Issue #55 September 2022
To the question “What is the point of philosophy today?” there is often a quick retort: that no other extant disciplines of knowledge can answer the question of how to, and what it means to, live well. In these opening moments of the 21st century, “the good” is the jewel philosophy tightly guards. And, if one thinks about it, this is doubly important because the question of how I am to live well is tied up with how are we to live well, and what that could mean. Tied up firstly in a sense of any I, taken in bulk, becomes a We, but also in that for any I, it depends on a We to just be, and also to be the very I that it is. Very well then, philosophy still holds the keys to the form and gears of thought concerning politics, and thus is very, very useful and should not be defunded as universities are corporatized, please.
But, why should politics, this particular question of how we are to live, be philosophical in nature? More or less, the philosophical is opposed to the empirical. By this we mean, that if the question was “purely an empirical matter” then we have countless methodologies in adjacent disciplines that can give much more dignified and venerable and meaty answers than philosophy ever could. So, why can’t this question be reduced to the empirical, which would be desirable? It certainly seems within our discourse that it is: another poll, another metric, another fleeting fragment of evidence for a supposedly self-evident conclusion, another video, another shout. The world is burning. The matter is markedly empirical…
The question of “how are we to live” touches upon something vital, which is, strangely, beyond the empirical. Things turn around here: isn’t philosophy about reason and systems and rules? These and their effects we can all measure, empirically. No problem. But there is a vital impetus to the question of how we are to live, and together at that, that resists systematization. Biological but not for that reason empirical. Biological as metaphysical – and perhaps only here on this point on the edge of this question. The shout can be recorded, and measured, but the squeeze that results in the shout, the cracking heart, is something material that nonetheless escapes a systematized and empirical thought. But why can philosophy help us here?
Philosophy is not the hand-maiden to the sciences, it is the gatekeeper on the perilous side of the wall facing onto the formless wastes. Science hears the shout, philosophy traces it into into the guts and tries to give these demented palpitations little micro-voices – so they raise to the surface and become articulate, but not so much as a knowledge, but rather as a demand. It is in voicing this demand that philosophy reveals its political nature, with all the dangers that come along with it.