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The challenge of philosophy

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The philosopher, by Rembrandt (The philosopher, by Rembrandt.)

The challenge of philosophy is considerable because it deals with central questions, such as, for example, the meaning of life, the possible history of the soul after death, the possible and desirable political organization, the place of people in society and more broadly in humanity and history. The fact that these issues are also addressed and treated by religions and others by political parties explains the passionate nature of the status of philosophy in all activities is not well defined and remains a subject of controversy. Accepting a serene examination of this controversy would allow us to better evaluate the real contribution of philosophy to knowledge. It is difficult to evaluate this controversy without referring to the Greek philosophy. The importance of Plato’s discussion of the verification of an idea is notorious, but the main difficulty is that the Platonic writings are historically favored by those of his opponents. In fact, the writings of the Sophists have not been so well preserved in time. Yet it is by replacing Platonism in the historical context of its opposition to the Sophists that one could well evaluate its significance. The contribution of Karl Popper (The open society and his enemies, 1979 Seuil) despite questionable passages shows that one can not reduce the opposition Plato/the sophists to the camps of good and evil (Popper ending even by opposing an aristocratic Plato to Democratic sophists belonging to an anti-slavery current alongside Pericles and Herodotus (Popper’s book already ) One of the reproaches made by the sophists to philosophers is that of Isocrates, according to which “it is better to bring on useful subjects a reasonable opinion […] than on the futility of exact knowledge” (Eloge d’Hélène). Without going so far, there is the theme of a rather sharp reproach made to philosophy by others, which consists in saying that philosophy is a dialogue which produces its own criteria of truth, unrelated to real life. What the Sophists ultimately reproach the philosophers is the quasi impossibility for them to act in public affairs because these “sciences” do not bring relief in action and remain completely removed from practical necessities “(Isocrates, On the exchange 262)

This does not detract from the irreplaceable character of Plato’s works. The introduction of The Republic depicts Socrates’ old friend, Cephale scrupulously analyzing the injustices he was able to commit and asserting that the one who has lived will have a companion, which will become the theme of salvation in certain later monotheistic religions. Is it this proximity to religion with philosophy that explains the equivocal status some philosophers allow themselves to speak of such particular way?

Western philosophy was born with the Pythagoreans whose theses and manners were as much akin to superstition as to religion (according to Brunet (Early Greck Philosophy) who borrowed it from Diels, there were taboos imposed on the first Pythagorean pupils, not to pick up an object on the ground, not to touch a white cock, quoted by Popper in the book already cited, The open society and its enemies. This origin affects it as a sort of youthfulness, as if philosophy, which chiefly discusses sacred things and what deserves to be experienced, constantly felt the need to express oneself in a coded way to try to demonstrate the liturgical character of his inheritance and finally his status. This origin and this pretension sometimes give an elitist style to philosophical lessons. The predominant use of Latin, whose sound evokes the authority of an empire, whose productions are still present in legal science, is part of this implicit coding.

This is detrimental to readers who ask nothing better than to learn, but sometimes give up reading texts which, in order to preserve this elitist character, are expressed in an imaginary language and can cause a sensible person to doubt his normal faculty of understanding. The major reproach that can be made to this way of philosophizing is that philosophy is sometimes lost in a hesitation between poetry and science. And by carefully avoiding a definition of her status, she authorizes herself to create licenses which are usually accepted only in poetic art. This results in cultivating the illusion of a discourse that may seem all the more profound because it is obscure and ultimately produces a disinterest in culture.

Paul Valery had clearly explained that poetry and philosophy can not be mixed not more than one can play draughts with the rules of the game of chess. It seems that since German romanticism this tradition has been accentuated in continental Europe to cultivate a language which modifies, in the name of some authority, the syntactic and lexical rules and it seems that renowned philosophers did not deprive themselves to bypass the common rules of language or to import words of foreign languages ​​to speak of the problematic points of their doctrine that it would have been very useful on the contrary to make clearer.

Kant, even before the romantic period, yielded to this facility by very often using the Latin phrase a priori, without defining it clearly and without being able to see if it designates a chronological antecedence to think that there can be a time before the experiment, or a logical anteriority, of which he only accounts with the moral part or simply with a moral precedence. This leads one to wonder about the meaning of a moral precedence: how the supposition of a moral transcendence could ground a theoretical transcendence. He ends up resting his doctrine on a thesis of saying that things are like that because they have to be like that and hide under the luxurious carpet of Latin phrases the embarrassing dust of contradictions.

The notion of imperative which can be retained in a salutary way as a rule of action can not, even for a single moment, assert as the principle of knowledge. The fact that this postulate of transcendence is debatable does not detract from the interest of the relativity of knowledge. Nor to the fact that it seems that Kant was as much as one might judge a psychologist as wise as those of the XIXth and the XXth century. And yet philosophy seems to be the source of an important part of human freedom insofar as it allows men to continually adapt to life by the rigor of the method which it can cultivate. It is also an encouragement to the acquisition of a common cultural heritage. Thus in the words of Georges Steiner everyone is indebted to all.

The philosophy also allows people to collectively improve their own education and to examine, in theory, the veracity of all talk outside of any authoritarian consideration. By this philosophy can claim to create a part of human history, but a simple examination of the history of philosophy with its basic rule, to admit as coherent only the words which are grammatically admissible, would make it possible to verify on what points this claim is based on. This work naturally involves an important stake when it comes to evaluating the contribution of the philosophical method to psychotherapy. In particular, the phenomenological method, when it does not go astray in baroque ratiocinations, seems to furnish valuable descriptions of the course of psychic phenomena, in the same way as the Vijnanavadin Buddhist philosophy.

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