by Jason Stotts
What if one day a philosopher is born who is able to answer all of the “eternal questions” of philosophy, would he be revered or hated? What if this philosopher provided irrefutable proofs for all of his arguments and left no hole or weakness? Would he be believed or would he be derided for his certainty? I have no doubt in my mind how he would be received by academia.
Academic Philosophy today is about “asking the right questions” – forgetting that the purpose of asking questions is to elicit responses and that the art of asking the right questions if for the purpose of eliciting the right responses. Academic philosophers love to be in a state of doubt; or at least if they do not love it, they find it necessary. In order for them to maintain their often outrageous beliefs, they must cast epistemic mists upon the mind of those who would otherwise confront them. In order to be a Hegelian, one must become absurd and deny the principle of non-contradiction. In order to be a Pragmatist, one must assume that concepts have no definite referents. In order to be a Platonist, one must engage in metaphysical and epistemological back-flips to justify Forms. Any rational layman would be able to refute these positions with nothing more than common sense – if they were not disarmed with epistemic mist cast upon them by their interlocutor.
When Plato says that the Forms exist in another world that is cut off from us because of our bodies, the proper response is “well then how do you know about it?” The question is mere common sense – if we as humans are cut off from the world of the Forms because of our physical bodies, and if Plato is a person with a physical body, then Plato too is cut off from the world of the forms and can claim no knowledge of them. If Plato rebuts by saying that we have all been there in another life, we just forget this knowledge when we’re born, the proper response is “what proof do you have of this?” Any assertion without evidence is arbitrary and should be dismissed as such. Common sense, the modern day remnant of Aristotelian philosophy, is the only shield that laymen have against Academic philosophers – unless they want to spend just a little bit of time thinking about the issues.
The Academic program is only kept in place because of doubt – their doubt in their abilities to find truth, their doubt in their abilities to recognize it if they were to find it, and the doubt of those who never question them and deride them for the charlatans they are. Indeed, Academic philosophers by and large are charlatans – the intellectual heirs of the Sophists. It is through their tricks that they are able to keep their jobs and their false prestige.
The state of the philosophical community is even worse than most could imagine though – a state more suited to paranoid fiction than reality. In order to gain admittance into the halls of academia, one must first pass through graduate school and be recognized by the current faculty as an intellectual equal. In graduate school one is subjected to more years of intellectual “brow-beating” as their modus operandi consists of only acknowledging work done in certain ways. Why only these certain ways? Well, that is just the way it is done. Anyone who does not follow “the path” into academia to get acknowledged by the philosophical community will not be recognized by them. Woe be it to the philosopher who does not get a PhD – ignoring the fact that almost none of the “great” philosophers had them. Worse though is the philosopher who would dare to become popular; any work which is intellectual would never appeal to the common man, so the academics say, therefore any popular work must not be good. Personally I think that there is a great deal of intelligence and intellectual honesty among the “common man” – in general they have a common sense that is not found among academics.
Let us return, then, to our initial question – if there were a philosopher who could answer all of the questions of Philosophy, would he be recognized? Yes, by the common man, and most certainly not by academia.