May 17, 2010

The new NYT philosophy blog gets started by calling lawyers small-souled shysters.

Simon Critchley writes:
Socrates says that those in the constant press of business, like lawyers, policy-makers, mortgage brokers and hedge fund managers, become ”bent and stunted” and they are compelled “to do crooked things.” The pettifogger is undoubtedly successful, wealthy and extraordinarily honey-tongued, but, Socrates adds, “small in his soul and shrewd and a shyster.” The philosopher, by contrast, is free by virtue of his or her otherworldliness, by their capacity to fall into wells and appear silly.
The title of the post is "What Is a Philosopher?" and I'm thinking somebody who pretends to be self-deprecating while running down people who make more money than he does.

27 comments:

Quayle said...

What Is a Philosopher?

Think of a chef who selects, chops, measures, stirs, peels, blends, and pours, but who, if his life depended on it, couldn't cook a meal that would sustain you for 2 days.

Expat(ish) said...

Q: Who sold me lunch at Wendys?

rhhardin said...

I'd say try Stanley Cavell instead.

Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome is short and suitable for the Althouse audience.

Kakashi said...

Oh, quit your bitching Althouse. Just because you chose the practical path rather than the speculative.

Kirby Olson said...

Thales (who is the one that fell in the well) isn't just the father of philosophy, but also of mathematics. He was also a very successful businessman (which is what allowed him to travel, and to spend time later in his life on philosophy and mathematics).

So Critchley really mucks this one up badly.

Another story is told that when Thales visited Egypt, the locals found out he was good with numbers. They wanted to find out how high the pyramids were. They couldn't climb them for fear of falling off, I guess.

So, Thales said, when your shadow is at the same height as your body, then measure the shadow of a pyramid, and you will arrive at its height.

He was a very practical person. All real philosophers are also wonderfully practical and down to earth.

It is said that Derrida by comparison couldn't even figure out which bakery in his neighborhood had the best bread. The man was clueless in every sense.

Richard Dolan said...

Critchley's column is a funny, tongue-in-cheek exercise. To the question, what is a philosopher, he avoids the most obvious answer: an academic.

While I don't spend much time on university campuses, Critchley's description doesn't sound like a realistic portrait of your average professor: "Because of their laughable otherworldliness and lack of respect social convention, rank and privilege, philosophers refuse to honor the old gods and this makes them politically suspicious, even dangerous."

Contraty to his take, those who successfully navigate academic politics and manage to survive in today's universities are more likely to be the keepers of "social convention" -- certainly, all of the PC conventions related to race/ethnicity/gender; they are intensely focused on "rank and privilege", beginning with tenure (without which they aren't likely to remain in academia); and are so monoculturally defined as to be dangerous only to inquiring undergraduates.

It's funny that Critchley would look to Socrates for a model. It's hard to imagine any practicing philosopher today willingly reaching for the cup of hemlock as a matter of principle. Ha.

themightypuck said...

To be fair, back in those days reaching for the hemlock was usually the highly preferrable option.

HKatz said...

Yes, it's unclear really how "otherworldly" most philosophers really are.

Critchley's description doesn't sound like a realistic portrait of your average professor

Agreed, although thankfully there are still professors out there who really do stay aloof from departmental politics, and are just there to immerse themselves in their work and possibly wear mismatched socks and pens in their ponytails. But they're not the majority.

David said...

"Where does the New York Times find these dipshits?" I asked philosophically.

Class factotum said...

wear mismatched socks and pens in their ponytails.

I'm not sure what it says about my state of mind that I read that as "penises" in their ponytails. I thought, "Do they have a lot of wild bridal showers in academia?"

edutcher said...

It sounds like a philosopher is one who writes down Pinch's personal prejudices.

(Wasn't that alliterative?)

HDHouse said...

Well. There might be a few jealous philosphers but in general they are badaboom..philosophical about it. Poor lawyers certainly outnumber those who are either heels or well heeled, unskilled or not.(read carefully)

HDHouse said...

David said...
"Where does the New York Times find these dipshits?" I asked philosophically."

David...generally a Palin rallys.

MadisonMan said...

My, what a lovely navel I have.

Ann Althouse said...

"Just because you chose the practical path rather than the speculative."

LOL. What you don't know about the law school academy!

AC245 said...

...generally a Palin rallys.

at
rallies

And thus HDHouse answers the unasked question: "Where can you find a dipshit who manages to misspell half the words he uses in his effort to insult the intelligence of others?"

AC245 said...

History of the World: Part I gave a pretty good answer to the "What is a philosopher?" question.

Dole Office Clerk (Bea Arthur): Occupation?
Comicus (Mel Brooks): Stand-up philosopher.
Dole Office Clerk: What?
Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.
Dole Office Clerk: Oh, a *bullshit* artist!
Comicus: *Grumble*...
Dole Office Clerk: Did you bullshit last week?
Comicus: No.
Dole Office Clerk: Did you *try* to bullshit last week?
Comicus: Yes!

tim maguire said...

Socrates weighed in on the minds of hedge fund managers?

HDHouse said...

AC245 said...
"Where can you find a dipshit who manages to misspell half the words he uses in his effort to insult the intelligence of others?"

Well some dipshits on here only require a few words....

Revenant said...

Where are these Socrates quotes from? I tried Googling the phrases he has in quotes but pretty much just found references to the blog post.

Largo said...

Revenant,

They are from Plato's Theaetetus, but hedge fund managers were not mentioned in the original.

Then again, Plato's "Socrates" is a composed character. It is well known known that Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

Largo said...

What is a Philosopher?

"You make a few distinctions. You clarify a few concepts. It’s a living." -- Sydney Morgenbesser

"The ungainly attempt to tackle questions that come naturally to children, using methods that come naturally to lawyers." -- David Hills

"If, while making love, a woman says 'faster' I will try. But if she says 'deeper' she had better be looking for philosophy. -- Unattributed

Mitch H. said...

And here I thought it might be a quote from the Clouds, wherein Socrates was characterized by the playwright as a cynical con artist who promised to train his students to cheat others via sophistry, presumably before juries.

EDKoblentz said...

1. Philosophy professors are academics who teach philosophy; they do not necessarily philosophize.

2. "Integrative Philosophy: A Physical/Metaphysical Treatise" is a recently completed original philosophical work, that is neither western, eastern, religious nor mystical. It is subtitled "Cosmic Being: Metaphysical Subject-- Physical Object--Spiritual Absolute". It is available upon request by serious thinkers about Being-as-a-Whole, per se. (Send request to evelynkob@gmail.com)

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Largo said...

@EDKoblentz,

Why not just publish the work on some server? There are many free options. Some are hesitant about initiating any personal contact until they can sample the goods, as it were. And it's reasonable, because the net is full of cranks.

Not that you are a crank, but the cranks that are out there make people skittish.

(My philosophical perspective, btw, is Dooyeweerdian.)

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