Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Like I was saying

If I may be permitted a self-referential moment:
There is a secret link between this fear and the boredom we spoke of earlier: boredom secretes fear as a kind of attempt at self-cure. One can see this quite clearly in contemporary western culture, which has grown more fearful as it has grown more secure, for the periodic upsettings of security become more traumatic and they leave a viral half-life of unsettling phantoms, traumatic enough to drive one back into the arms of a comfortable boredom, in a terrible cycle.
This, a propos last post, where I was voicing my expectation that the blah-banal ironism of the '90s will make its resurgence as the "trauma" of 9/11 fades. This ennui should also serve as a palliative while America dwindles into the twilight of its historical significance.

(Incidentally, some of this feedback-loop has also been described by Lars Svendsen in his The Philosophy of Boredom and The Philosophy of Fear.)

It should always raise one's suspicions when someone claims world-shaking significance for their own field, but I truly believe that philosophy is the cure of this addictive cycle of boredom and fear. It has been fighting the Noonday Demon from the very beginning. It is, to be sure, a homeopathic cure; Socrates' words stun and numb at first.


  1. I agree with everyone who claims that philosophy is significant. Yet: is not it intrinsically elitistic? One can explain to many people what Socrates said, but will one be able to teach them to think critically? Will not they always prefer the easier path of immediate satisfaction (say, eating), although on the long run this does not work?
    (sorry for my pessimistic attitude of today)

  2. Elisa,

    This is obviously one of the perennial questions. Can virtue be taught? My friend and occasional SCT commenter Joe might say, the attempt to make philosophers of everyone was the essence of the Enlightenment. The Ancients had tried this with just the rulers; the Moderns tried it with "the herd" (to strike a Nietzschean pose). I believe philosophy is fundamentally optimistic, but only ultimately so; as regards any more proximate context than the absolute, philosophy is often pessimism itself. (If one thinks this through it is paradoxical, but oh well.) It's not just that I think philosophy is significant; this much its opponent also grants. E.g. in the Gorgias, Callicles has plenty to say about how fine a thing philosophy is in its place: that is, as an important element in what we would call "liberal education" (I know this is anachronistic, but bear with me). The young, he says, ought to concern themselves with philosophy; it makes them well-rounded and allows them to speak finely, and so on. But Socrates is just ridiculous; he won't let it go. And of course the limits of philosophy as a discourse are a reiterated motif down through the ages (think Hume and his penchant for cards to shake his mind clear of all the notions philosophy was leading him into; think Wittgenstein and the wish for the method that lets him "stop doing philosophy when I want too.") Philosophy must walk its own border, not in order to guard it but in order to not stay comfortable within; but it needs to remember what comfort is.

    In case it is not clear in the post above, I associate boredom with the knowing postmodern ironism I was mentioning in the previous post. This is not, I hold, the same as Socratic irony. The former is a mode of "knowing"; nothing surprises it; the most it can aspire to is entertainment. Socrates' irony is a mode of eros, and is perpetually astonished.