Why is Philosophy Sick?

Creston Davis is Professor of Philosophy at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Skopje. He is the coauthor (with John Milbank and Slavoj Zizek) of Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology; coeditor (with John Milbank and Slavoj Zizek) of Theology and the Political: The New Debate; editor of John Milbank and Slavoj Zizek The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? and author of the forthcoming novel, Ghostly Icons.  He has recently co-founded, The Global Center for Advanced Studies.

Creston Davis

Why is Philosophy Sick?

Peter Sloterdijk's new book on Philosophy

Peter Sloterdijk’s new book on Philosophy

What is wrong with philosophy today?  On the face of it, unlike other disciplines in the academy, the very nature of philosophy inherently resists a foolproof definition.  Of course that’s not to say it hasn’t been defined.  From the birth of the academy in both ancient Greece and the Middle Ages, philosophy has always been at the heart of any education worthy of its name.  For example, when I was an undergraduate at Oxford this lesson became eminently clear when I stood in the center of the Bodleian library quadrangle (1613-1619) and the Tower of the Five Orders from which four of the main exit doors were devoted to the core subjects that comprise philosophy: Schola Metaphysicae, Schola Naturalis Philosophiae, Schola Moralis Philosophiae, and Schola Logicae.

Philosophy, in other words, was irrefutably foundational to the very existence of university education.  When you compare this to the contemporary academy that purports to be devoted to the liberal arts (i.e., the arts that free us vis-à-vis the servile arts, such as pluming and business) you would be lucky to locate a department that does not reduce philosophy to little more than business ethics.  This raises the question: What’s wrong with philosophy especially if its nature is completely unrecognizable within university settings today?

One explanation is that it’s simply outdated, and like modern theology will dissolve into the dustbins of history out of sheer irrelevance.  Philosophy, so this stance believes, is antiquated because it is redundant as it only teaches students ancient techniques of logical thinking and analyses, which, so administrators argue, can easily be acquired in a single humanities course.

The problem with this explanation is that it misconstrues philosophy by reducing it to an anemic skill sets all made relevant if and only if they enhance a student’s ability to get a job.  So it is not difficult to see why philosophy is dying (along with the humanities) because it is inversely related to the dogma of corporate culture.  Moreover, this trend has the unfortunate consequence of forcing philosophers to create courses that are relevant to getting a job.  In short, philosophy becomes enslave to corporate culture.

But should philosophy fold so easily to this prosaic corporate totalitarianism that has subverted all non-corporate methods of thinking and practice?  Think of the two basic functions in which the academy has traditionally served a free democratic society: one is negative and the other positive.  The negative service provides free and independent critiques of the inevitable abuses of power (both political and economic) that threatened the security of a democratic society.  And as the corporate financial crisis in 2008 proved beyond a shadow of doubt unchecked greed threatens the founding truths of democracy: of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Seen in this way, independent journalists and filmmakers also provide this “watch-dog” service protecting us from the abuses of barbaric greed mongering.  This is why a professor’s tenure was so crucial because they were protected and could thus publish their independent and objective research recommendations without fear of being fired.

On the positive side, academia once served a free society through its independent research that can give genuinely new and creative solutions to the rudimentary problems facing our planet such as, among many other problems, ecological sustainability, imperialist power, and the waging of unjust wars.  For example, an independent professor would recommend solutions to obverting ecological catastrophes by inventing new energy, economic, and political possibilities in order to avoid totalitarian greed from taking hold like the kind that corporate capitalism has installed in the United States in the 21st Century.  And this does not even touch one the psychological tyranny that the government and employers use when they violate our basic privacy rights by monitoring our intimate conversations from our mobile phones, to our emails and other social networking communications.

This gets us back to the question:  What’s wrong with philosophy today? Why is it sick?  Pondering this it becomes clear from the above analysis that the problem with philosophy is that it has forgotten it original modus operandi namely, the freedom to arrive at solutions to our existential situation. This is why philosophy must live into its truth so that it can arrive at new possibilities and alternative worlds unencumbered by the political and economic tyrannical powers that seek to protect their own interests at the cost of enslaving the majority of the population to the servile arts (i.e., enslavement to making money).  And here I’m not even mentioning governmental and corporate surveillance on the populous.  This is why philosophy’s genius is found in its infinite procedure, and this is because the ability to think, act, and invent is infinite in nature (i.e., free) which is why philosophers from Heraclitus to Diogenes, and from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle couldn’t draw a hard and fast demarcations between the disciplines distilled in the modern academy we see today from economics to politics to ethics.  And the reason for this is because the disciplines were all grounded in living a life for freedom and justice geared toward the search for wisdom and truth, and not, as is the case today, where everyone is taught to seek out their own wealth at the cost of dissolving social unity.

The illness of philosophy today is all too evident when viewed as a discipline that is wholly enslaved to the corporatized academy.  That is, the academy has become an extension of the corporate workforce precisely because the latter has determined not only what subjects are taught but also how those subjects are taught.  In other words, the corporate world has literally redefined the learning and discovery process thus undermining new and creative ways of thinking and living that would provide us with a healthier peaceful future.

Therefore, the days of an independent academy as the watchdog over potential totalitarian regimes are over.  This is especially evident with the recent publication of a “major report” in the New York Times in which professors argue that the humanities are worth saving basically because they teach students the skills essential to getting a job in the corporate world.  You know it’s over when humanities professors gut and sacrifice their subjects to the god of capitalism.

In light of this, it is now time to return to philosophy’s true nature devoted to freedom and justice for all.  Perhaps embodying a “Robin Hood pedagogical ethic” in educational process might be one means of stealing from the rich and giving a life back to the poor.  And what would a professor or teacher steal exactly?  It would steal back the possibility of freedom that has been hijacked from our youth preventing them from exploring alternatives futures other than the greed of capitalism, which turns our students into monsters.  It is time to free philosophy and the other subjects in the humanities from the chains of the corporate world and the administrators and lawyers who peddle them. The fact that philosophy remains indefinable to the bane of many gives us hope that this revolution is already afoot and that is taking place concretely by the opening of a independent graduate and post-graduate school, The Global Center for Advanced Studies.  

Advertisements

Distinguished Harvard Professor Joins our Faculty

Professor Jackson

Professor Jackson

Distinguished Professor at Harvard University, Dr. Michael Jackson says: “This Global Center for Advanced Studies is what many of us, languishing in established academic institutions, have dreamed of for many years. I will seize the opportunity to show how the intellectual life can be engaged in the life of the world, how scholarship can escape the sclerotic and alienated language it passes off as edifying, and how critical thought can develop new forms of writing that speak to those outside of the academy and to those inside it who have been waiting, like pupae, for spring.”

Professor Jackson will teach a seminar with us in May.   If you would like to reserve a seat in the seminar please contact my assistant.   Details forthcoming.  

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Professor Jackson.

Michael D. Jackson (born 1940) is a New Zealand poet and anthropologist who has taught in anthropology departments at Massey University, the Australian National UniversityIndiana University Bloomington, and the University of Copenhagen. He is currently distinguished professor of world religions at Harvard Divinity School.

Jackson is the founder of existential anthropology, a non-traditional sub-field of anthropology using ethnographic methods and drawing on continental traditions of phenomenology, existentialism, and critical theory, as well as American pragmatism, in exploring the human condition from the perspectives of both lifeworlds and worldviews, histories and biographies, collective representations and individual realities. The struggle for being involves a struggle to reconcile shared and singular experiences, acting and being acted upon, being for others and being for oneself. But rather than polarize subject and object, Jackson emphasizes the intersubjective negotiations at the heart of all relationships – whether between persons, persons and things, persons and language – and shows that being-in-the-world consists of endless dilemmas and constant oscillations in consciousness that admit of only temporary, imagined, narrative or ritualized resolutions. Insofar as anthropological understanding is attained through conversations and events in which the ethnographer’s prejudices, ontological assumptions, and emotional dispositions are at play, the ethnographer cannot pretend to be an impartial observer, producing objective knowledge. Jackson’s published work fully discloses the contexts in which understandings are negotiated, arrived at, or, in some instances, unattainable.[1]

Jackson’s recent books have explored diverse topics such as well-being in one of the world’s poorest societies (Life Within Limits), the relation between religious experience and limit situations (The Palm at the End of the Mind), the interplay between egocentric and sociocentric modes of being (Between One and One Another), and writing as a technology for creating connections that transcend the limits of ordinary communication (The Other Shore).

Introducing The Global Center for Advanced Studies

Fight for freedom in Education

Fight for freedom in Education

Along with a former professor of Harvard University, Dr. Patrick Provost-Smith, I have co-founded a new graduate school.  This new school was created to overcome the impending crisis of in higher education dominated and determined by the corporate takeover of the academy.  We have assembled the best faculty in the world and have already partnered with many institutions of higher education around the world committed to fight for free thinking, non-corporate research, and creative expression for both the faculty and the students.   You can find more information on The Global Center for Advanced Studies‘ BLOG and our Facebook page.  We are not only meeting the demands for the best graduate and post-graduate education in philosophy, theory, film, music, architecture, art & art history, media & communications, and literature, but doing so by giving our members the freedom to create new possibilities for humanity, for the planet and our common future.

Join with us in fighting back against the tyranny of administrators, lawyers, and corporate interests that have commodified the learning process by turning students into commodities and pandered to the interest of the wealthy elites while failing to commit the educational process to the basic principles of community, justice, and the relentless pursuit of truth.

Vattimo & Zabala on the New Graduate School

Vattimo and Zabala

Vattimo and Zabala

“In an age where schools, colleges, and universities are framed, that is, controlled by the dominant corporate paradigm, independent graduate schools have become necessary to defend thought’s freedom, strength and creativity. This new graduate school is not simply another institution where students can obtain MA and PhD’s under the guidance of distinguished academics and thinkers from all over the world, but also where these same intellectuals can teach independently of those cultural frames they contributed to overcome. As ‘hermeneutic communist,’ or better, anarchic interpreters striving to change the world, we are honored to be part of its faculty.”

Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala

A New Graduate School

A new day is coming, and very soon in which we are risking a pedagogy of thinking, of poetry, of love which is not conditioned on treating students as commodities–and thus reducing thinking itself to a pointless corporate exercise, that only ever reproduces itself.

Our new pedagogy unites thinking and action that believes thinking cannot be sequestered by a corporate culture, but is an act of freedom itself. Our model is unlike anything the world has seen, and we are risking this for the sake of an idea, of poetry, of love above all.

Our new Graduate School in Critical Theory will be going public in a few days in which we are offering an MA/PhD featuring a faculty that is capable of making this pedagogical revolution a reality.  Our faculty includes:

Alain Badiou
Daniel Barber
Agata Bielik-Robson
Ward Blanton
Bruno Bosteels
Arianna Bove
Rosi Braidotti
Drew Burk
Erik Bullot
Rex Butler
Ania Chromik
Joan Copjec
Simon Critchley
Clayton Crockett
Creston Davis
Farhang Erfani
Bracha L. Ettinger
Rocco Gangle
Mike Grimshaw
Dave Hale
Adrian Johnston
Athina Karatzogianni
Catherine Keller
Katerina Kolozova
François Laruelle
Paul Livingston
Catherine Malabou
Jeff Malpas
John Milbank
Tracy K. McNulty
Antonio Negri
Dorothea Olkowski
Michael O’Rourke
Marcus Pound
Patrick Provost-Smith
Joshua Ramey
Carl Raschke
Kenneth Reinhard
Jeffrey W. Robbins
Laurie Rodrigues
Mary-Jane Rubenstein
Kenneth Surin
Victor Taylor
Tzuchien Tho
Peter Thompson
Noelle Vahanian
Gianni Vattimo
Hent de Vries
Janell Watson
Rachel K. Ward
Margaret Young
Santiago Zabala
Slavoj Zizek