Philosophy’s Second Copernican Revolution.

He who has properly learned a system of philosophy, e.g., the Wolffian system, although he has in his head all of the principles, explanations, and proofs together with the division of the entire theoretical edifice, and can count everything off on his fingers, still has nothing other than historical cognition of the Wolffian philosophy; he knows and judges only as much as has been given to him. If you dispute one of his definitions, he has no idea where to go to get another one. He has formed himself according to an alien reason, but the faculty of imitation is not that of generation, i.e., the cognition did not arise from reason for him, and although it was certainly was objective cognition, subjectively, it is still merely historical. He has grasped and preserved well, i.e., he has learned, and is a plaster cast of a living human being. (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A836/B864)

Now, the power to judge autonomously—that is, freely (according to principles of thought in general)—is called reason. So the philosophy faculty, because it must answer for the truth of the teachings it is to adopt, or even allow, must be conceived as free and subject only to laws given by reason, not by the government.[1]

[N]ormally a teacher of philosophy would be the last person to whom it would occur that philosophy could in effect be dead earnest, just as the most irreligious Christian is usually the Pope. Hence it is among the rarest cases that a genuine philosopher is at the same time a lecturer in philosophy…. I have already discussed the fact that Kant represented this exceptional case, together with the grounds and consequences of this.[2]

I. Philosophy and the University

Philosophers all over the world are struggling with the following fundamental metaphilosophical problem:

How is philosophy really possible inside the professional academy, aka the university?

Here are six different perspectives on the problem: American, British, Japanese, Japanese/Latin-American, Latin American, and finally, in sections II and III, the one I’ll defend, that I call Philosophy’s Second Copernican Revolution.

1. An American Perspective

Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle, “Socrates Tenured: The Argument in a Nutshell

2. A British Perspective

Alexis Papazoglou, “Philosophy, Its Pitfalls, Some Rescue Plans and Their Complications

3. Japanese Perspectives

Jeremiah Alberg, “Being on the Ground: Philosophy, Reading and Difficulty

Wolfgang Ertl, “Home of the Owl? Kantian Reflections on Philosophy at University 

Yasuhira Yahei Kanayama, “The Birth of Philosophy as 哲學 (Tetsugaku) in Japan

Yasushi Kato, “The Crisis of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the Age of ‘Innovation’: Philosophy as a Critical Facilitator toward a “Civic Turn” of the University

Yuko Murakami, “Philosophy and Higher Education in Japan

Yuji Nishiyama, “What Remains of Philosophers’ Reflections on University?

4. A Japanese/Latin American Perspective

Hirotaka Nakano, “Is There Japanese / Latin American Philosophy? : A Reflection on Philosophy in University

5. Latin American Perspectives

Marcelo D. Boeri, “The Presence of Philosophy in Latin American Universities

SK, “An Insider’s View of the Brazilian Philosophical World, Or, How to Build a Really Totalitarian System

II. Philosophy’s Second Copernican Revolution

In social, cultural, or intellectual history, a “Copernican Revolution” is a fundamental conceptual, emotional, or practical Gestalt shift: a change of worldview.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn aptly likens such changes of worldview to our subjective experience of multi-stable visual perceptual figures like Jastrow’s “duck-rabbit.”[3]

The first Copernican Revolution in modern philosophy was Kant’s, in the Critique of Pure Reason.

Kant said:  Instead of assuming that our minds conform to the world-in-itself, we should postulate that the world as it appears to us conforms to the non-empirical structure of our minds (CPR B xvi-xviii).

In this way, the ducks of classical Rationalism and classical Empiricism became the rabbit of Transcendental Idealism.

But at the same time, Kant also more or less unintentionally initiated professional academic philosophy.

As Schopenhauer pointed out in his exceptionally edgy essay, “On University Philosophy,” Kant was the first—and according to Schopenhauer, the last and indeed the only—professional academic who was also a truly great philosopher.

Now I said, “Kant more or less unintentionally initiated professional academic philosophy.”

This is because he actually formulated two extremely important, fateful, metaphilosophical claims about professional academic philosophy, in the “Transcendental Doctrine of Method” in the first Critique—right at the back of the book, the part that no one ever reads, not even most Kantians–and in The Conflict of the Faculties, another book that not even most Kantians ever read.

Perhaps Kant should have also foreseen the dire consequences of these claims as likely side-effects, in view of the fact that he was the most famous and important philosopher in the world: but he didn’t, and that’s really too bad.

Or if he did actually recognize these likely side-effects, he didn’t explicitly point them out, which is even worse, because then he was being disingenuous on top of indirectly creating dire consequences for philosophy.

In any case, Kant’s first metaphilosophical claim is that real philosophy, that is, autonomous reasoning from a priori principles, is one thing, and the history of philosophy is another thing altogether, and that to confuse the two is an intellectual disaster.

Indeed, he explicitly says that the mere historian of philosophy is someone who “has grasped and preserved well, i.e., he has learned [a system of philosophy],” but he is not someone who does philosophy “from reason” and is in fact is nothing but “a plaster cast of a living human being.”

You can easily see Kant’s prima facie good intention here: he wanted to liberate real philosophy from the inauthentic, dogmatic, hegemonic, Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy of his day.

But the unintended dire consequence of this was to alienate philosophy from its own past.

Kant’s second metaphilosophical claim is that the philosophy faculty, as a social institution inside a university, must have critical autonomy from the other faculties—law, medicine, and especially theology—and also from the government.

Again you can easily see Kant’s prima facie good intention: he wanted to liberate philosophy from the coercive dogmatism and hegemony of the theology faculty, who were acting as mouthpieces for the authoritarian, religiously conservative political regime of his day, commanded by Frederick William II.

But by focusing exclusively on philosophy’s critical autonomy from theology, Kant also unintentionally enslaved philosophy to the dogmatism and hegemony of the natural sciences.

Moreover, and sadly, Kant’s claim that the philosophy faculty is critically autonomous from the government is, in fact, bullshit.

This is because Kant also explicitly says, both in The Conflict of the Faculties and in “What is Enlightenment?,” that anyone who has either been officially appointed by the government or de facto is in a position to speak out in public from behind some sort of pulpit or lectern, falls directly under the jurisdiction of the government—so if he publicly argues against the government or is taken by the government to be teaching dangerous things, then  “he would be inciting the people to rebellion,”[4] and thereby subject to censorship, reprimand, loss of his position, or prison.

The most he can do is “argue, but obey.”[5]

But all university professors, including all philosophy professors, are either appointed by the government, or at the very least, as lecturers in a public or private university, they are in a position to speak out in public from behind a lectern, hence they fall under the direct jurisdiction of the government.

Therefore, no matter what and how much philosophy professors argue, if they publicly argue against the government or are taken by the government to be teaching dangerous things, then they are not only inciting the people to rebellion, and thereby subject to censorship, reprimand, loss of their positions, or prison, but also must ultimately obey.

Thus an even more dire unintended consequence of Kant’s second metaphilosophical claim was to entrench philosophy as a faculty or department within the university, and thereby mentally enslave philosophy to the coercive dogmatism and hegemony of the university and its administrators and the State and its government, alike.

This troika of fateful Kantian oversights–mentally enslaving philosophy to the natural sciences, the university and its administrators, and the State and its government–has manifested itself in three corresponding ways in 20th and 21st century professional academic philosophy:

(i) scientism,[6]

(ii) ideologically-disciplined professionalism,[7] and

(iii) statism.[8]

Now taking scientism, ideologically-disciplined professionalism, and statism together in contemporary neoliberal democracies, we get the military-industrial-university complex.

Then, adding in the alienation of philosophy from its own past, and combining this with philosophy’s mental enslavement to scientism, ideologically-disciplined professionalism, and statism, we now have the following completely fucked-up situation in the second decade of the 21st century:

professional academic philosophy, especially as it is practiced at the leading universities and in the leading departments, is nothing but the most alienated, abstract, and abstruse intellectual arm of the military-industrial-university complex.

That being so, what is to be done?

My proposal is Philosophy’s Second Copernican Revolution:

Instead of assuming that philosophy is really possible only inside the professional academy, we postulate that philosophy is really possible only outside the professional academy.

Only in this way can philosophy re-connect with its own past, be critically autonomous from the military-industrial-university complex, and become real (i.e, authentic, serious) philosophy again.

In concrete, practical terms, this means:

(i) we must engage in an authentic, serious, systematic critique of professional academic philosophy, e.g., Against Professional Philosophy, aka APP,

(ii) we must exit departments of philosophy, and, if it is also humanly and practically possible, also exit universities, altogether—see, e.g., Crispin Sartwell’s ultra-edgy goodbye to all that: “fuck all y’all, you fucking mediocrities,” and

(iii) il faut cultiver notre jardin: we must create and sustain a new social institutional framework for real, authentic philosophy, e.g., Z’s APP-disseminated conception of open philosophy.

But here’s an amazingly hard problem.

Seriously pursuing (i) and (ii) are extremely likely to make you unemployed, and, if not literally homeless, then at least a complete outsider to the contemporary intellectual Establishment, aka the intelligentsia, which of course is relentlessly dominated and jealously protected by professional academics.

So if you’re unemployed and either literally homeless or at least a complete intellectual outsider, then how can you ever make (iii) happen?

In The Conflict of the Faculties, Kant says:

In addition to … incorporated scholars [i.e., professional academics], there can also be scholars at large, who do not belong to the university but simply work on part of the great content of learning, either forming independent organizations, like various workshops (called academies or scientific societies), or living, so to speak, in a state of nature as far as learning is concerned, each working by himself, as an amateur and without public precepts or rules, at extending and propagating [his field of] learning.[9]

Translated out of Kant’s quaint terminology, “scholars at large” are nothing more and nothing less than anarcho-scholars, that is, truly independent scholars, and, as philosophers, anarcho-philosophers, that is, truly independent philosophers.

Therefore, the most important and urgent task of contemporary philosophy, precisely because the fate of the real philosophy of the future depends on it, is to figure out how to make anarcho-philosophy really possible.

III. Some Follow-Up Thoughts

Admittedly, what I’ve argued in section II is pretty radical and somewhat telegraphic: hence some natural objections or worries about that core thesis and its justification might naturally arise.

So here are some follow-up thoughts, by way of further elaboration.

First, the parallel between what I’m arguing and Kuhn’s ideas about “Copernican revolutions” in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is extremely important.

Put in Kuhnian terminology, I think that the largely implicit, unselfconscious, and pre-reflective guiding presupposition or paradigm that has dominated philosophy since the late 18th century, which says that philosophy is really possible only inside the professional academy, has finally played itself out, and is now in a fatal crisis phase.

Therefore, it is not that I disqualify and reject everything that has been done or is being done inside professional academic philosophy, or consider the best of that work to be in any way unintelligent or less than extremely clever—just as, from the Copernican or Newtonian standpoint, looking back at pre-Copernican or pre-Newtonian physics, or from the relativity/quantum standpoint, looking back at Copernican or Newtonian physics, one wouldn’t in any way disqualify and reject everything that was done inside earlier scientific paradigms or consider the best of that work to be in any way unintelligent or less than extremely clever.

Far from it.

“Normal science” inside the Newtonian scientific paradigm, e.g., clearly is often extremely clever, even brilliant.

So too, “normal philosophy” inside the professional academic paradigm clearly is often extremely clever, even brilliant.

Moreover, I think that Kuhn, or at least early Kuhn, overemphasized the sharpness of the breaks created by revolutionary scientific paradigm shifts and also the supposed rational incommensurability (whether metaphysical, semantic, epistemic, emotional, moral, or political) between the different scientific paradigms or worldviews.

On the contrary, there’s a significant background of conceptual and non-conceptual continuity, and many shared higher-level assumptions, even across genuinely revolutionary shifts between scientific paradigms or worldviews.

Correspondingly, there’s a significant background of conceptual and non-conceptual continuity, and many shared higher-level assumptions, across the first revolutionary philosophical paradigm-shift from pre-Kantian to Kantian philosophy; and the same is the case with the revolutionary paradigm-shift I’m proposing from professional academic philosophy to post-professional, post-academic, post-neoliberal, post-statist anarcho-philosophy.

Nevertheless, Copernican paradigm-shifts in natural science are still genuinely revolutionary, and so is the Copernican paradigm-shift I’m proposing in philosophy.

As in our subjective experience of the Gestalt shift between the duck-figure and the rabbit-figure in Jastrow’s multi-stable “duck-rabbit,” the duck of professional academic philosophy becomes the rabbit of anarcho-philosophy.

Second, my thesis is really a Kantian one, in that it relies heavily for inspiration on Kant’s ideas about critical, autonomous rationality.

I think that Kant in effect initiated what we now know as professional academic philosophy, but that there were some serious oversights in Kant’s own views about the role of the professional academy in relation to philosophy, that have in fact eventually proved fatal for real philosophy under the professional academic paradigm, namely: scientism, mental heteronymy under university administrations and professional codes, and mental heteronymy under the government in contemporary neoliberal democratic states.

—In a word, professional academic philosophy’s mental slavery under the military-industrial-university complex.

So it’s not that I think that there aren’t all sorts of bullshit and mental slavery outside the professional academy, and that philosophy couldn’t be heteronymous in relation to those, if it weren’t constantly raising critically autonomous questions and worries.

It’s just that I think that the “peculiar institution” of the professional academy in neoliberal democratic states under advanced capitalism is actually killing real philosophy.

Third, like Kant’s first Copernican Revolution hypothesis in the Critique of Pure Reason, my second Copernican Revolution thesis is another philosophical hypothesis, not a dogmatic pronouncement.

I’m saying: since the professional academic paradigm in philosophy has played itself out and is now in a fatal crisis phase, let’s try a change in worldview about the nature of philosophy, and see what happens.

Fourth, nothing I’ve said fundamentally contradicts Kant’s first Copernican Revolution.

Indeed, I think that we’re still fully within the scope of that philosophical revolution.

It’s just that we haven’t yet realized its full potential for philosophy, not by a long shot, which is precisely what the APP circle means by The Organicist Conception of the World.

And as to Philosophy’s Second Copernican Revolution–well, Marx famously turned Hegel on his head, so I’m saying:

let’s turn Kant loose from the cognitive, emotional, moral, and political prison that is the professional academy in contemporary neoliberal democratic states.

Fifth, all in all then, what I’m saying is that the way forward in philosophy beyond the professional academic philosophy paradigm, now in fatal crisis—indeed, it’s actually killing real philosophy—is a radicalized version of classical Kantian philosophy, call it Left Kantianism, that envisions a new historically-sensitive, post-scientistic, post-academic, post-professional, post-neoliberal, post-statist, contemporary Kantian paradigm for the philosophy of the future.

Or as a slogan:

Forward to Kant and beyond the professional academy, via Left Kantianism and anarcho-philosophy!

The one amazingly hard remaining problem, as I noted at the end of section II, is to figure out how to implement anarcho-philosophy in the face of likely unemployment and banishment from the intellectual Establishment relentlessly and jealously controlled by professional academics.

Nevertheless, if some philosophically-minded billionaires were to put a few million dollars at my disposal, without any strings attached, instead of giving the money to normalized intellectuals in their mid-80s, then I could actually solve this problem, by creating a system of open philosophy.

–And cats could grow on trees.


[1] I. Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, trans. M. Gregor (Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1979), p. 43.

[2] A. Schopenhauer, “On University Philosophy,” in A. Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, trans. S. Roehr and C. Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 125-176, at p. 127

[3] T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd edn.; Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970), ch. X.

[4] Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, p. 47.

[5] I. Kant, “What is Enlightenment?,” trans. M. Gregor, in I. Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. M. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 17-22, at p. 18 (WiE 8: 35-42, at 36-37).

[6]  See, e.g., S. Haack, Scientism and its Discontents. 

[7] See, e.g., J. Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).

[8] See Z, “AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY RETROSPECTIVE 3: Philosophical Anarchism, Political Anarchism, & Anarcho-Philosophy.”

[9] Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, p. 25.

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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.