Lebenskünstler

Robert C. Solomon – The Art of Living – Professionalization of Philosophy/Art

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/28/2008

“Philosophy is essentially an art. It is the art of living, the search for wisdom.”

“What gives our lives meaning is not anything beyond our lives, but the richness of our lives.”

– Robert Solomon

I’ve written before about Robert Solomon at LeisureArts:

Robert C. Solomon – Passionate Life – Raoul Vaneigem

Philosophy – LeisureArts – Passion

I recently read his The Passions: Emotions and The Meaning of Life. In it, Solomon argues that  “…emotions are the meaning of life. It is because we are moved, because we feel, that life has meaning. The passionate life, not the dispassionate life of pure reason, is the meaningful life.” The central thesis of his book is of great interest, but I unfortunately found his deep commitment to existentialist responsibility off putting. Despite that, the core argument is a necessary salvo at the analytic/rationalist mafia.

What is of real interest to me is his introductory riff on the professionalization of philosophy and its impact on our lives.

“Let me be outrageous and insist that philosophy matters. It is not a self-contained system of problems and puzzles, a self-generating profession of conjectures and refutations…We are all philosophers; the problems we share are philosophical problems. What has been sanctified and canonized as ‘philosophy’ is but the cream of curdled thought from the minds of men [sic] rare in genius, but common in their concerns.”

Solomon, throughout many of his works revisits the theme of  what he calls (professional) philosophy’s “thinness.”  He maintains that the aforementioned puzzles ultimately devolve into examining narrower and narrower slices of human experience. In its attempt to emulate the precision and appearance of objectivity of the sciences, philosophy has developed into highly “sophisticated irrelevancy.”

In his defense of the passions he posits that their subjective nature is a strength, not a weakness. The passions add to, rather than inhibit our understanding of reality. Of course it is not the capital R reality of professional philosophy that he thinks should be the ultimate aim of philosophical inquiry. “They [the passions] are not concerned with the world, but my world. They are not concerned with ‘what is really the case’ with ‘the facts,’ but rather with what is important.”

It is professional philosophy with its system of rewards for esoteric argumentation and refutation that all too often dispenses with what is important to the everyday concerns of people outside the discipline. Or as Solomon puts it:

“Nothing has been more harmful to philosophy than its ‘professionalization,’ which on the one hand has increased the abilities and techniques of its practitioners immensely, but on the other has rendered it an increasingly impersonal and technical discipline, cut off from and forbidding to everyone else.”

He calls this “tragic” and yearns for philosophy’s return to the streets where “Socrates originally practiced it.”  The parallels with the professionalization of art should be obvious enough.  In fact, Solomon has called philosophy “conceptual sculpture,” but his usage refers to the shaping of the mental structures that shape our everyday lives. There’s  too much at stake in both these  fields to leave them to the academic class. They must not be about life, but serve it.

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