QA 52. The real world keeps us honest

standard equationStill thinking about the need for a new mode of thinking… What is the proper relation between philosophy and science now?

Last year, citing Stephen (Philosophy-is-Dead) Hawking and Martin Heidegger, I wrote about “the end of philosophy” in the triumph of science. Given the massive productivity of scientific theory and technology and a world in turmoil, social-order thinking put its faith in scientific standards of evidence, objectivity and rationality. But it’s no good. Science can’t tell us about the meaning of life, precisely because meaning belongs to another order of thought: call it “ethics” or “wisdom”. Pascal knew that the heart has its reasons, but we don’t give the heart much credit. And so it seems that the new task for thinking is to return to the beginnings of philosophy, to inquire into the nature of subjectivity and how to live well with others.

With this division of labour, I effectively left science to its own devices and carried on with my own business. (After all, it is hard to relate to someone who gloats about leaving you in the dust.) Happily, it seems that my judgement was premature. A reconciliation, under new terms, may be on the cards. Continue reading

QA 51. Optical illusions, the political economy of

My_Wife_and_My_Mother-In-Law_(Hill).svgOne image that can be seen in two distinct ways, but never both at once. Faces or a vase? Duck or rabbit? Crone or maiden? Someone shows you: See, the old woman’s chin is the young woman’s throat! All of a sudden, you do see. You start to switch the two back and forth, grinning like a kid. You can’t believe your eyes!

In times like ours, which call on us to think differently, the skills of vacillation are good to cultivate. Look at it this way. We are all, more or less, caught in the thrall of a particular mode of thinking and its moral order. Call it Western hegemony or what you will, this dominant perspective prizes objectivity, reason and utility, and excels in categorisation, prediction and control. It conceives of humans as self-interested and separate beings that are concerned with their own being, and as winners and losers in competition for scarce resources. It is a view that marginalises and dismisses human tenderness, vulnerability and relatedness. But it knows a duck when it sees one! Continue reading

QA 50! Thoughts at sea

castaway_by_ascentem-d4a7u8m

A funny thing happened at the Philosophy Café last month. I got lost. We all set sail on a conversation about “sadness”, but I didn’t know what they were talking about. My mind was clear and present. I just couldn’t relate, couldn’t get a grip, couldn’t participate. And the good ship “we” sailed on without me. Huh.

It’s been a chance to rediscover that – so long as you’re not in real danger, so long as you don’t panic – being all at sea is philosophy’s home ground. Not knowing what’s happening is a condition of wonder, in every sense of the word. It’s also kind of sad. Continue reading

The ethics and politics of life: An interview about philosophical counselling

agora interview

“But if they’re interested in being able to work out their life, with someone who is going to keep them company, keep them safe, and not do anything to them while they’re doing that, then they stay. And then we work.”

Ran Lahav interviewed me and several other participants at the recent 13th International Conference on Philosophical Practice in Belgrade, for the Philo-Practice Agora project. You can find my interview here or on YouTube.

Archives of The Bus (#JWTC2014 Archives of the Non-racial)

Photo: Naadira Patel

Photo: Naadira Patel

Did you miss the bus?

Do you miss the bus?

Here are two next-best things.

My talk at Kalk Bay Books about my trip and the ideas that grabbed me is here.

And the documentary film by Tjasa Kancler and Kirk Sides, featuring interviews with many of the participants, speakers and organisers, is up on Vimeo here.

QA 49. A motley cruise? (JWTC 2014: Archives of the non-racial)

A motley crew is a cliché for a roughly organized assembly of characters. Typical examples of motley crews are pirates, Western posses, rag-tag mercenary bands, and freedom fighters… characters of conflicting personality, varied backgrounds and, usually to the benefit of the group, a wide array of methods for overcoming adversity. Traditionally, a motley crew [that]… comes into conflict with an organized, uniform group of characters, will prevail. (Wikipedia)

This weekend I’m hooking up with the good folks of the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC). They who definitely dare to go: a two-week mobile workshop on the theme Archives of the Non-Racial, using South African histories to “assess the possibilities and limits of the ‘nonracial’ in terms of the politics of the modern world and its core values: democracy, freedom, dignity, equality, the human, universality, justice”. There will be fifty-odd participants from everywhere, including academics, journalists and public intellectuals working across the humanities, social sciences, arts and medical sciences. We’ll travel by bus from Johannesburg to Swaziland, Durban, King Williams Town, Knysna and Cape Town, on a blazing trail of talks and tours and cultural events. The talks are open to the public: if we’re coming to your town, do check out the programme. You can (of course) follow us on social media.  I’ll be blogging here and posting on Facebook too.

In preparation, I’ve been thinking about what I think about race and identity and the politics thereof. Here are a couple of strands of that. Continue reading

(QA 48 revisited.) conception, in other words

Heidegger says you must be born again. No, that was Jesus. Even Heidegger, then. As philosophy will be born again from a thinking mother.

socrates1Philosophy’s first birth was attended by the son of a midwife. He himself practiced husbandry. A ranchero. Pedagod who knew which theoria should be brought to bear and which aborted. A miscarriage, God’s truth! Next time, we start with the troth: a pledge and a patience, a willingness to bear the whole world in our belly. Not a titan of strength this time, not forced to bear the heavens upon our back.

The old way will continue to complete itself. Our time is early, so early – not even dawn but the chill that rises from the dead of night. Our time is the wee hours. I wrap myself in a shawl and blanket, crone, chronicler, kairomone.

Philosophy before philosophy begins again, philosophy before its time, before it’s due, its due, before the dust has settled. While it is still unconceivable. That’s how early we are. Midwives to ova.

What is the task of our time? Emancipation, metanoia. To turn. In this field of philosophy, to refrain. To recover what was neglected. To think what it was unable to think, what has remained unthought. To think before philosophy, return to thought.

Which is what I mean by philosophical practice. With others, to understand the meaning of our struggles and desire, to attend to what is unbalanced, what has been obstructed or occluded. As if to tend the earth, to soften with water, loosen soil, break dry clods to dust in our hands. To open the way, vul’indlela. Philosophical practice as cultivation.