Why do we read philosophy?

This is a question which Milan Stürmer and I keep coming back to as we work our way through Peter Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy. The straight forward character of the question can be complicated by pointing to who ‘we’ are as people who aren’t professional philosophers (I escaped that fate after a political philosophy MA I hated) but regularly read philosophical work. Here are a few suggestions we’ve discussed:

  • Reading philosophy furnishes us with concepts, motifs and propositions which can be put to work in our own fields of inquiry. For example as the concept of the sphere floats ever deeper into my psyche, I’ve found it a useful notion with which to think about our personal relationship to digital labour.
  • Reading philosophy can illuminate by putting words to features of existence which otherwise linger in the dark, creating the possibility of acting purposively in relation to things which are newly named. As Astronautalis once put it, maybe there is some fucking magic in giving language to hidden things.
  • Reading philosophy can generate practical (including existential) questions which create possibilities for action which might otherwise have escaped us. This point is a specialised instance of the previous one with its own specific dynamics.
  • Reading philosophy can help integrate discrete areas of knowledge into a meta-picture which is more than the sum of its parts. Milan persuaded me earlier that this is a crucial part of what Sloterdijk is attempting to do with his vast (and slightly rambling) project.
  • Reading philosophy helps us grasp issues which elude other disciplines, as the point from which the system of disciplines emerged but which now acts as something more like a reservoir in which the epistemic and ontological residue of other disciplines accumulates downstream.

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