Philosophy as a Managerial Concern (Heidegger)

In the phenomenology of spirit, as consciousness’s becoming-other-to-itself and coming-to-itself, “forms” of consciousness emerge, as Hegel says; but this emergence of forms of consciousness has nothing to do with the procedure, now becoming routine and stemming from various motivations, of classifying the so-called types of world views and types of philosophical standpoints according to just any schema.  These typologies and morphologies would be a harmless way of passing time, if at the same time the odd idea were not in play that, by placing a philosophy in the net of types, one has decided on the possible and of course relative truth of that philosophy.  This urge toward classification and such like always begins at a time when the lack of the power to do philosophy gets the upper hand, so that sophistry comes to dominate.  But sophistry provides itself and its own barrenness with some respectability by first catching whatever ventures to emerge in philosophy in the net of standpoints, and then, having given each type a label, by leaving it with the people.  This label sees to it that, regarding the philosophy in question, one will be interested in its label only so as to compare it with another label.  Subsequently, the literary discussions about the label give rise to a literature which in its kind may be quite considerable.  Consequently, the Kant literature is not only more important than Kant himself, but above all else it reaches the point where no one any longer gets to the matter itself.  The procedure reflects the mysterious art of sophistry, which always and necessarily arises along with philosophy and controls the field.  Nowadays the power of sophism has “organized” itself, one of the many indications of this being the popularity of typologies of philosophical standpoints–typologies which appear in various disguises (manuals and series).  Philosophy becomes a managerial concern–a diabolical condition to which the younger scientific minds, rare enough as they are nowadays, fall prey in their prime.  But the reason for mentioning these seemingly remote things at exactly this point is the fact that in their confusion these typologies appeal to Hegel’s Phenomenology, in the belief and pretense that in Hegel a similar typology is aimed at, although without the benefit of contemporary depth psychology and sociology.

Heidegger, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (p. 29)

Although this seems as timely as when it was written in the 1930’s, if not more so, I am interested in it right now because I think there is a similar understanding of Bradley afoot, as if he were spreading a net of types in his work.  He is not–no more than Hegel was.  His work is no more managerial than Hegel’s.

Anyway, sophistry is internal to philosophy, always present when philosophy is present.  Sophistry is philosophy’s shadow.  And the rise of the isms is always a bad sign, in a time, in a country, in a department, in a mind.

 

 

 

John Wild on Psychologism

A focal text for my current Plato seminar:

To anyone who has followed Plato’s critique of the phenomenon of sophistry, it is evident that psychologism is not merely a dubious hypothesis to be corrected by distinguishing between logic and psychology.  It is a basic deformation of the understanding itself, which penetrates into every branch of philosophical endeavor, distorting both the elaborate procedures of academic philosophizing, as well as those less articulate, but more primordial, modes of apprehension by which man, as such, always, to some degree, understands the word and his station in it.

 

A Quick Thought on Plato

I have been teaching lots of Plato lately:  The Theaetetus in my Intro to Phil class; the Euthydemus and the Phaedrus (so far) in Ancient; and I’m doing a reading group on the Symposium (using Shelley’s translation–edited and introduced by the inimitable David O’Conner). It’s been a long time since I have been so Plato supersaturated.  One thing that has struck me is the depth of Plato’s engagement with sophistry–and just how difficult he finds isolating the threat of sophistry to be:  I don’t think I realized before just how formidable and how central a philosophical problem sophistry itself is for Plato.  Part of what makes it so formidable and so central is the remarkable way in which, over and over, sophistry looks more like philosophy than philosophy itself does.  (Put in other terms, it is the sophists who look like the rationalists, Socrates who looks like the irrationalist.)

Sophistry is internal to philosophy; philosophy cannot eliminate (the possibility of) sophistry without eliminating (the possibility of) itself. And so Socrates’s war with the sophists never ends, even if battles sometimes do.

I know this is a leap, but (what the hell) I will make it:  one of my chief complaints about the self-understanding of many analytic philosophers I know is their easy confidence that philosophy as they do it can eliminate (the possibililty of) sophistry through a new acquist of ever more sternly regulated techniques–a technique for clarity, a technique for rigor, a technique for explicitness.  But of course it is just this elevation of and reliance on technique that typifies sophistry.  Now, by that I do not mean that these analytic philosophers I know are sophists.  They aren’t—mostly.  But they are far closer to sophistry than they know.  What is meant to safeguard them from sophistry is what keeps them exposed to it.

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