much of what we generally think of as good).

One would have to find one’s area of interest in the definition, as I was trying to do, and maybe one ought to worry if unpacking the definition doesn’t reveal a wide range of philosophical topics.

It puts the nature, meaning, and value of human existence up front, and I think I’m good with that, and the whole suggestion preserves the APP spirit.

But I’m not surprised at all,  Z, that you went the way you did, cutting a new exoteric/esoteric distinction instead.

For you’re sticking if possible to a view with the political attitudes embedded in philosophy itself, and that’s apparent from many APP posts too.

I’m still getting my mind around how and to what degree those political attitudes about professional philosophy should be thought of as embedded in what philosophy IS (and now, whether to go with one sense of philosophy or multiple ones).

I mentioned a virtue-theoretic account above.

I wonder how that would look—call it “Aristotelian real philosophy” or something.

More broadly, I’m wondering about alternative ways of accepting The No-Deep-Difference thesis, presentational hylomorphism/polymorphism, and the goal of heavy-duty Kantian enlightenment, but WITHOUT the Kantian theses about phenomenological adequacy and transcendental idealism.

For if someone objects “Look, I’m not taking on transcendental idealism, but I’m drawn to the overall methodological theses otherwise,” is there a coherent non-Kantian story to tell in reply?

Maybe the answer is “There’s a coherent story, sure, but the Kantian line of thought is the only really defensible one.”

It’s going to be hard for people to get on board there, even if it turns out the overall Kantian line is more coherent than the non-Kantian alternatives.

Z: Lots and lots to think about! there.

One point is that if one is going to argue for a necessary practical component in the philosophical methodology of REAL philosophy, then one is also going to have to be prepared to provide a defensible ethics too–in my case, an updated ad extended version of Kantian ethics.

Another point is that since my version of the practical component necessarily includes ethical anarchism, and it is obviously ETHICAL, using real ethical facts/principles to reject the myth of political authority (roughly: if it’s wrong it’s wrong, no matter which government says it’s right), the ethics in question has to be committed to some form of moral realism.

In principle, then, yes!, realistic virtue ethics could be substituted for Kantian ethics.

But that also places a fairly heavy burden of proof on anyone working out meta-ethical foundations for realistic virtue ethics.

My view is that platonism clearly won’t work (because of the obvious epistemic-accessss problem) and also that moral realism grounded on physicalist supervenience clearly won’t work (because it makes moral properties epiphenomenal).

Also, I accept the now-standard criticism of virtue ethics that in fully spelling out and explaining what counts as “virtuous,” one will be required to defend either consequentialism/utilitarianism or non-consequentialism/kantianism, hence virtue ethics is foundationally derivative and presupposes one or another of the two basic normative theories.

But apart from that, it must also be noted that one basic theme of mainstream 20th and 21st century philosophical methodologies is that Kantian transcendental idealism (TI) is “crazy” and cannot be accepted, no matter how much one argues for it.

As Rorty very aptly remarks, “For … non-Kantian philosophers, there are no persistent problems—save perhaps the existence of Kantians” (“Philosophy as a Kind of Writing,” in Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 93)

The further implication of Rorty’s remark is that dogmatic, ideological anti-Kantianism/anti-idealism is essentially a sociological fact about 20th and 21st century professional academic philosophy.

Arguments won’t move anti-Kantians/anti-idealists: no matter how carefully TI is formulated and no matter how strong the case in favor of it actually is, they already KNOW that TI is “crazy” and unacceptable.

That’s because of the fact that if they actually unplugged their ears and listened, they would  be rationally compelled to see that the foundations of analytic philosophy are based on a mistake, the thesis that mind is essentially distinct from nature (illiberal naturalism).

A very similar problem afflicts philosophical and political ethical anarchism: no matter how carefully ethical anarchism is formulated and how strong the case in favor of it actually is, virtually all professional academic philosophers already KNOW that anarchism is “crazy” and unacceptable.

That’s because of the further fact that if they actually unplugged their ears and listened, they would be rationally compelled to see that the foundations of political (neo)liberalism are based on a mistake, the myth of political authority (Statism).

Indeed, and ironically, this is almost universally true even amongst Kant-scholars.

So I guess what I’m saying is that yes!, at least prima facie, there are other possible versions of REAL philosophy.

But let us suppose that those other versions have serious problems, and that, prima facie, Kantianism/TI and ethical anarchism look like serious, strong alternatives.

Nevertheless, there may ALSO be ideological hyper-discipline-style professional academic reasons why, no matter how hard the contemporary Kantian defender of TI or ethical anarchism tries to convince other philosophers (even Kant-scholars!) that some or another version of TI and ethical anarchism are required for REAL philosophy, nevertheless, virtually no one is EVER going to take this seriously….


OP: Thanks for all those new thoughts! So I’ll add some more of mine.

Boethius: But how that’s possible isn’t on my mind (well, sometimes it is, like right now as I write this). So, many elements of my work don’t incorporate elements of our working definition of real philosophy. Can an analytic metaphysician be a real philosopher?

I would definitely answer YES to that.

When I visited APP for the first time, I took the term “real philosophy” more as the description of an attitude informing philosophical practice than as a description of a predefined type of philosophy.

I read the political overtones or critique on hyper-disciplining as something that is present in the background of the work of an “anarcho-philosopher,” but maybe not to the same degree in every book, article, idea etc.

I suppose anarcho-philosophers can write technically demanding, rigorous works that focus on a specialized area in philosophy.

However, what sets these works apart from similar works by professional philosophers (in the critical sense of the word, as used at APP) may be the attitude with which this philosophical activity is pursued and how the results are used.

The results of anarcho-philosophers would not be used as in a coercive way, or to bulldoze dissenting voices in the similar or adjacent areas of specialization. In other words, the specialization would be a tool to gain genuine philosophical insight, not to achieve political or ideological advantage in a certain area.

In addition, the results would not be used to continue hyper-specializing on a certain issue, but would be placed in a broader context – as per The No Deep Difference Thesis.

I suspect that it is this contextualization in a wider context that might give philosophical work a decisive punch over works that specialize too exclusively on a given area.

It is for example one thing to be a Kant scholar, but quite another to take Kant’s theory beyond what Kant would have thought possible, or to take it to new and unexpected domains of philosophy.

Now the Dennett case:

Boethius: Dennett has scientistic foundations that drive much of what he argues in books like Elbow Room, Consciousness Explained, and Freedom Evolves. This seems not to put him anywhere near real philosophy. But it seems to me that he has a real philosophy streak.

I’ll give just one example. “Higher-order truths about chmess” (attached) seems like a warning right out of the APP or Schmidt, though I suppose without the edgy-toned political element. Is this real philosophy?

Maybe to be a real philosopher, one has to have the political element in mind pretty often, and maybe Dennett doesn’t have that.

I think what figures like Dennett, Parfit, Strawson etc. sets apart from professional philosophy as we use the term at APP is that they seem to have a genuinely inquiring mindset within the confines of their presuppositions.

Whatever one might think from – for example – Parfit’s work in Reasons and Persons, he has certainly stretched and explored the philosophical content he deals with to the limit.

Of course, someone with different viewpoints might fundamentally disagree with his approach, but it would be hard to deny the effort, commitment and – to a degree – open-mindedness that permeates his work.

The same applies for Dennett, who works from a rather scientistic basis, but who seems to be interested in practicing philosophy, as opposed to just advancing his career.

What strikes me again and again is that figures like Dennett and Parfit leave the reader with many more questions than they answered – not because they are ambiguous, but because they challenge their readers.

They might be too hasty at points to reach conclusions that seem to fit their scheme, but overall seem more interested in the process of doing philosophy than with finding the ultimate truth that will settle the issue once and for all.

The “political element” that appears at times as necessary to be heard at all in contemporary philosophy may have been unconsciously avoided by figures like Parfit and Dennett.

Where historical figures like Descartes, Spinoza, Kant and Hegel had to defend their philosophical choices in the face of worldly or religious authorities, the professionalization and academization of philosophy during the 20th century has perhaps provided a niche for philosophers with a technical, yet apolitical bent.

On the other hand, it may have also provided mediocre, but overly technical philosophers with political prowess with a niche – and it seems to be there that anarcho-philosophy is most needed.

Z: I think that Boethius is absolutely right that the definition of “real philosophy” that we originally wrote up for the home page of APP, and the closely-related Mainfesto, is or implies a really strong and high-bar definition.

It a priori excludes a lot of philosophy that I myself think is totally first-rate philosophy, even if I also think it’s deeply wrongheaded.

E.g., Parfit’s Reasons and Persons:  I think it’s deeply wrong-headed about persons, and should have been called Reasons Without Any Real Persons.

But at the same time, I also think that Reasons and Persons is an absolutely brilliant book, and a classic example–along with the work of Williams, Nozick, Rawls, and P.F. Strawson, and 4 or 5 other names that come to mind–of what philosophical analysis according to The Standard Picture can do.

APP may not be specifically against The Standard Picture itself, but against the dogmatic reinforcement of this picture within academia at the expense of alternatives that may prove to be just as worthwhile.

Although one may disagree with The Standard Picture, its does not follow that one is therefore automatically committed to what APP stands for.

 Z:  (i) real philosophy: philosophy that more or less fully meets the weak/low-bar definition according to OP’s criteria, and isn’t necessarily politically radical, but is also strongly AGAINST professional academic philosophical ideological hyper-disciplining, as per Schmidt’s critique, and

 (ii) REAL philosophy: strong/high bar, with heavy duty/radical political implications….

 For the critical and polemical/political purposes of APP, and the outer world of professional academic philosophy inside the PAS, I think it’s crucial to be using the strong/high-bar definition of real philosophy.

Where category (i) is strongly against certain tendencies in philosophy at the moment and subscribes to a fairly broad set of criteria for real philosophy, category II has taken up an additional (pedagogical) task: to promote heavy duty Enlightenment.

This distinction may give us a clue as to which people might be interested in APP: on one hand, philosophers (who may or may not work according to the Standard Picture) who are tired of ideological discipline and the overemphasis on rigor (broadly category (i)), and on the other hand philosophers who are interested in a dose of heavy duty Enlightenment (broadly category (ii)).

I suspect that not everyone (hardly anyone?) is interested in (ii) – and this seems fine to me.

If philosophers who work according to the Standard Picture are willing to produce category (i) real philosophy, that might be the first victory for APP.

It might also fit with publishing works that could look rather mainstream, but that are the result of innovative, sophisticated thinking.

 Z: I agree with everything OP just said.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I like the distinction between real philosophy and REAL philosophy, as per my earlier characterization.

One advantage of putting it this way is that it’s adequately inclusive via the low-bar/weak definition end, but still definitively opposed to hyper-disciplined professional academic philosophy, no matter what kind of real philosophy one does.

Everything in real philosophy would satisfy OP’s working criteria for works of philosophy.

It would also make room for two kinds of real philosophical theories:

(i) real philosophical theories, and

(ii) REAL philosophical theories.

Obviously, there’d be a variety of different kinds of real philosophical theories: e.g., those according to The Standard Picture, scientific naturalist theories, pragmatist theories, etc.

Moreover, there would be a variety of different kinds of REAL philosophical theories–although obviously I favor the Kantian ethical anarchist kind, which is controversial in various ways, not least for its transcendental idealism.

The No Deep Difference Thesis would apply across all real philosophy/REAL philosophy.

Ditto the Presentational Hylomorphism (PHWP) & Presentational Polymorphism (PPHP) theses about works of philosophy.

OK, granting all that, here’s one further thought, specifically about the APP site and the exoteric/esoteric issue.

It’s true that we’re exoterically configured as defenders of REAL philosophy, and I’d like to leave that basic exoteric configuration in place.

It’s pleasingly edgy–even shocking and genuinely scary for good little professional academic philosophy do-bees, the ones who send us back “please delete” my address from this list messages to our e-mail inbox.

It’s also pleasingly annoying to those who send us abusive Professor Fanny Squeers-style letters.

But above all, it can wake people up for a few moments and vividly show them how different we are from The Daily Arse, Leiter, etc.

That is, it can wake people for a few moments and vividly how them different we are from the ideological soma fixes that most professional academic philosophers take every single day to keep them comfortably mentally enslaved.

Of course, that’s why they fear and cold-shoulder us, or even outright hate us—we’re taking away their ideological soma drugs.

But even so, it’s NOT the whole story about us .

So if anyone has had enough interest and intellectual stamina to read this whole fucking dialogue, down to here, they’ll now know that esoterically we’re also totally open to lots of different kinds of real philosophy and REAL philosophy alike.

 L_E:  The concern that Boethius raises is connected to my previous question to Z as to whether real philosophy has to be intentionally life-changing or politically-oriented.

The further distinction between real and REAL philosophy is really helpful in this respect.

Anyway, like OP, I’ve always seen the “real” part of APP as being the basic engine that drives the group, and the “REAL” part as a kind of ideal that we should all strive for.

In other words, I see APP as a group of people who really care about philosophy, regardless of their political orientations.

Correspondingly, I think it would be an extremely good idea to create an anarcho-dialogue post based on our discussion here.

As to Z’s question about the esoteric/exoteric issue, I’m not really sure where I stand.

I can see why it is desirable to maintain APP’s edgy, challenging REAL philosophy image on the exoteric side.

However, I’m not sure about the payoffs of this strategy.

While edgy speech is a good way to draw and focus attention, I think it also serves as a simple tool of dismissal for the “little-do-bee” professional philosophers.

That is, it makes life much easier for them to simply call us “crazy” people and move on with their careers.

And this might be keeping more “moderate” real philosophers from becoming APP allies.

On the other hand, however, if APP softpedals its message, and refrains from using edgy speech, it’s hard to see how we would be any different from some professional academic philosophers who are already modestly outspoken critics of the profession (Tim Crane, Susan Haack, Samuel Wheeler, etc.).

So I think that if we leave the “edgy” aspect out, then the active, liberationist side of APP is threatened.

I don’t think the goal of APP is just to point out problems with professional academic philosophy, but also to promote some kind of substantive change, to whatever extent this is really possible.

To sum up, I can see good reasons to go either way!

Z:  Here are two follow-ups to what L_E just said–one quite specific to APP, and the other more general.

First, I’ve always thought, right from the start of APP, that the deeper point of of being AGAINST professional philosophy was to be FOR real philosophy (and especially REAL philosophy).

So too I’ve always thought that there would be an evolution in the APP project from a more negative anti-professional-philosophy phase, towards a more positive for-real-philosophy phase.

And in fact, that’s one of the main ideas behind the creation APP-DISC, but also the Philosoflicks, the dialogue posts, the new “real philosophy re-discovered” series, and the request for more new real-philosophy-oriented contributions.

But let’s face it, it’s just a stubborn fact that by virtue of its hyper-disciplined nature, professional academic will always be the natural enemy of real (and especially of REAL) philosophy.

The only thing that could change that fact would the PAS’s going down in flames….

Second, I’ve been more or less obsessed recently with the metaphilosophical idea that philosophical arguments/theories alone will NEVER be enough to make it really possible for philosophers/non-philosophers to self-liberate from their dogmatic/hyper-disciplined slumbers/ideologically manipulated beliefs.

And perhaps NOTHING ever will be (that’s the pessimistic/skeptical worry).

But the optimistic/constructive line I’ve been pursuing is that in addition to arguments and theories, it’s really possible to create real/REAL philosophy that’s also powerfully non-conceptual, imagistic, visionary, and liberating.

So, just to try out that thought recently, I worked out an explicit, step-by-step discursive ethical anarchist argument against the possession and use of guns, and then also created and published a Philosoflick, Guns R Us, which expresses essentially the same philosophical content, only non-conceptually, as a series of “thoughtless images” = labeled images.

Nowhere in the flick do I ever explicitly argue anything.

Nowhere in the flick do I ever say: fuck guns!

I’m trying to show it all without saying it.

Y: Thoughtless images: where would advertising be without them?

Where would stereotypes be?

What immediately sprung to my mind was the pics and videos various women (both celebrities and ordinary folks) have posted online that feature them without makeup in unforgiving lighting.

They are trying to disrupt beauty ideals and point out what complete bullshit images usually are, what with all the air brushing, heavy makeup, manipulation of lighting, etc.

And of course they also are challenging the idea that “beauty” is the main criterion we should use to evaluate women.

When you see image after image of guns, and see how they’re glamorized in ads, films, NRA promotional materials, etc., and then have to look at images of shooting victims, it really does provoke disgust (at least for me).

X1:   I like the real/REAL distinction.

But for convenience, and to avoid the heavy noumenal-metaphysical baggage that the terms “real” and “REAL” both carry with them, perhaps we could replace the lower-case term “real” with “authentic” and the upper-case term “REAL” with good old “anarcho-philosophy”?

Now, Z, you say that you see the APP project as moving from a negative phase to a positive phase, but I’m wondering more precisely what that entails.

A critique of professional philosophy will involve two aspects — a negative one and a positive one.

However, I’m not sure that we can see those as phases, but as co-existing aspects.

While phases are evolutionary or diachronic, aspects are simultaneous and dynamic.

To put it more simply — I’m not sure that we can see our goal as a kind of process in which, at any point in time, we have completed the negative phase of the critique.

But perhaps this isn’t what you intended by the use of the term “phase”?

Z: Here are some very quick follow-ups.

Re Y’s thoughts–

Yes!, disgust, moral disgust–was one of the primary effects I was aiming at in the Guns R Us flick.

Also a slap-you-in-the-face sense of the pointlessness  and moral tragedy of the deaths of millions of people caused by the American obsession with guns.

One of its other aims is to provide an argument strong enough to justify anti-war, as the Trumbo image is also intended to suggest….

Correspondingly, I really like the analogy with “uglified” celebrity photos.

Re X1’s thoughts–

Yes, for esoteric purposes, using “authentic” equivalently with “real,” and “anarcho-philosophy” equivalently with “REAL” would be totally OK by me!

But I’m hesitant to switch terminology exoterically, because it could blunt or diffuse our basic message.

In any case, APP will always have a negative-critique dimension, and the negative-critique material will always have a permanent archival existence on the APP site.

But my further thought was that the emphasis on negative critique (AGAINST professional academic philosophy) vs. the emphasis on positive critique (FOR real/REAL philosophy) can evolve somewhat….


Boethius:  Two final thoughts.

First, “authentic philosophy” sounds just fine to me, and it maybe it sounds even better than “real philosophy.”

Second, I had a consistent-but-different read on the Guns R Us philosoflick.

I read it as a set of musings on how much the “gun culture” really is embedded in American history and the history of individual lives.

We have the piece bookended with a “beginnings” image of the USA being founded by gunfire, together with a “future” image of the next 200 years of a gun culture.

For individuals, we have a childhood with our cartoon characters happily and unharmingly blasting away, and we can unharmingly blast away at each other with our weaponized Nerf toys.

For adults, there’s glorification of firearms to make us not just tolerant of them, but also to encourage us to think of them as good (the well-armed ones are tough, strong, worthy-of-imitation).

The reality is mixed in, juxtaposed with the cartoonish version.

That was easy to get.

Of course, I’ve just “conceptualized” the piece, so what of the non-conceptual part?

I didn’t exactly get disgust out of it.

Instead I got a triggering of self-reflection—how much of my own attitudes toward guns are my own?

To the extent I have any positive ones (and there aren’t many), they’re likely manufactured by the tools suggested in the images.

I guess there’s some disgust at this reminder, but mostly it’s a feeling of being motivated to dare to think against classical and current gun-culture in the USA.

So mostly it’s a reminder of Sapere aude.

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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.