• Xtrix
    977
    I wonder about the link between philosophy and activism, and if there even is one.

    Philosophy's questions are fascinating, yet I've always felt the whole reason we seek answers to these questions is ultimately to improve ourselves and our world. This view is not new and probably rather commonplace, and although figuring out what constitutes an "improvement" already presupposes some idea of what is "good," I'd argue at bottom our pursuit in philosophy is motivated by this desire.

    This is not to say philosophy has to be "useful" in a trendy technological or political sense. (Philosophy then becomes "fashion," as Heidegger said.) But philosophy always informs what it means to be human and therefore determines, to a large degree, our goals -- political or otherwise. I believe Nietzsche was right in putting so much energy into the question of values, for example -- it hits at the bedrock of our philosophizing.

    Our background beliefs as a culture are philosophical in nature, and here I include what's sometimes called "religious" beliefs as well. They shape what we think, what we question, how we see the world and what we do in it. These beliefs are there whether one ever recognizes them or not.

    Nothing original thus far. There is an invisible system of beliefs -- and a "hidden history" to these beliefs -- that structures the very world we inhabit and navigate. The jobs we hold, the laws we obey, the education we receive, the traditions we observe, the morality we grow up with. All shaped by our perspectives.

    That said, my point is this: doesn't understanding these beliefs and their history (in terms of studying philosophy) better inform political activism? I would argue they go together naturally, and yet I often don't see much deliberate connection these days. Those who go out and fight for a cause don't have much use for philosophers or the students of philosophy it seems, and likewise students of philosophy don't (in my experience only) usually get very engaged with current affairs. Do others see the same things? I'm speaking only in averages of course -- there are always exceptions.

    I'd like to see more of an interaction, as naive as this may sound, between philosophers (and scientists) and our moral and political issues, problems, and goals of today. I think understanding philosophical ideas gives us (and the younger generations especially) a better sense of where we're going.

    We need new horizons, and there's no way we can see them without philosophy.
  • Brett
    2.3k


    yet I often don't see much deliberate connection these days. Those who go out and fight for a cause don't have much use for philosophers or the students of philosophy it seems, and likewise students of philosophy don't (in my experience only) usually get very engaged with current affairs.Xtrix

    I would agree with this. If activists do discuss philosophy it seems to be at a fundamental level and usually extends to a broad and vague idea of Marxism.

    I think this applies to the philosophers we refer to in our posts. I’d be interested to know for sure but it appears to me that most lived a life removed from what was going on around them.

    This might have been mentioned in another post, but how many of us actually live our philosophy, or do we just like to think we have a philosophy to live by? It takes quite a commitment to live out a philosophy. I personally know of only a few and I don’t actually “know” them.

    On the other hand those activists who commit to a philosophy often commit the most appalling crimes because the end justifies the means, and what they think is right and correct. Possibly the biggest crime, and most dangerous, is to think you’re right.
  • Xtrix
    977
    I’d be interested to know for sure but it appears to me that most lived a life removed from what was going on around them.Brett

    Exactly. Strange too, see as how Aristotle put quite an emphasis on the polis and political engagement.

    One can’t simply live in an Ivory Tower and call oneself a philosopher— it does indeed need to show up in your lived life, in action, character, decisions, etc.

    This is one reason I consider Russell and Chomsky so admirable.
  • NOS4A2
    3.6k


    I would think most philosophers would be against activism given the mob mentality it often results in, but they would in their own way oppose ideas and events they disagreed with, perhaps providing fuel for activism.
  • Brett
    2.3k


    I have my ups and downs with Sartre, but he did engage with that world.
  • NOS4A2
    3.6k


    I have my ups and downs with Sartre, but he did engage with that world.

    There certainly are exceptions. But I think better philosophers plant the seeds rather than physically engage with it. Rousseau or Marx for example.
  • StreetlightX
    5.9k
    The hardest thing about thinking philosophy and activism together is the necessity of philosophy's critical distancing of itself from the world; philosophy at its most potent defarmiliarizes the world, casting it in terms and grammars that are not of its own. It's only by keeping this distance in place that philosophy resists an impotent re-doubling of the world in thought.

    But it's also exactly in this way that philosophy can inform activism, by helping to provide grammars of action at a tangent from what's established, by malforming what is, in the service, perhaps, of what should be. So in a sense philosophy always has to walk a kind of tightrope stretched between the idealities of theory and the concreteness of practice without wholly collapsing into one side or the other.
  • Xtrix
    977
    philosophy at its most potent defarmiliarizes the world, casting it in terms and grammars that are not of its own. It's only by keeping this distance in place that philosophy resists an impotent re-doubling of the world in thought.StreetlightX

    Very true. I think it’s exactly this “deworlding” that accounts for the lack of enthusiasm for activism among both philosophers and scientists. But again, you read Aristotle and see so much emphasis on politics it makes one at least want to try harder at some kind of reconciliation. I think the current era needs all hands on deck.



    I agree about Rousseau but Marx was very much involved in politics and had to move to England due to his political involvements.
  • Xtrix
    977
    would think most philosophers would be against activism given the mob mentality it often results inNOS4A2

    This is another good point. And again, this applies to scientists as well. It’s almost considered in bad taste, similar to getting involved with “pop culture”— who can be bothered? I took that attitude for a long time, only now seeing how that was a very big mistake indeed.

    Like Russell said when asked why he bothers protesting rather than simply doing more work in mathematical logic (paraphrasing): if I don’t, there’ll be no one around to read the logic.
  • BitconnectCarlos
    560


    This is a very good explanation. In public discourse we're also looking for definite answers and you really can't get too abstract; both of these things don't work well for the armchair philosopher. You're right about the tightrope though.

    I think that despite these barriers we are seeing some real-world impact, and the first field that comes to mind would be Singer's effective altruism as well as Singer's general impact on the vegan movement.
  • Xtrix
    977


    Maybe. Singer is such a doofus though it's hard to take him seriously about anything.
  • BitconnectCarlos
    560


    Oh I don't agree with Singer at all I was just say he's made a pretty big impact, at least compared to your typical philosophy professor.
  • Grre
    183

    I like to think that the role of philosophers is first to consider the world, and then in some way, try to share that knowledge, and if that knowledge changes/alters people's perceptions (and thus the world at large) then so the better.
    In fact, I would argue that I got into philosophy via social activism of some sort, and have since used my philosophical background as a means to involve myself in public affairs and better educate others. This is mainly in the fields of environment and feminist philosophy, but I think a case can be made for any area of philosophy. Philosophy is the theory, and arguably, any good practice must rest on theory.

    It was Marx that said something about philosopher's just thinking about the world-the point is to change it, and I agree with him. Too many philosopher's to even name have been too effected by politics/world affairs, to say that philosophy can or should exist isolated from philosophy. Just look at Marx's own life, or the lives of his followers-or other political theorists and philosophers on the Left (Emma Goldman). Do I believe philosophy can change the world? Yes. Should it? Of course. What other point is there to all this thinking and writing if you truly believe no one will read it or care? Would most philosopher's disparage of mob mentality as said? Of course. Philosophy is at its heart, fundamentally repulsed by mass ignorance, appeal to authority/other fallacies, but this does not mean that philosophy does not impact or otherwise touch the masses, as I already said, a case could be made that all "Activist" movements (how do you even define 'activism'?) began with some philosophical/theoretical pandering...it's not the fault of philosophy that laypeople have taken ideas and run with them.
    Or maybe it is,
    Maybe if the masses were more critically educated, then philosophy wouldn't have to exist so "Defamalizared" with the world, ie. in its ivory tower (which contemporarily is represented by the inane student fees universities require, not to mention lack of jobs/devaluing of the arts in general, and subpar public education system that doesn't prepare students for even considering a future in philosophy). Historically, philosophy was practiced on the roof top for all the people walking by to hear and comment on, the Greeks believed the fundamental role of life was involvement in politics, and thus philosophy was in no way exempt from that-the birth of Western philosophy, that is with Socrates being tried, is in fact an example of how powerful philosophy is to activism and politics, and how threatened by it the status quo is. Which is essential. A philosopher who sits on his ass in his arm chair, without ever sharing his ideas with the world or somehow engaging himself in his times is no philosopher at all-just a weirdo.

    But is a philosopher undoubtedly impacted by political environment of their time? Of course. As you said, we are all impacted, irrespective if we want to be or even notice-and to an extent philosophy is about stripping yourself of these biases and perspectives, but...that does not mean that once a philosopher has tried to a large extent to do that, they cannot, or should not, re-engage with the masses if you will...lead people from their cave.
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