The difference between philosophy and talk about philosophy

A distinction I find rather tenuous, invoked by Ray Brassier in his attack on the self-importance of the speculative realist blogging community:

What is peculiar to them is the claim that this is the first philosophy movement to have been generated and facilitated by the internet: a presumption rooted in the inability to distinguish philosophy from talk about philosophy. The vices so characteristic of their discourse can be traced back directly to the debilities of the medium. Blogging is essentially a journalistic medium, but philosophy is not journalism. Exchanging opinions about philosophy, or even exchanging philosophical opinions, ought not to be equated with philosophical debate. This is not to say that one cannot produce and disseminate valuable philosophical research online. But the most pernicious aspect of this SR/OOO syndrome is its attempt to pass off opining as argument and to substitute self-aggrandizement for actual philosophical achievement.

Given he accepts one can “produce and disseminate valuable philosophical research online”, it’s hard not to wonder about the criteria for distinguishing between philosophy and talk about philosophy. This seemingly narrow debate is one we can expect to see much more of, in other disciplines and in relation to other topics, as social media becomes increasingly mainstream within academic life.

4 thoughts on “The difference between philosophy and talk about philosophy”

  1. An old friend of mine, who is now an economics professor in the U.S. (while I’m a sociologist in Canada) recently asked me “What is it that you sociologists do in the academy?” He was genuinely interested in how society was economically organized within and between poverty groups.

    He pointed out that in economics, he can go to any blog, rich with data, bibliographies, and charts. He can extrapolate his own views philosophies from those. He pointed out that he can access working papers of the leading world economists for free. He runs a blog for Bloomberg News where economists are constantly posting things.

    Yet in sociology, there is – not much. No access to working papers, no big blogs sponsored by news organizations, and no idea who the world’s leading sociologists are. He called sociology a “secret society.” I couldn’t disagree with him. Sociology seems to be one of those disciplines that works in the shadows.

    Both economics and sociology are inherently philosophies (hence the Ph. part of the Ph.D. in both disciplines). Economics, as well as just about everything in the natural sciences (which are also inherently philosophies) receive wide public attention, and readily transmits their ideas to others in the public realm via blogs, online journals, and piles of PDF working papers sitting on servers – all complete with raw data and bibliographies. They allow others to look at their data, and form their own conclusions (and sometimes even reproduce results).

    The transmission of ideas, and the evolution of philosophy – our understanding of both the social and natural universe which has historically changed over time, does not need to be confined to paywalled academics. People really are allowed to think for themselves. The challenge is in getting the ideas out there.

  2. Hi Dave, I think a slightly extended version of this would make a wonderful blog post if you’re interested?

  3. I am interested! I just don’t know how to go about changing the Sociological world, other than applying conflict every step of the way!

    Last year I gave a talk on how sociology cannot use intersectionality when confronting neoliberalism, because neoliberals do not believe in social location; they believe in homo economicus. Economic Rational Man who has no race, no gender, no culture, and no social location. It’s embedded in neoliberal culture to not believe in such things as social intersections. That for sociology to tear into neoliberalism with things that neoliberals do not believe in is like telling a bald man why he needs to use a comb.

    After the moment of silence in the room, with angry faces staring back at me, I realized that changing the world of sociology in a direction where it can offer alternatives was going to take some heart medication.

    But I am interested.

  4. I’ve heard the same point be made about sociological critiques of biological science: slinging mud at views that no one holds any more, if indeed they ever did.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.