Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Relevance of Philosophy

I sometimes have to remind myself of the relevance of my studies in philosophy. This does not mean, as it so often does for progressives, adapting philosophy itself to the tastes, concerns, and ideologies of the times. Certainly, specific times contribute specific points of view, unique perspectives, distinct emphases, to the ongoing and perennial philosophical conversation; but the perennial ideas and truths of philosophy remain the same, they are timeless and eternal. (Recall the metaphysics of tradition, here and here... I will hopefully write something soon on the advantages of the history of philosophy, as immersion in tradition.) Naturally, then, speech about the historical relevance of philosophy is necessarily somewhat limited. Progressivists seek to make philosophy relevant by the rejection of everything traditional as "old" and "outdated" as irrelevant - or of interest only to the curious. We live in new times; therefore we must have new ideas. Thought becomes subsequent and consequent to will and appetite, rather than the other way around; culture is no longer the expression of ideas, but ideas are the product of an arbitrarily "progressing" culture.

This has two results: 1) Philosophy as a discipline becomes no more than a job, a research project, the collection of the museum-pieces of the history of philosophy; it is a shallow and self-deceived effort to make philosophy into a money-making business of thought-museum curation. Need I mention that one ought to despair of making philosophy into a very money-making business of any sort? 2) Philosophy becomes no more than the sophisticated formulation of extremely ideologically motivated forms of extremist activism, the slave of "movements" in identity-politics. I have noticed that this second  perversion of philosophy is a strong motivation among many students of philosophy in my own generation, although it is not lacking among the refined liberals of older generations. Feminists, gender-activists, millennial Marxists, and radical anti-Trumpists (don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of Trump either... I just don't care as much...) love to use philosophy merely as the support of their ideological agendas and ulterior motives. There is no more concern for philosophy as an end in itself.

In an earlier age, philosophy was not the slave, but the ruler, of all other concerns, political, economic, or otherwise. Philosophy was good for its own sake; the philosophic act of contemplation, for Aristotle, is the noblest human activity, the end and goal of all other forms of human activity. Politics and ethics, for example, could only be worthily discussed with this end in view. Modern politics is not motivated by the contemplative teleology of traditional politics, but by unjustified agendas, in which each partisan-group's will determines the end; thought, i.e. philosophy, is nothing but a slave of the will, and thus a slave of activism. That is the only possible "relevance" of philosophy; otherwise, it is the historical-historicist study of irrelevancies.

Being a traditionalist, I must constantly remind myself of the true relevance of philosophy: that it is the end of all other activity. I cannot fall into the habit which most academic philosophers embrace, that of treating my studies as mere historical research - the curation of irrelevancies. It is rather a matter of truth; and the truth is the goal and object of the most human of human faculties. All men desire to know; and all men, indeed, desire to know philosophically, in some way and in some degree. My current studies concern the relationship of Aristotle to Plato - a rather historical question, to be sure. But it is also important in itself, because the ideas of which these two great men spoke are central to the formation of my own understanding of the world as the immanence of the transcendent; and this understanding is important for me as a human being, ordained among all creatures to the contemplation and worship of transcendent being. It is crucial to the human destiny that such questions not be reduced to mere history; yet it is important to study these questions historically, because they are not only relevant, indeed, for me; truth is a common good, after all, and it is common not only here and now, but through time. This is another reason why true tradition is important: not because it is the past - that is the error of historicism, which really cares nothing for tradition, but only for history - but because it is the truth, which is timeless; because it is always and to everyone relevant in the extreme.  


  1. Good essay, except that I haven't personally seen "radical anti-Trumpists" misuse philosophy in this way. On the other hand, I have seen Nietzsche and radical integralist philosophers like Julius Evola cited in defense of Trumpism.

    1. Fair enough - that may have been an exaggeration or a caricature. But I have certainly encountered, not young activists, but some elderly liberal professors who would occasionally go on the Trump rant-tangent when teaching a course.

    2. Of that I have no doubt. Trump brings out the best in everybody. :-)

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