What Are You Reading…On the Misuse of Philosophy

This evening I visited some Alt-Right blogs in preparation for a paper I plan to work on over the Break. Much of the ideology put forth in the articles was what I expected—critiques of multiculturalism as leading to an anything-goes society, rejections of integration for the safety of the West, and affirmations of privileging one’s own race or sex in the name of self-interest. I found what I needed for my article, but in the process uncovered something that I was not expecting. While many of the authors quoted from expected sources (there were multiple mentions made about Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Nigel Farage), several authors engaged the Western philosophical tradition through references to Hegel, Nietzsche, Said, Žižek, and others.

Reading through the articles, I noted that while the philosophers’ ideas are summarized moderately well, there are significant qualifications that each philosopher gives to their ideas being left out. To take an example, one of the articles correctly picks up on Nietzsche’s dislike of modernity, and preference for pre-Socratic thought, but fails to mention what about Platonic thought and modernity so despised Nietzsche (some ideologies are mentioned, along with the characteristics that Nietzsche disliked, but never Nietzsche’s central concern). As a result, the brief suggestions the author makes for improving society (a limited return to tribalism, elitism, and tradition) neglect one of Nietzsche’s core principles: that what is needed for the future is a new way of philosophizing, not a return to ways of the past.

The whole experience left me wondering about the dangers of misusing philosophical ideas. When we ignore the context of an argument, and focus solely on the parts we agree with, we do a disservice to our readers and open the way for distrust. In order to underscore this danger, I thought I would highlight articles that attempt to address misuses of philosophical ideas.

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2 thoughts on “What Are You Reading…On the Misuse of Philosophy

  1. Thank you for this post, and for the book references. This is something that has vexxed me for a few years, actually. I am not a professional philosopher. But I have spent years of my life reading and studying as a hobby, looking for something (anything) I could confidently call “the truth”. That process had me meandering from group to group, and from ideology to ideology, abandoning each as I have stumbled across mistakes, misapplications, misrepresentations, and sometimes outright misconduct, in each of them.

    YouTube is absolutely littered with people calling themselves “philosophers”, who are clearly wearing the label merely as a cloak of invincibility, to ward off accusations of hollow advocacy (See, for example: https://www.youtube.com/user/stefbot). So, misuse may be as much or more of a problem in pop culture, as it is in academic circles. Although, I think it’s also possible the misuse might be equal in both arenas, just focused on promoting different political ideologies. Would be interesting to do a general survey of published work, to find out just what is misused, where and why.

    • Thanks for your comments Greg. The whole issue makes me think about the philosophy of interpretation (which occurred to me while I was writing, but which I couldn’t fit into the post). How many different interpretations can be given to a philosophy, or is the process of interpretation unlimited?

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