Home » Uncategorized » The Anxious Superpositions of Wisdom, When Philosophy Is Quantified

The Anxious Superpositions of Wisdom, When Philosophy Is Quantified

There’s an Alice Hoffman novel, from the 1980s, where she constructs an anthropology of academia. Her classification is along these lines, if I recall it correctly.
The degree to which there is consensual agreement among the scholars of a subject concerning the nature of its object, is the degree to which sartorial appearance & outward social focus is neglected.
Pure mathematicians, theoretical physicists, & some philosophers (probably logicians), wander around the campus grounds in a disheveled state, oblivious to others, in their own worlds, where a proof is a proof, & nothing else is relevant. Their social status is contingent only on their ability to produce said proofs.
The humanities scholars, conversely; where the nature of their object of study, even its existence, is in question; require the consensual approval of their peers; so they cultivate impeccable diction, dress smartly, give off an impressive demeanour.

I would add to this, by saying, that the obligation to produce benefits discernible to whatever present-day understandings of utility are circulating amongst those who distribute funding, devolves, essentially, into the demands of commodity production, of results held to be tangible.
And, yes, a direct, results-oriented appoach, that neglects holistic context, in favour of the minimal conditions that are deemed necessary to produce a desired effect; one that can, moreover, be fetishised by capitalism as a ‘commodity’; is going to have more general, global consequences that are not taken into account, precisely because of the neglect of holistic context. The mere awareness of this, in the form of environmental cost reports & the like, means nothing if resulting problems are not acted on with the same zeal & investment given to ‘commodity’ production & ‘profit’.
This affects the ecosystem of philosophical thought, too.
Philosophers are coerced into producing vast amounts of rubbish, & then fall into infighting over its dubious merits. (innocuous noises concerning clarity & obscurity are a big favourite). The coercion is towards quantity, not quality. It isn’t possible to do anything worthwhile under the duress of such a ‘professional’ demand. So most fall into the silent agreement of pretending that the copious trivia of their output is ‘philosophical work’.
Unable to let go of a ‘career’ already invested in, grumbling sets in. In danger of disappearing in the deluge of their own output, desperate overtures are made to other disciplines, or public life, seeking a spurious relevance. But secretly, they are looking for shelter from the self-imposed, Tantalean tasks of turgidity they erroneously imagine are necessary in attaining the brilliance they covet as a corollary of career advancement.

It may be a symptom of self-loathing that so many professional philosophers wish to deny that they are doing Philosophy, whilst accepting salaries from Philosophy Departments.
Has any physicist ever claimed to be a ‘non-scientist’?
It may be that the fad for switching Philosophy ‘On’ & ‘Off’, as if it were a delimited ‘ens’, is the anxious “fort/da” logic of a mindset that can only think according to a metaphoric of simple tangibilities; that ontological consideration brings to its methodological limit, beyond which it is only able to nervously repeat the banality of its methodological procedures; over & over, or return to the easier disciplines of increased tangibility, to the overt presences not requiring anything more challenging than basic representation & its transactions. But crossing over disciplinary boundaries contrived centuries ago does not, in itself, constitute a radical innovation. Going on about it all the time, in the 21st century, only shows the dismal mediocrity of mundane minds not used to thinking naturally.

There are countless conceptual platforms that could be contrived, from which to ironise any & all philosophical output.
Circumscribe it, find out what it doesn’t say, construct a rhetoric of central indispensability concerning this neglect; analyse the output, in the light of the neglect; bingo, you can restate the entire tradition according to the linguistics & internal conceptual structures you’ve concocted to elaborate that neglect. Though this procedure could be said to characterise many acknowledged contributions of the 20th century, there is a significant difference between them & the philosophical productions of the 21st. Those of the 20th century, developed new perspectives on the structures of knowledge. For some, they were often counterintuitive perspectives, not in line with habitual beliefs. But their logics were demonstrable. Those of the 21st century, however, & as far as I can tell, are not of this character. They do not introduce anything not already commonly known & accepted. In some cases they are reactionary nostalgias, pining for the metaphysical simplicity of traditional intuitive positions; the comfortable cultural abbreviations, & their stock variations, that the Social substitutes for the possibility of fresh thought.
Has Philosophy turned into ceremonial ritual, the discursive display, the social signalling, of one’s location on a map of traditional identities? A game of simplistic assumptions, of fully known territories, & their well worn contentions?
It does seem as though the nostalgia for discursively invulnerable ‘givens’ displayed by so many ‘philosophers’, is characteristic of the desire to establish territories of imperialised elaboration. If such projections produce insight or innovation, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead of a potent & potentially productive “contest of interpretations”, there is only the unchanging gladiatorial contention of dogmas.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply