IS PHILOSOPHY PROBLEM-SOLVING?: A “Badiousian” reply

There is a very interesting discussion on THE DAILY NOUS around the post Are History’s “Greatest Philosophers” All That Great? My concern is less with the answer than with the way of conceiving the question. My own reply is not narrowly “Badiousian” but broadly Continental.

There is not a single real concept in this post, except the presupposed, scientistic, concept of philosophy as problem-solving. It is more an opinion piece than a serious philosophical attempt to raise a real question. It partakes of the concept-blindness that characterises both much of modern analytic philosophy and speculative realism. In cinematic terms this amounts to seeing THE MARTIAN as a greater film than 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY because the second film presents more problems than it solves.

Philosophy is much more the construction of problematics than the resolution of problems (though it is that too). This is not just my opinion, but is the way philosophy is taught in high schools and university everywhere in France, where I live and teach. This is also the way it is practised here. Bergson, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Bachelard, Deleuze, Foucault and Derrida did nothing else, as do Badiou, Stiegler, Latour, and Laruelle today. There is not a single French philosopher who tries to answer a pre-existing question without first deconstructing the question, making explicit its presupposed concepts and underlying problematic, and proposing different (or at least re-worked) concepts and problematics. A question or a problem is not the same when it is taken up into an incommensurable problematic, but only bears a family resemblance to its other avatars.

Scientism comes in when one regards philosophy as necessarily proceeding in the same way as the sciences, taken as problem-solving endeavours. This is not even a sufficient characterisation of the sciences, and far less appropriate to philosophy. Is Plato primarily a problem-solver? This is not the most fruitful way of considering his work, especially given that Plato created and gave expression to competing problematics that are still fighting it out to this day. He also did whatever he could to discredit his rivals (e.g. the Sophists) or to eliminate them from the historical record (e.g. buying up and burning Democritus’s books).

Badiou’s conception of philosophy as creating the concepts adequate to configuring the interplays and convergences between contemporary advances in the sciences, the arts, psychogenesis, and politics is no doubt too simple, but it is far less simplistic than the problem-solving model. You can’t just gawk at philosophy and count philosophers, do statistical arguments and expect to come up with significant results, that is the worse sort of naive empiricism.

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2 Responses to IS PHILOSOPHY PROBLEM-SOLVING?: A “Badiousian” reply

  1. AS most of our phiosphical problems have the problem of eithe rbeing involved in christian church herittazed “Assumptions” 8which oought to be cdeconstructed) or a naive “repression” of “to metaphysical of the phiosophical problems, wew ehave teh saiurc of your impressuins. DEleuze, in his habklitation, diffrence and repetion argues a lot, why thinking and especially philophy is “problem” oriented. oF courde this goes backt oa a Spinpozistuc conception of teh cognituve, cantic essence of humans. But igf th shhe word “esence” is awkaward for aoem peopkle, ta wilneve know wahrt aprblem or its solztuoon or philosophy is “all about”..

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