Academic philosophy: Does it play a role in society?

Academic philosphy

Philosophers on strike.

I have been studying philosophy at university level for eight years now. See my previous Blog, The Philosophy Race, on why I have been so slow. On the odd occasion, however, I doubt whether I should actually continue studying. Studying a university degree and having a full time job is quite a task, which does not leave much time for philosophical reflection outside the curriculum. The ‘train’ relentlessly keeps on going and there is simply no time to stop along the way and explore some side avenues.

Sometimes I am also disenchanted with academic philosophy as it tends to be extremely technical and tedious. Although I understand that issues can become complicated and convoluted—specially with 2500 years of history behind them—a philosopher should be able to break free from these bounds and create new philosophy.

There are thus two kinds of philosophy. Passive philosophy: the reflection upon what has been written and the subsequent academic analysis of this; and active philosophy: the creative process of producing new philosophy.

One of the problems of contemporary philosophy is that it is part of academia and therefore dependent upon government funding. To be be able to continually justify this funding, academic philosophy has become almost like a science, rather than a creative art.

Looking around the media landscape we see pop stars and movie actors proclaiming their philosophy on many subjects. It is interesting to note that one of the first major philosophers also was an artist—Socrates was a stone mason—proclaiming his philosophy to his fellow Athenians. Academic philosophers of today still use his thoughts as a source but are a long way from his influence upon society.

But Socrates was not loved by most of the Athenians, as he was sentenced to death because he supposedly had a negative influence on the youth of Athens. Are academic philosophers afraid to come out of their ivory tower and join the social debate? Why should we rely on pop stars, actors and politicians as our beacons in life? Philosophy should go back to the market place!

Thus spoke Zarathustra and left his cave, glowing and strong like a morning sun (Friedrich Nietzsche).