QA 40. Apr 2013. The ignorant emancipated philosopher

Last week I attended “Phenomenology and Its Futures”, the inaugural conference of the South African Centre for Phenomenology – and a splendid conference it was! I spoke on “Philosophy as a practice of emancipation”. Followers of this blog will know I’ve been beavering away at this for a while. The paper described my philosophical counselling practice as grounded in the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas (in a nutshell: “We are all responsible for everyone else – but I more than the others.”) and directed towards emancipation (as in Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation). This was my conclusion…

I have found it increasingly useful and reliable to work from an expanded premise of equality, to suppose that we all come equipped with the same capacity for intelligence, sanity and goodness. This is not faith, idealism or ideology. It is a hypothesis, an opinion that can’t finally be proved either way. But, like Rancière, we can pay attention what happens when we start looking for the evidence to verify it.

To my own surprise, I find that my guests do know perfectly well and are perfectly capable. Just like me, they know what is good for them, and what is not. They know the truth when they hear it. They are capable of expressing themselves in words and works. And yet they are also mistaken, unbalanced, neurotic and dispirited. They suffer and they cause suffering. They need help. What is an ignorant, emancipated, Levinas-inspired philosopher to do? She can offer philosophy as a practice of emancipation. Read more