There is an interesting article by Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle on the subject “When Philosophy Lost Its Way” (more discussion here). I don’t think one should focus in this article on Frodeman and Briggle’s genealogy of academic philosophy. For this we should wait until their book comes out. The history is quite sketchy and impressionistic, although not obviously wrong or implausibe – just incomplete. Nor is it even the main point.

If I read the book (which I am eagerly awaiting) it will not be for the genealogy. My interest is more in its pluralism (pluralism, with its awareness of contingence, is often tied to a historical approach, but does not foreground it or give it primacy). I read the article more as a “mood” piece, and I do not think that we should conclude that the authors desire a regression to a dubious earlier state defined as philosophers being “better” people.

What I get out of this piece is the concern for the lost link between philosophy and modes (the plural is important) of life. This link is not universally lost in academic philosophy, but it is by no means massively present. Another point that emerges is the need for not just interdisciplinarity (which would already be a good thing) but what Guattari called, and practiced as, “transversality” (a few decades ago). Transversality is less oriented towards the academy, more pluralist in the fields and paradigms mobilised, and more practice-oriented – and thus a little more democratic, addressing people as citizens rather than as experts.

Frodeman and Briggle do not condemn everything about academic philosophy, and so their desire for academically-formed philosophers in the field does not comport any contradiction. For example, one of the things that one learns in philosophy at the university (but not only there) is a language (or family of languages) and a huge array of conceptual distinctions, with a useful vocabulary and set of examples and paradigm discussions employing these distictions. I have at times “left” philosophy, sometimes for many years, and when I come back to it, even in a not so inspiring academic lecture that I happen to sit in on, it is always with a feeling of coming home (even though I was trained in philosophy in Sydney Australia and I am now living in Nice France). Philosophy is my language.

As such, philosophy is an integral part of my sensibility, of my understanding of life, and of my life choices. My reading of Feyerabend helped me (and still helps me) understand my interactions with people and how to improve them. Due to reading Feyerabend I chose to move to France and to attend seminars by Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Michel Serres, Jean-François Lyotard (al pluralists).

Deleuze and Serres have helped me understand my love-relations and live them better (joys and quarrels), my institutional positions, and my tastes in reading and writing. Foucault has helped me in understanding job-situations and other asymmetric encounters (as has Feyerabend). Reading Deleuze helped me choose my sporting activities (kung fu, tai chi) and to understand what is going on when I practice them and to approach them more deeply. Sometimes people ask me for advice, and I mix in fragments of Lyotard and Badiou. Philosophy for these thinkers is from the beginning, and at the deepest level, tied to processes of individuation and to creation or modulation of modes of life.

The thinkers I have named are part of my own “pocket pantheon”, and may not have the same impact others, but other pantheons probably produce similar experiences. They are only the tip of the iceberg. I could not have read them, and seen their relevance to my life, without having become familiar with a large amount of academic philosophy.

The applications of philosophy in everyday life that I have mentioned are only a small part of the pervasiveness of philosophy in my perception of situations, in my thoughts, in my responses to what I see and hear and read. Most often this is spontaneous, I need make no effort, philosophy has simply transformed me. In other cases, if I am confused or want to deepen my sentiments, I ask myself “What philosophical concept can I tie this to? Who has written something that can be made relevant to this?”

I am not looking for a ready-made soltion or programme. The impression I have is that in an obscure situation where I don’t know what to think or how to understand, if I can find just one little pertinent concept it will open the situation up to all the work that I have done on philosophy, and that philosophers have done before me. It may not give me an answer or a definitive analysis, but it usually gives me some freedom from the clichés and self-evident stereotypes that obscure my vision and paralyse my actions.

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6 Responses to PHILOSOPHY OUTSIDE THE ACADEMY: a personal experience

  1. JH says:

    One can still practice philosophy outside academia even if it is institutionalized as a discipline. I really see no merits of an argument like: “This institutionalization of philosophy made it into a discipline that could be seriously pursued only in an academic setting. This fact represents one of the enduring failures of contemporary philosophy”. Philosophy is indeed related to everyday life even though for some, it would be hard to see how philosophical problems situated in history of philosophy can be directly related to “how one should live one’s life”. I venture to say – philosophy does not need to be Socratic at all times.

    Academic philosophy, or academia in general, needs radical reforms. However, I still think that philosophy practiced in academia can be exciting and is certainly not dead. I read Zizek, practice meditation and study religious texts seriously (all of the activities that some of the ‘analytics’ would disapprove of) while working in analytic philosophy and the sciences. There is one thing Zizek and the hard-nosed analytics would agree on however – “WE NEED MORE USELESS THEORIES!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. terenceblake says:

    I agree with all you say. On the last point I agree that it is important to maintain a space for “useless” theories, that is not subjected to a narrow-minded ideal of practical exploitation. Deepening and extending our understanding, without furthering someone’s practical agenda, is quite worthwhile, and even necessary.


  3. frodeman says:

    nice account–thanks…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. AR says:

    I have had a non-professional interest in philosophy (Western and Eastern) since I was young for decades now. At first I tended to express it in a normalized academic mode copying the way it was done in my schooling and academic books but as an amateur now, as an autodidact, well, it is more experimental and literary and always concerned with resisting established standards of expression . It seems to me this is the luxury of the serious amateur but not one for those who want to make a career out of being philosophical. Autodidacts are better able to resist the pressure to adapt to the way a territory ought to be related to as instituted. Stiegler thinks of “adapation” by way of Winnicott as that which makes a transitional space toxic since we relate to it as that which we are supposed to fit in to making us colonized dependents of fixed ways of expressing ourselves. An independent spirit will not come if we don’t deal with real life issues having to do with our holding environments and the way they can fail through coddling or neglect. If they fail they makes needy dependents always looking for the love that comes from compliance, from being a normalized academic without style and a bore to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. S.C. Hickman says:

    Totally agree with this: “As such, philosophy is an integral part of my sensibility, of my understanding of life…”. As you know I’ve never been a part of the academic treadmill. In some ways I regret having never gone on to receive a Masters or Doctorate, but life intervened: family, children, work… economics… so philosophy was a personal engagement rather than some profession. And, like you, sometimes I have my own beefs with the academics and the snobbery it entails. But like Nietzsche who wandered alone outside the academy I’ve found another path… for me the Internet became a nice place to enter into dialogue over time, but even that is seen by many academics as little better than doxa and trite opinion. But that is their problem, a problem of academic one-upmanship. Someday we may even see philosophy as an academic category disappear as are the humanities, literature, art, and other forms of the human enterprise; that is, if the dark capitalism of foundations, governments, seek to oust the last place of open thought…

    Either way, keep up the good work, Terrence!

    Liked by 1 person

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