Socrates and All the Ladies, Jamming, 24/05/2017

Every now and then, I throw an article up on the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. They’re a wonderful global community of social scientists and humanities researchers and writers, which I’m proud to have been part of since its early days in 2011.

I most often write book reviews. These like to get experimental. I most often do odd formal things. I reviewed an against-the-mainstream book about Plato’s political philosophy, in the style of a conversation between myself and Socrates. I think that could have gone through another draft before I submitted it.

Who could forget my review of a Steve Fuller’s book Knowledge a couple of years ago? A months-long chapter-by-chapter walkthrough running as long as a book itself, composed as a conversation with Fuller himself. Probably the most maximalist thing I’ll ever do, except maybe for Adam Writes Everything.

Sometimes it’s their content, like when I reviewed Phil Sandifer’s still-incubating Neoreaction: A Basilisk. That book has only gotten stranger since its publication. Its original draft was composed under the presumption that Donald Trump would lose. It’s apparently had to change radically now that we’re in a political era explicitly dominated by neoreaction.

I got a grey kitty, a white one, and a tabby too
And a big orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes
Mad MC skills, leave you struck
I roll with my kitties and I’m hard as fuck
I’m down with Plato and Socrates
And I love to get busy with all the ladies
So its finished form may eventually be so different from what I read that Phil may have made my review a Borgesian shadow, reviewing a book that not merely no longer exists, but has erased its own existence. Which means – Thank you so much for that, Phil, it’s genuinely awesome of you.

But then there are the replies. One article – either in Social Epistemology the journal or on the SERRC website itself – will spark a chain of replies, rebuttals, defences, addendums, and spiralling conversation. Often, they move too fast for me to throw my hat in the ring, even if I’d like to. The replies expand faster than I can think of my own response.

It’s why I don’t normally throw in, unless I have something of a curveball. Robert Frodeman – anarchist of the ivory tower’s disciplines that he is – is one of my favourite writers to follow in our circle. I have some pretty firm feelings about academia’s state of decadence, but Frodeman has done the empirical research for me to call it a conclusion.

When he writes an article about the lost influence of Socrates as the universal model of a philosopher, I’m going to read it. And be intrigued.

A Socratic thinker is a seeker of wisdom and a critic of false or inadequate pretences to knowledge. Such a thinker is a questioner, exploring and arguing over ideas to gain deeper understanding, but never expecting a univocal, straightforward, totally satisfying answer.

Yet most professional philosophers* are institutionally ratified experts. They have a disciplinarily-bound or influenced body of knowledge – the canon, the history, the primary texts, the current debates – and their job is to pass this knowledge to interested and paying students.

* University professors every one, as if that were the only place to create philosophy at all!

Philosophy, in other words, is now institutionalized as the domain of what Socrates would have called the sophist, the resident expert guide. Having those Socratic punks around is necessary – they provoke the discipline out of its doldrums.

There’s a third alternative, I think. The conceptual writer. For instance, what I did yesterday. You try to build – through argument, analysis and interpretation – a new concept that lets you understand the world differently than before. With this different understanding, you'll be able to act and think in ways you never thought would have been possible before – because you literally aren't able to conceive of it.

I’ll think on this a little more this post.

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