Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Philosophy versus everyone else?

One of the worst caricatures of philosophy (which some philosophers live up to) is that it's the hobby of out-of-touch idlers, or failures with nothing but contempt for the business of ordinary labour.

Writing something for the Sydney Morning Herald, I came across a corker of a quote from John Dewey on this.

In the passage from Reconstruction in Philosophy, Dewey's arguing against the false division between philosophy and workaday life; between 'higher' ends in themselves, and everything else as means.  Dewey writes:
[T]he doctrine of 'higher' ends gives aid, comfort and support to every socially isolated and socially irresponsible scholar, specialist, esthete and religionist.  It protects the vanity and irresponsibility of his calling from observation by others and himself.  The moral deficiency of the calling is transformed into a cause of admiration and gratulation.
The problem is not philosophers who work in exile, or outside the academy - Nietzsche and Spinoza, for example.  In fact, neither saw his work solely as 'philosophy for philosophy's sake'.  The problem is the impoverishment of life that occurs: philosophy becomes an idle ornament or contemptuous mutter, and practical pursuits are robbed of critical thought or speculative beauty.

(Image: detail from Raphael's 'School of Athens', courtesy of the Vatican)

1 comment:

Feeding the Chooks said...

Great little piece. That quote's a knockout.