Tag Archives: political role of philosophy and philosophers

What is a philosopher?

In an already widely-discussed post on a new NYTimes blog called “The Stone,” Simon Critchley answers the question, “What is a Philosopher?” He refers to some of Socrates’ statements in Plato’s Theatetus to explain that philosophers are, unlike those who must spend their time arguing cases in courts, men [always men for Plato, and still frequently men today] who can and do pull away from the affairs of the present day and place and take the time to think otherworldly thoughts:

“Socrates says that those in the constant press of business, like lawyers, policy-makers, mortgage brokers and hedge fund managers, become ”bent and stunted” and they are compelled “to do crooked things.” … The philosopher, by contrast, is free by virtue of his or her otherworldliness, by their capacity to fall into wells and appear silly [like the story of Thales].”
“Socrates adds that the philosopher neither sees nor hears the so-called unwritten laws of the city, that is, the mores and conventions that govern public life. The philosopher shows no respect for rank and inherited privilege and is unaware of anyone’s high or low birth. It also does not occur to the philosopher to join a political club or a private party. As Socrates concludes, the philosopher’s body alone dwells within the city’s walls. In thought, they are elsewhere.”

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Foucault and Kant on philosophy as emancipatory critique

I am working on a book review of Foucault and Freedom by Johanna Oksala for a journal, and in the third part she argues that “by linking his thought to the Enlightenment, Foucault makes the normative move of adopting the ideals associated with it–critical reason and personal autonomy–as the implicit ground on which his critiques of domination, abusive forms of power and reason rest. The Enlightenment provides him with the historical–not transcendental– values on which to base his critiques” (187).

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